The Shuffling of Mathematics Practice Problems Boosts Learning

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Mathematics, Practice, Distribute, Mass, Block, Mix, Interleave, Spacing

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In most mathematics textbooks, each set of practice problems is comprised almost entirely of problems corresponding to the immediately previous lesson. By contrast, in a small number of textbooks, the practice problems are systematically shuffled so that each practice set includes a variety of problems drawn from many previous lessons. The standard and shuffled formats differ in two critical ways, and each was the focus of an experiment reported here. In Experiment 1, college students learned to solve one kind of problem, and subsequent practice problems were either massed in a single session (as in the standard format) or spaced across multiple sessions (as in the shuffled format). When tested 1 week later, performance was much greater after spaced practice. In Experiment 2, students first learned to solve multiple types of problems, and practice problems were either blocked by type (as in the standard format) or randomly mixed (as in the shuffled format). When tested 1 week later, performance was vastly superior after mixed practice. Thus, the results of both experiments favored the shuffled format over the standard format.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Instructional Science, v. 35, issue 6, p. 481-498