Interleaving: Helping To Link You To Success

By Beth Mickna

Entering college is going to be one of the greatest times of your life, but it will add a new amount of stress to your life as well. There are going to be many new opportunities for you throughout the time you spend here. Every class you take is going to be instructed differently. You will have to learn to study different ways in order to be successful in your college academic career. Some professors use powerpoints that you can copy the notes down from, and others will lecture the entire time.  With those professors, you will have to be able to listen carefully while writing the information you think is important. I cannot tell you the ways that will work best for you in the classes that you are going to take, but I can give you a few tips on how to study. Using the method I am telling you about can help you to be ready for whatever information is thrown at you.

First, you must understand college studying and high school studying are very different.  One way that is going to help you through your academics in college is knowing different ways to study. One technique that can be used is called interleaving. Rather than going through and cramming all of the information from one topic into your mind at once it is helpful to mix up the information that you are working on learning (1). Trying to learn and understand information can be tricky when you separate it all into its own categories. By using this method it helps to link the different aspects of each chapter together forming one main idea rather than several separate ideas. So you shouldn’t get too hung up on mastering everything from chapter one in your textbooks. Instead, keep reading and work to identify the main idea of the material. You may find that continuing to read helps you understand previous information better.

How Often Should You Switch

Just because you are switching between topics does not mean that you should give up the harder material. Interleaving is used in order to help link the information together, not avoid learning one of the topics! You do not want to spend too much time on one set of information that you overwhelm yourself. However, be sure to spend enough time on it that you are starting to understand the main concepts. All of the topics that you learn throughout your time in the classroom will need a different amount of attention spent on them in order to learn. So make sure that when you use this study technique you do not time yourself and only give the allotted time you planned to study each topic. Be open to the possibility that one subject might take longer than the others. Interleaving is not a study technique that is set in stone with the amount of time needed for each topic.

Further Findings

Studying one topic at a time seems like it should be the more effective way to learn the material. Why would you move onto new information in a class when you do not have the current information figured out completely? The process of interleaving is used in order to help one link the topics together and see the similarities and differences of each topic (2). When studying it can be very helpful to see how each of the topics relate to one another, (if they do at all) in order to be successful on test and quizzes.

In a study done by Kelli Taylor and Doug Rohrer children did four different mathematics problems in an order that was either interleaved or blocked after the spacing problem was fixed(3). The results from this study showed that those that used this technique had scores that were higher than those that did not, even though the study sessions were interrupted. Along with test scores increasing, a study by Sean H. K. Kang and Harold Pashler (2011) show that students were better able to identify the artists of previously unseen paintings when paintings were interleaved rather than massed(4). Not only does interleaving help to increase scores, but it also helps with long term and short term retention of information for recognition.

Learning new material can be complicated but making sure that you have a deep understanding of the information and can create patterns that are being used within the information (inductive learning) is beneficial. Studies have shown that one way to increase inductive learning is to use interleaving learning.  Kornell and Bjork (2008) found that interleaving exemplars of different categories increased inductive learning of the concepts based on those exemplars (5). By creating links between information in different topics you will help increase your chance of remembering the material for the test.

Interleaving is not a study technique that you can use on its own in order to be successful. There are other ways that you can study such as retrieval practice in order to make you successful in the classroom. Studying can be difficult when you are in several different classes with all new professors. There is not going to be a wrong way to study but there are better ways for each individual. Remember that just because your friend can study one way and be successful that does not mean you have to do that too. Find the study technique that works best for you and focus on that. College is a great time and you will have many new and exciting event in your life, but make sure that you focus and work hard in the classroom!


(1) Pan, S. C. (2015, August 04). The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from

(2)  Rohrer, D. (2012). Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts. Educational Psychology Review, 24, 355-367.

(3) Taylor, K., & Rohrer, D. (2010). The effect of interleaving practice.
Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 837–848.

(4)Kang, H. K . S, and Pashler, H. (2011). Learning Painting Styles: Spacing is Advantageous when it Promotes Discriminative Contrast. Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 26: (97–103)

(5)Kornell, N., & Bjork, R. A. (2008). Learning concepts and categories:
Is spacing the “enemy of induction”? Psychological Science, 19,
585–592. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02127.x

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