Study Strategy And Mind Wandering’s Impact On Learning


In particular, spaced and massed practice is hotly contested in psychology, which is why many university students are constantly considering the best study strategy. Spaced repetition improves effectiveness of diving the big content in shorter pieces and its further learning (Yuan, 2022). Students who use the approach of spaced practice divide their study time into several sessions of roughly equal length (Carpenter et al., 2012). As an alternative, massed practice is a study technique described as a prolonged, intense session spread over several days (Carpenter, Cepeda, Rohrer, Kang & Pashler, 2012). However, there is a debate whether massed instruction is less effective compared to the spaced practice (Namaziandost et al., 2019). Intriguingly, Carpenter et al. (2012) discovered that across all age groups, spaced practice improves participants’ learning efficiency more than massed practice. Besides, the outcome was assessed using two distinct conditions in a memory test with participants chosen at random. The second condition had broken, while the first had a protracted presentation. As a result, the participants motivated to use spaced practice would do higher on the test.

Study-phase recall and contextual variability are critical concepts in evaluating spaced practice’s efficacy. According to the study-phase retrieval hypothesis, information is reviewed from long-term to working memory during this time to be retained in people’s minds for longer. Moreover, Larson (2018) thought the information gaps naturally try to recover prior knowledge in spaced practice. Contrarily, in mass practice, the encrypted data will be retained in long-term memory and will likely be forgotten over time because accessing it requires less effort.

In contrast to the study-phase retrieval theory, contextual variability refers to the external environment that affects a person’s feelings or thoughts. Contextual variability will be coded with the information in people’s minds, which will be kept in long-term memory and accessible for retrieval when needed (Larson, 2018). Due to each person’s resistance to becoming accustomed to the incoming information and needing more time for concentration, the underlying setting in spaced practice is more likely to be changeable than in massed practice.

More study techniques needed to be included in the paper, mainly because many researchers found the topic of mind wandering intriguing. Risko et al. (2011) define reason as the tendency for people to become easily sidetracked by other things and to stop paying attention to the work at hand for a while. For instance, a student may quickly consider eating or engaging in other studying activities. Furthermore, Risko et al. (2011) demonstrated that individuals who engage in more mind-wandering would do worse on tests. This study included sixty randomly selected undergraduates from British Columbia University.

These participants had to watch a specifically recorded lecture that lasted for 60 minutes before they could take the test. At four random intervals, the participants’ attentiveness was gauged as they watched lecture recordings (Larson, 2018). Two tests were administered during the initial half of the study session, and two more trials were issued during the second half. The findings revealed that people with more outstanding exam scores exhibited less mind wandering.

The results indicated that participants were likelier to give correct answers in the early half of the research session. Accordingly, individuals who performed better in the first part of the study session had a lower percentage of mind wandering than those who participated in the second half (Larson, 2018). As a result, numerous researchers have determined that the quality of the study’s findings declines as mind wandering rises.

The purpose of this study was to compare the test results of students who used the two alternative study methods. The first method was massed practice, which involves evaluating for four hours straight, while the second was distributed procedure, which involves studying for two hours over several days (Larson, 2018). By including a random on-screen mind wandering probe, it sought to determine whether there was any connection between students’ tendency to daydream and their capacity to remember and recall the study material for later test performance.

To discover which of the following study techniques would result in the most reliable test performance, the independent variable study methods were compared to one dependent variable, which consisted of the outcomes of the test scores. The study was undertaken to see if there was any connection between test performance and mind-wandering (Larson, 2018). Therefore, it was predicted that distributed study practice would result in the most accurate test performance and that there would be a negative correlation between mind wandering and test performance. This correlation is because exposure to mind wandering probes was thought to impair people’s memory, which would subsequently weaken test performance.



This study was finished by first-year psychology students (N = 126) instead of course credit. Twelve participants’ incomplete data were not included in the analysis. The final sample’s (N = 114) majority of participants (63.16%) self-identified as female, and their ages ranged from 18 to 67 (M = 20.87, SD = 4.32).


  1. Demographic Questions- The participants responded to two prompts: “Please enter your age (in years): open-ended>,” and “Please indicate your gender: open-ended>.”
  2. Test material- Twenty fill-in-the-blank questions were administered to each participant.
  3. Study material- Every participant read the e-book “Research in Psychology” by Bernstein et al. (2018).
  4. Mind-wandering Probe- Participants were asked, “Were your mind wandering?” and were them “Yes” and “No” response options, following Risko, Anderson, et al. (2012).
  5. Directions- It was clear to all participants that they needed to plan their study sessions in a computer room over two weeks. In the mass practice condition, participants were informed that they would be required to study for four (4) hours straight. In the spaced practice condition, participants were informed that they would have to study for two hours over two days.


Participants in Part 1 were given the appropriate instructions after being randomly allocated to one of the two conditions for the study approach, massed vs. spaced practice. The next step was to ask the participants to plan their study sessions. In the massed practice condition, participants were required to choose one 4-hour block, but in the space practice condition, participants were required to select two 2-hour blocks on days in a row. Part 1 was due in five minutes by participants. Besides, participants showed up for their planned study session in Part 2. Participants responded to the computer room’s demographic questions (Larson, 2018). During their computer-based study session, participants were informed they would get the on-screen mind wandering probe at irregular intervals. A maximum of 12 mind-wandering examinations were given to each participant, distributed randomly across intervals of 20 minutes.

To take the research methods test for Part 3, participants were instructed to sign in to Qualtrics two (2) weeks following their final study session. The test could only be finished in a 25-minute window by participants. All participants were debriefed about the study’s goals, manipulations, and hypotheses. 4.5 credit points were awarded to participants for their involvement. The Swinburne University Human Research Ethics Committee gave their approval to this investigation.


The participant test replies on the 20-item assessment were marked as either accurate or incorrect to compare the effectiveness of distributed study practice against massed study practice for memory retention and accuracy in test performance. Additionally, measurements were made of participants who indicated “Yes” in response to the 12 mind-wandering probes. The test results for each participant are shown in Figure 1 below:

 Mean Number of Correct Answers by Study Group
Figure 1. Mean Number of Correct Answers by Study Group

The findings showed that participants in the dispersed practice condition scored more accurate responses, which was in line with the study’s predictions (M;18.53, SD;1.14, n;56). However, participants in the mass practice condition displayed lower performance levels (M;13.45, SD;1.54, n;58). As a consequence of measuring participants’ responses to mind-wandering in both the MP and DP circumstances, it was found that those who reported more outstanding mind-wandering scores performed worse on the exam (M = 7.23, SD = 2.47). These findings lend credence to the idea that there is a connection between mind wandering and test performance, albeit a much weaker one than was previously thought (r = -.46, p 0.361).


This study validates the premise that students who use spaced practice techniques are significantly sure to get higher test scores than those who use massed practice strategies. Even the spaced practice time between the previous study, a few minutes gap, and the present study was not separated precisely by the same amount of time, a day gap. The findings from both studies nevertheless demonstrated that participants who used spaced practice tended to score higher on tests than those who used mass practice. In addition, the outcomes corroborated Risko et al.’s (2011) earlier findings and the theory that test performance is adversely affected by mind wandering. Interestingly, the population employed in the current research and the practice gaps differed from those in the present study. Here, the various practice gaps are referred to as independent variables, which researchers typically use to skew the findings of their studies. Surprisingly, the results of the two unrelated experiments still supported the hypothesis’ consistency, making the reliability of this research’s findings higher.

It was essential to note that students experience poor memory and difficulty recalling important events when mind wandering activities are involved. Thus, the study’s findings that mind wandering can reduce understanding and memorization are supported. The results were in line with research by Carpenter et al. (2012), which established that people who spread out their study over two sessions received more accurate test results scores than those who practiced mass study.

Although both hypotheses were confirmed, the current study had several drawbacks. The research’s conclusions would change if there were a gender imbalance. The study’s limited sample size, 114 individuals, presented another drawback because it raised the possibility of inaccuracy. To increase the external validity of future research, a larger sample size with a more diverse range of gender, age, and background is required (Larson, 2018). The study’s ability for participants to self-report and analyze the connection between mind wandering and test performance was its ultimate shortcoming. Self-reporting can produce individual bias, often known as social desirability, and should be avoided in the study. Due to the possibility of experiencing social desirability, controlling or deducting bias from research is crucial.

Social desirability can be removed either directly or indirectly. The straight route is known as a bogus pipeline as a lie detector. This technique can detect whether participants are lying or speaking the truth by accurately measuring their responses. In the direct method, researchers employ repeated questions to discover response variations connected to social desirability bias scales (2022; Larson, 2018). Conversely, indirectly, they hire a survey method with adjusted questions to neutralize responses.

This study may help teachers and educators understand the value of distributed practice for improving learning retention and the negative impacts of mind-wandering, which will help them create tools and techniques to deal with mind-wandering in their students. The findings of this study, in general, supported previous research and the idea that distributed study practice is the best study method for overall memory retention and, as a result, produces the most accurate test scores. Additionally, it was established that participants’ performance suffered due to mind-wandering. However, suggestions for enhancing study approaches that might produce more precise and objective outcomes were presented. The study’s conclusions can be utilized to guide teachers’ and students’ pedagogical approaches to promote their own learning strategies.


Inconclusively, comparing the mean scores of this sample size, the present study could analyze the various effects of the two study methods—spaced practice and massed practice. As a result, the study unequivocally supports the claim that spaced practice students would score higher. The study provided a comprehensive explanation of the study retrieval theory and contextual variability. Further, the study confirmed that students who roam more often would likely perform worse on tests, which was another prediction. Although both hypotheses were fully validated, more study is still needed to address the limitations of sample size, diversity, age, and background and eliminate social desirability bias.


Carpenter, S., Cepeda, N., Rohrer, D., Kang, S., & Pashler, H. (2012). Using spacing to enhance diverse forms of learning: A review of recent research and implications for instruction. Educational Psychology Review, 24(3), 369-378. Web.

Larson, B. R. (2018). Controlling social desirability bias. International Journal of Market Research. 61(5), 534-547. Web.

Namaziandost, E., Nasri, M., Esfahani, F., Keshmirshekan, M., & Agudo, J. (2019). The impacts of spaced and massed distribution instruction on EFL learners’ vocabulary learning. Cogent Education, 6(1). Web.

Risko, E., Anderson, N., Sarwal, A., Engelhardt, M., & Kingstone, A. (2011). Everyday attention: Variation in mind wandering and memory in a lecture. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26(2), 234-242. Web.

Yuan X. (2022). Evidence of the spacing effect and influences on perceptions of learning and science curricula. Cureus, 14(1), e21201. Web.