CATL Teaching Guides

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Brief Description

Spaced or distributed practice is a practice/study schedule in which a learner studies for brief periods spread out over time, e.g., one hour every other day for two weeks. Massed practice involves cramming study into one extended session, e.g., six hours the day before an exam. Spaced practice leads to better learning than does massed practice (Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan & Willingham, 2013). 


  1. Review assignments. Give students three spaced, short review assignments prior to each exam, e.g., one review assignment each week. For each assignment students practice or restudy previously learned material.

  2. Successive relearning. Schedule practice quizzes at specific intervals during the term. Make the quizzes cumulative so that some core items from previous units reappear several times during the term.

Tips to Implement Spaced Practice Effectively

  • It may be challenging to build spaced practice into class time. Consider using out of class time for review assignments and successive relearning.

  • Make practice low stakes. Can include practice as part of the course grade, like class participation.

  • Try to persuade students that spaced practice is more effective than cramming. Students may suspect that spaced practice is effective but have difficulty organizing their time effectively. The experience of spaced practice sessions in class may help them see how to structure study time more effectively. Students rely on cramming because it works—in the short term. Students who cram the night before an exam do just as well as students who prepare by spreading out their study time. If students retake the exam three days later, the students who initially crammed score much lower. They forget almost everything. Take the rational approach, show students the results of studies that compare spaced vs. massed practice. 


Cerbin, W. (2015). Spaced practice. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from