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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Additional acquisition sessions monotonically benefit retention and relearning

  • Author(s): Fiechter, Joshua;
  • Sense, Florian;
  • Collins, Michael Gordon;
  • Krusmark, Michael;
  • Jastrzembski, Tiffany
  • et al.

Spacing is a highly effective encoding strategy that has been shown to benefit memory in a variety of domains. Recent work has emphasized the evaluation of spaced practice under conditions that more closely reflect daily life. This work found that spacing repetitions over days, weeks, or months is effective over retention intervals as long as one year. One aspect of spaced study that has received less attention, however, is the relationship between the number of acquisition sessions and final retention. That is, if a student preparing for an exam plans to allocate 10 hours to preparing for that exam, is there an optimal, or perhaps minimal, number of study sessions that they should engage in to best leverage the benefits of spacing? In the present experiment we had participants complete 16 practice tests of Japanese-English pairs (e.g., boushi – hat). These practice tests were either all completed in one session, or distributed across two, three, or four sessions. These sessions were spaced either 1, 7, 30, or 90 days apart. Participants completed four test trials following a retention interval of 90 days, 180 days, or some variable length. Our results suggest that the number of acquisition sessions monotonically enhanced first-trial test performance as well as relearning, though evidence for enhanced relearning between one and two sessions was ambiguous. Unexpectedly, these monotonic trends were stable across practice lags and retention intervals. These findings suggest that, in addition to the temporal lag between practice episodes, the number of sessions over which one elects to distribute those episodes also has ramifications for long-term retention, and that each additional session yields meaningful benefits.

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