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What’s the secret to improving your ability to learn?

Spacing out learning over a period of time (the opposite of cramming) is most effective. Review materially more frequently over a longer period of time vs more intensely in fewer sessions:

The spacing effect—that is, the benefit of spacing learning events apart rather than massing them together—has been demonstrated in hundreds of experiments, but is not well known to educators or learners. I investigated the spacing effect in the realistic context of flashcard use. Learners often divide flashcards into relatively small stacks, but compared to a large stack, small stacks decrease the spacing between study trials. In three experiments, participants used a web-based study programme to learn GRE-type word pairs. Studying one large stack of flashcards (i.e. spacing) was more effective than studying four smaller stacks of flashcards separately (i.e. massing). Spacing was also more effective than cramming—that is, massing study on the last day before the test. Across experiments, spacing was more effective than massing for 90% of the participants, yet after the first study session, 72% of the participants believed that massing had been more effective than spacing.

Source: “Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming” from Applied Cognitive Psychology, Volume 23, Issue 9, pages 1297–1317, December 2009

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About Eric Barker