Spacing Effect and Consolidation in Studying: Don’t you worry, you have time for that nap!

By Liz Wagner

Reality of College
College can be a scary experience for every incoming freshman, your automatically scared of the action of “failing”. College isn’t supposed to be a scary experience, it is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. You will have many opportunities that will shape you in to the grown individual you will become, you will attend parties, join clubs, and experience many firsts. But one important factor that you need to pay attention to is your study habits. If your study habits are not up to par, your grades and college experience will not end well.

Now we all know that one weakness that many college students face at some point in their college experience, and that is procrastination. Procrastination is somewhat like an evil monster that creeps up on students, especially when it comes to big papers and exams. The results of procrastinating are cramming last minute for that exam, meaning no time for that Netflix show or that nap you were counting on. What if I told you, that there are studies showing that a college student could benefit from not cramming, and you would have time for that nap.

This phenomenon in psychology is called the spacing effect, and it can benefit many college students in their studies. Many students throughout the years, typically develop their own study habits. But as you continue to read, you may discover that the spacing effect is the answer to those prays or to help you get that passing grade. The spacing effect is a pretty simple concept in psychology, the concept is spacing out your study time into multiple periods instead of one mass study session (4). During these multiple study sessions, an individual should take breaks in between each session, and the mind should be devoted to the same subject to acquire the best results (4). So that is right, multi-tasking in this phenomenon wouldn’t be a good idea. But the good news is during those short breaks in between studying you can do all the social media browsing, napping, or Netflix watching you want.

The Mind begins to Wander
Several studies have been discovered throughout the years to justify the accuracy behind this theory. One of the many reasons why spaced out studying is better, instead of cramming in one mass study session, is that the mind begins to wander over expansive periods of time (6). In an experiment done by Metcalfe and Xu they gave their participants the task of identifying particular artist to pieces of their own work, they spilt the groups into two categories one being a one-time study group the other being a series of multiple study groups with intermediate breaks in between (6). After the exam, the study had shown that the group with breaks throughout study were able to easily identify to their work, unlike the mass study session that struggled with the task (6). Though cramming in one study session for a quiz may seem more time efficient, it is better to space out your time evenly with breaks to ensure that better grade.

Cramming in that Information
Cramming was found to not work in many other studies, many of these studies include flash cards. A very common way many college students study is with flash cards, including myself. A study done by Kornell had shown that it was more effective to study the entire stack of flash cards in short intervals with breaks in between, instead of studying small stacks of the flash cards only once (5). This appeared to be 90% effective in the participants that completed the study (5). All in all, cramming does not work, and has been proven time and time again when you are studying unfamiliar material in different short intervals, which involves you cramming information for that exam (2). It is best to study the same material continuous for a series of time before moving onto a new idea or subject.

Why you can take that Nap
It is every college students desire to find time in the day to catch up on those extra z’s. You will be happy to know that sleep can help benefit you during your times of study. In the spacing effect as stated earlier an individual is proven to succeed better by taking intermediate breaks between studying (4). During these breaks many college students may choose to hop on their Netflix account or sleep. Studies have found that sleeping helps with consolidation in the brain, which helps improve one’s memory for that exam (3). Sleeping help an individual forget other environmental stimuli that could be a distraction, causing that college student to forget what’s on that exam (3). Along with this it is important to allow the brain consolidate this new information during your intermediate breaks, because if a college was to cram and study for a long period time, new learning could interfere with consolidation of previous learning, and no one has time for that. (1).

But you  do now have time for a nap!


• Think twice before you push off all your studying for a big exam.
• Develop times throughout the week dedicated to studying certain subjects instead of all at once.
• Remember to take time and do things you enjoy in between studying to give your memory time to consolidate the information.
• Lastly, enjoy your undergrad years and try not     stress too much.

(1) Caithness, G., Osu, R., Bays, P., Chase, H., Klassen, J., Kawato, M., & … Flanagan, J. R. (2004). Failure to consolidate the consolidation theory of learning for sensorimotor adaptation tasks. The Journal Of Neuroscience: The Official Journal Of The Society For Neuroscience, 24(40), 8662-8671
(2) Glenn, D. (2007). Why Cramming Doesn’t Work. Chronicle Of Higher Education, 53(40), A17.
(3) Goldstein, E. B. (2017). Cognitive psychology: connecting mind, research and everyday experience (4th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
(4) Cepeda, N., Vul, E., Rohrer, D., Wixted, J., & Pashler, H. (2008). Spacing Effects in Learning: A Temporal Ridgeline of Optimal Retention. Psychological Science, 19(11), 1095-1102. Retrieved from
(5) KORNELL, N. (2009). Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23(9), 1297-1317. doi:10.1002/acp.1537

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