Don’t Be a Fool, Interleaving is Cool

By Summer Inselmann

Ah yes, high school. The days where you could study for a test the class period before and still feel confident in your work. The time when you had your teacher every day to go over every inch of material. When cramming was the easiest and least time-consuming study habit for you. What was even better you may ask? The fact that it actually seemed to work! All of that multiple choice and matching questions were a breeze. You thought that you would have no problem with college. You have heard a million stories of people saying they cram their studying in the night before a test, but you know what they did not tell you or what you did not read on their twitter? The grade they actually got on that test because believe me, it was not pretty. So here you are starting your college career, you crammed for your first big test, thinking you are already to ace it. Fast forward thirty minutes into class when the exam has been handed out and your face looks like that SpongeBob meme when he is trying to write his essay on what not to do at a stop sign. News flash here is something you did not know, the test is not multiple choice, or maybe the teacher does not word things the same way you do so suddenly all of that quickly memorized information means nothing. It is not stored in your long-term memory, it is barely even in your short-term memory. So good luck!

(What SpongeBob looked like)

 

(What you look like)

Luckily for you, there are there are a few study habits that will help you ace those exams, but there is one important key to all study habits, in case you have not caught on by now, YOU MUST STUDY FOR MORE THAN JUST THE NIGHT BEFORE. One great study method that I have learned over my college career, and has been proven to work by cognitive psychologists, is called interleaving. Sounds scary right? Well once again, you are wrong. It is actually quite simple and easy to do. You may have even been doing it without even knowing you were. An important part of creating better study habits is first accepting the fact that your habits are not working and it is not your professor trying to trick you into failing; something I failed to acknowledge for a long time. They are just trying to test your actual knowledge on the subject, which is what they are paid to do. Now, that has been established, it is time to get into the nitty-gritty of what interleaving is all about.

Basics of Interleaving

Most of your life you have been taught to sit down and study/practice one topic at a time. You must perfect or gain the knowledge of that topic before you move onto another study to fully understand it, correct? Well recent studies have found that this may not be the most effective or efficient way to study. (1) Topics A and B may be related, but the study habits of the past say that you must know all of topic A before you may begin to understand topic B. What if you never understand topic A though? Does that mean you will never understand topic B? Or topic C? Etc. This is where interleaving would come into play. Interleaving means that instead of studying one topic continuously, you mix in other topics that relate to it as well. Making sure the topics are related will help make it easier for you to connect them, this is key. You study parts of topic A and topic B switching between the two over a period of time. There may be parts of topic A that are better explained by topic B and clear up any confusion since they are both related. Allowing you to gain a deeper grasp on the entire subject (1). Now I am not saying that you should study and Spanish and anatomy at the same time because they do not relate to each other. You could study the tissue types in anatomy along with muscular system because they go hand in hand. Another way you could picture this would be in sports. Instead of a baseball player just continually working on their hitting stance all practice, they would work on everything from their hitting stance to fielding ground balls to throwing, but you would not see a baseball player shooting a basketball to help better them in baseball (4) You also do not want to switch between topics too fast or spend too much time on one. Make sure you are getting a grasp on one before fully switching to the other, otherwise it turns into multitasking instead of interleaving. You do not want to switch to one topic and forget the other, you want to be able to spot the connections (4).

Why Does This Work?

Cognitive Psychologists have played around with this for a while and this is what they came up with as to why it works; differences and similarities. By mixing topics up and studying them at the same time over a period of time, we begin to notice the differences and similarities among the topics. We see where they overlap and where they become their own topic. Allowing us to gain a deeper knowledge of each (2).  Another proven reason this works is that it forces your brain to find the critical connections between topics and constantly looking for different solutions between the topics. Meaning you learn the critical concepts and skills from those topics to find the correct response (3). This can help if you get a short answer or fill in the blank question on the test instead of multiple choice, where you can see the answer, and still answer it because your brain has made connections that allow you pull related information from your memory and connect them all together. No more being scared of those non-multiple choice questions!

Main Points for Using Interleaving

  • Do not start it the night before an exam, spread it throughout the week, or more if you can.
  • Mix in other study habits that you have learned about. Retrieval practice works well.
  • Make sure topics relate.
  • Do not dedicate interleaving to certain time blocks (every 30 minutes, etc.). Allow yourself the time that feels right for you.

Now that you have learned how to use interleaving as a form to study, it is time to pass your exam and shift into maximum overdrive!

Image result for Maximum Overdrive Spongebob

 


  1.  Stenger, M. (2017, October 03). Interleaved Practice: 4 Ways to Learn Better By Mixing It Up. Retrieved from https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/learning-strategies/interleaved-practice-4-ways-to-learn-better-by-mixing-it-up/
  2.  Pan, S. C. (2015, August 04). The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning.Retrieved fromhttps://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-interleaving-effect-mixing-it-up-boosts-learning/
  3.  Winerman, L. (n.d.). Study Smart. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2011/11/study-smart.aspx
  4.  What do fruit salad and interleaving have in common? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.retrievalpractice.org/strategies/2018/interleaving-fruit

 

3 Replies to “Don’t Be a Fool, Interleaving is Cool”

  1. I think it’s awesome how you compare and contrast the differences of testing in high school versus college to help make your point. It strengthens it a lot! Great job of explaining HOW interleaving works and showing how students can use it. Bonus points for all of the SpongeBob references, too.

  2. This is a great concept that I and a lot of other people probably would not think of on our own. It is amazing how the brain can connect things and use that to benefit the amount of information we can retain and how we can connect topics to remember more. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Interleaving is something I never thought about or did until I read this blog post. I was just like you in high school. I could cram for a test right before taking it and still get good grades. Unfortunately, I found out that that method doesn’t work so well in college. Interleaving works great for me because, as a criminal justice major, many of my courses correspond with one another. This was a great post. Thanks for educating me a little more about interleaving.

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