Learn well by high use of practice testing and distributed practice

Comparison of learning techniques showing that practice testing and distributed practice are the keys to learn well

Learn well by high use of high-utility techniques

Practice testing

For example… practicing recall of target information via the use of actual or virtual flashcards, completing practice problems or questions included at the end of textbook chapters, or completing practice tests included in the electronic supplemental materials that increasingly accompany textbooks.

Distributed practice

…distributing learning over time (either within a single study session or across sessions)… we use the term distributed practice to encompass both spacing effects (i.e., the advantage of spaced over massed practice) and lag effects (i.e., the advantage of spacing with longer lags over spacing with shorter lags)…

Learn well by moderate use of moderate-utility techniques


…having students explain some aspect of their processing during learning.

Interleaved practice

…students alternate their practice of different kinds of items or problems.

Elaborative interrogation

…prompting learners to generate an explanation for an explicitly stated fact.

Learn well by low use of low-utility techniques

The keyword mnemonic

Imagine a student struggling to learn French vocabulary, including words such as la dent (tooth), la clef (key), revenir (to come back), and mourir (to die). …the student would first find an English word that sounds similar to the foreign cue word, such as dentist for “la dent” or cliff for “la clef.” The student would then develop a mental image of the English keyword interacting with the English translation. So, for la dent–tooth, the student might imagine a dentist holding a large molar with a pair of pliers.

Imagery use for text learning

Students…were told to read the text and to mentally imagine the content of each paragraph using simple and clear mental images.


…having students write summaries of to-be-learned texts. Successful summaries identify the main points of a text and capture the gist of it while excluding unimportant or repetitive material…


…rereading differentially affects the processing of higher-level and lower-level information within a text, with particular emphasis placed on the conceptual organization and processing of main ideas during rereading.

Highlighting and underlining

…students report… underlining, highlighting, or otherwise marking material as they try to learn it…[1]

  1. Dunlosky, John, et al. “Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14.1 (2013): 4-58.

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