Do students think that difficult or valuable materials should be restudied sooner rather than later?

Michael S. Cohen, Veronica X. Yan, Vered Halamish, Robert A. Bjork

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the clear long-term benefits of spaced practice, students and teachers often choose massed practice. Whether learners actually fail to appreciate the benefits of spacing is, however, open to question. Early studies (e.g., Zechmeister & Shaughnessy, 1980) found that participants' judgments of learning were higher after massed than after spaced repetitions, but more recent studies have found that participants, when allowed to choose between restudying right away and restudying later, tend to choose later, apparently reflecting an appreciation for the benefits of spacing. In these recent studies, however, choosing to restudy later also meant restudying closer to the final test, leaving open the question of what was driving participants' choices. In addition, the choice confronting participants has typically been between getting a spaced and truly massed repetition, whereas in real-world learning contexts the choice is often between a short, but not immediate, spacing interval and a longer one. In our research, we controlled final retention interval and asked participants to choose between restudying word pairs after either a relatively short (but not truly massed) interval or a longer interval. We found that participants had a clear preference for restudying higher priority (more difficult or more valuable) items sooner rather than later, even when doing so was not the most effective option. Thus, previous findings showing a preference for spaced repetition do not extend to a context in which the shorter spacing interval is substantially longer than true massing, and they may merely reflect a preference to restudy closer to the test.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1682-1696
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Lag effects
  • Memory
  • Metacognition
  • Metacognitive control
  • Spacing effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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