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Massed vs. Distributed Practice

This lab report examines the effects of two different studying techniques on people’s test performance: massed vs. distributed practice. Massed practice refers to studying or rehearsing information in one period (i.e., cramming), whereas distributed practice (also known as spaced practice) refers to spacing out the time spent studying over several sessions with a break in between (see Figure 1 from Carpenter et al., 2012, p. 370).

Importantly, the key difference is not the amount of time spent studying, but rather when the person spends the time studying and how much time passes between study periods. For example, you can either study for 8 hours straight for an exam (i.e., massed practice) or you can study for one hour each across 8 different days (i.e., distributed practice). I selected this topic because (a) there is a wealth of research for you to draw upon, (b) it is relevant (but not dependent upon) material you will cover in the Memory learning material, and (c) it may shape your own studying strategies in this unit and beyond.

To begin this assignment, you should read pages 262–3 and 302–4 of your Bernstein et al. (2018) text and the provided “starter” articles.


Study Overview and Research Question. Our study, based on Rohrer and Taylor (2006, Experiment 1), compares two study strategies (massed vs. distributed practice) on participants’ performance on either a fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice test. Thus, this study had two independent variables with two levels each: study strategy (massed vs. distributed practice) and type of test (fill-in-the-blank vs. multiple-choice test).

Participants in both study strategy conditions (massed vs. distributed practice) spent the same amount of time studying: six (6) hours. The only difference was when they studied. Half of the participants studied for six hours on one day (massed practice condition), whereas the other half studied for six hours across three consecutive days (i.e., 2 hours on Day 1, 2 hours on Day 2, 2 hours on Day 3; distributed practice condition).

Participants studied information from their research methods chapter and were tested with a 20- item test. All participants completed the test three (3) weeks after their final study session. Half of the participants completed a test with fill-in-the blank questions, whereas the other half completed a test with multiple-choice questions.

In sum, participants were randomly assigned to one of the four conditions:

  1. Massed practice with a fill-in-the blank
  2. Massed practice with a multiple-choice
  3. Distributed practice with a fill-in-the blank
  4. Distributed practice with a multiple-choice

The main research question examines how study strategy influenced participants’ test performance and whether that varied by the type of test.

Variables & Hypotheses.

Variables. This study has two independent variables: (1) study strategy (massed practice vs. distributed practice), and (2) type of test (fill-in-the-blank vs. multiple-choice). We are interested in how these two variables interact; that is, how study strategy affects participants’ memory on a fill-in-the-blank test compared to a multiple-choice test. The dependent variable is their performance on the test (i.e., how many questions they answered correctly).

Hypotheses. Hypotheses are specific predictions about the pattern of relationships between variables. In this lab report, you are interested in how study strategy affects participants’ performance on different types of tests. You will need to develop logical and explicit hypotheses about what you expect to find.

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