A student learns that he has a test coming up sometime next week; a week goes by, and the student just now starts studying for his exam: the day before it! We’ve all been there; sometimes, it’s unavoidable, but students who continuously fall into this trap of procrastinating need to improve their study methods.
One of the best scientifically proven ways to study is through spacing assignments, known as the spacing effect. Students divide their studying time up into multiple periods, instead of all at once, which is called cramming. Cramming will help students remember information in the short run; however, they will lose this knowledge over time. Spacing has the opposite effect: it is less stressful, and students will have more time to process information and store it into their long-term memories. According to numerous studies, students who study through spacing perform significantly higher on retests compared to students who crammed.
One major criticism from learners who are new to the spacing method is that they forget what they learn. They feel frustrated because the material they spent time practicing days before they’ve since forgotten and now need to relearn. Their perception is justifiable; people are bound to forget some information, but what they don’t realize is how crucial forgetting is in the learning process.
When students must relearn material, they strengthen their neural connections involving the subject, which helps them solidify the knowledge. Ultimately, most courses in school build on previous ones, so it’s imperative for students to understand and recall information from prior units. For example, when a student enters Algebra Two, it’s assumed that they know the material from Algebra One, and the course will build on those topics. However, if the student only crammed for the Algebra One tests, then most of that material has been lost, and there are many gaps. While initially, it may frustrate students to relearn material that they’ve just studied, it’s an essential part of the learning process. Finding these gaps also exposes what the student must review more, and by doing so, they will strengthen those connections and have greater ease remembering the material later.
The opposite effect occurs during cramming; students proceed past the unit without retaining much of what they’ve learned. Students can avoid this dilemma by working on their assignments diligently, quizzing themselves without aid from their notes, and acknowledging areas that require more attention. By implementing these strategies, they’ll create the habits to succeed in whatever field they’re pursuing, from sports to law enforcement to medical school.