Learning Hacks: How Often Should I Study?

The Hack

Studying every day for a quiz or exam is more effective than cramming.

student reading a textbook

The Story

Have you ever wondered how to best cram for a test the night before? What about how to cram for a test in fewer than 60 minutes? Or maybe how to cram in the least amount of time? Cramming is learning, or storing and retrieving things from long-term memory, as quickly and efficiently as possible at the last minute. Unfortunately for the procrastinators and crammers out there, cramming for fewer than 60 minutes the night before an exam is a very inefficient and ineffective study method. Instead, space your study out over time to learn more in less time.

The Research

Nicholas Cepeda and colleagues published a meta analysis in 2006 that aggregated hundreds of research articles, which investigated the effect of spaced practice on learning. They found that spaced practice is more effective than mass practice (cramming!) regardless of how much time you have to study or how long you need to remember what you are studying. So what is the best way to implement spaced practice? The main finding in the Nicholas study was that studying every day was the most effective way to space your study. This is especially true if you still have a few days to study for an exam or quiz. In the event that you only have one day to study, research suggests that taking one-hour breaks between study sessions will maximize your learning.

The Source

Nicholas, C., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132(3), 354-380. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3rr6q10c