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The Effect of Overlearning on Long-Term Retention


Once material has been learned to a criterion of one perfect trial, further study within the same session constitutes overlearning. Although overlearning is a popular learning strategy, its effect on long-term retention is unclear. In two experiments presented here, 218 college students learned geography facts (Experiment 1) or word definitions (Experiment 2). The degree of learning was manipulated and measured via multiple test-with-feedback trials, and participants returned for a final cued recall test between one and nine weeks later. The overlearners recalled far more than the low learners at the one-week test, but this difference decreased dramatically thereafter. These data suggest that overlearning (and its concomitant demand for additional study time) is an inefficient strategy for learning material for meaningfully long periods of time.

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