The effects of overlearning and distributed practise on the retention of mathematics knowledge



In two experiments, 216 college students learned to solve one kind of mathematics problem before completing one of various practise schedules. In Experiment 1, students either massed 10 problems in a single session or distributed these 10 problems across two sessions separated by 1 week. The benefit of distributed practise was nil among students who were tested 1 week later but extremely large among students tested 4 weeks later. In Experiment 2, students completed three or nine practise problems in one session. The additional six problems constituted a strategy known as overlearning, but this extra effort had no effect on test scores 1 or 4 weeks later. Thus, long-term retention was boosted by distributed practise and unaffected by overlearning. Unfortunately, most mathematics textbooks rely on a format that emphasises overlearning and minimises distributed practise. An easily adopted alternative format is advocated. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.