Take Breaks To Remember More

Hunter trudged into the living room and dropped the heavy chemistry book on the floor with frustration.

“Mom, you remember that test I took a few weeks ago? When I stayed up late studying for hours, and then got the best score in the class? Well the quarterly exam is in two days but I can’t remember anything! It’s like all that information went in my head for a day…and then just disappeared!”

Hunter’s experience is pretty typical; we are all guilty of last-minute studying for a test or work project, cramming information into our brain, then being unable to recall it just a few days later. Recent research published in Current Biology highlighted the improved retention that resulted from spaced training as opposed to “cramming.” In a study with mice learning a maze, scientists discovered that spacing the memory training exercise by 60 minutes produced enhanced recall in the long-term. The mice that were given spaced training learned the maze more slowly, yet retained the information more effectively overall.

According to commentary on the study in Science Daily, “the study provides the first insights into the neuronal processes that explain the positive effect of learning breaks. With spaced learning, we may reach our goal more slowly, but we benefit from our knowledge for much longer.

This is great motivation to help our kids (and ourselves) avoid the temptation of procrastination when we need to learn new information. It is clearly more effective to study a bit at a time over several days, with breaks between efforts. While cramming for an exam may seem helpful in the short term, science now confirms that spaced studying produces far better retention.

Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy

Check out the original research: