The relationship between restudying and testing in the short and long term



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Texas Tech University


The present research dealt with two learning phenomena with a long research history in psychology, the spacing effect and the testing effect. The spacing effect (or distributed practice effect) describes the empirical finding that distributing learning over time increases retention performance, especially in the long term. The testing effect describes the empirical finding that testing the retention of information that was learned previously improves the later retention of that piece of information. More specifically, the goal of this research was to make a contribution to the theoretical foundations of the spacing effect and the testing effect, and provide recommendations for real world applications (i.e., creating timetables for testing and restudying for teaching). The present research thus encompassed three objectives. First, even though both effects have a long research tradition, evidence remains sparse for time intervals of more than a few hours. Of particular interest here was how testing and restudying interact with the length of time between the original learning session and the second session across longer time intervals. Restudying and testing were compared across two such time intervals (1 and 13 intervening days). The second objective was to compare the results of the long term study to a short term study with similar design and methodology in order to investigate if recommendations and / or theories derived from short term studies generalize to the long term. The third objective was to examine how the findings relate to academic aptitude (as measured by the SAT/ACT). Analyzing the data of 72 undergraduate student participants, it was found that testing was more effective for the shorter time interval, whereas restudying was more effective for the longer time interval in the long term experimental paradigm. For applied settings, it would thus be advisable to use testing within a small number of days of the original study session, and studying after more than a few days have passed, to increase long term retention. The pattern of results was different in the short term experimental paradigm. Here, it was found that testing was as effective as spacing for the shorter time interval, while restudying was more effective for the longer time interval. This indicates that results obtained through short term studies cannot be directly applied to the long term. There were no interactions with SAT/ACT scores, indicating that the results can be generalized to students with varying academic aptitude.