What is the Spacing Effect?

Spaced repetition is the finding that spacing out when you encounter something will make you remember it better.

The spacing effect tells you that the best way to learn something is to spread your studying over time rather than cramming all your studying in a short period of time.

Rather than letting the exam’s date approach before you start studying with a furious intensity, spaced repetition tells you to start as soon as possible but in a more mellow manner.

João explains the spacing effect

When you’re learning something, you have a choice about how spread out over time your studying will be.

For example, if you are going to spend 5 hours learning about the biochemical processes happening inside a cell, you can choose to spend those 5 hours in a single continuous coffee-fueled burst, or instead, you can decide to spread those 5 hours over time.

If you choose to spend the 5 hours in a single burst, then we say you’re massing your study.

If you choose to spread those 5 hours around, then you’re choosing to space your study.

Spacing versus massing

The spacing effect tells us that you will be better off by choosing to space your learning rather than mass it. In other words, because of the spacing effect, you will get more out of your studying if you choose to space out your study sessions rather than cram them all right before the exam date.

There are many theories about why spacing your study sessions works.

Some say that because your study sessions are spread out over time, by the time you encounter the material you will have forgotten some of it and so you will be more focused as you’re studying.

Other’s posit that because your studying is spaced out, it will be connected to more things than it would if they had been massed, for example, one week you might study in a library whereas in the next one you do so your parent’s living room, so you have more handles from which to remember things.

No matter why the spacing effect works, the fact of the matter is that it does.

The spacing effect tells you how to think about how you should structure your learning to get the most out of your time and effort.

To learn effectively and efficiently, you must make use of the spacing effect, and that means that you must spread your learning over time.

The spacing effect, alongside the testing effect, are two of the most important psychological findings about memory and learning you can make use of. Together, they are responsible for the incredible learning improvements brought about by spaced repetition software, like Anki.

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