Did you know that when you're learning new words on Vocabulary.com, you're engaging in what psychologists call "distributed learning" and "practice testing"?

You are, and according to a recent study brought to our attention by journalist and learning expert Annie Murphy Paul, these are the two most effective ways to learn. 

So what is "distributed practice"? Paul explained it several years ago for The New York Times, under the name "spaced repetition."

Instead of concentrating the study of information in single blocks…learners encounter the same material in briefer sessions spread over a longer period of time. …The reason the method works so well goes back to the brain: when we first acquire memories, they are volatile, subject to change or likely to disappear. Exposing ourselves to information repeatedly over time fixes it more permanently in our minds, by strengthening the representation of the information that is embedded in our neural networks.

How do we use "distributed practice" at Vocabulary.com? Our game works by sending you increasingly difficult questions on words and sticking with you until you've mastered each one. We use an algorithm to determine which questions to send you and how often to send them based on your performance in the game. Bottom line? By teaching you words' definitions in small chunks over a long period of time, we don't let you forget.  

And what is "practice testing"? In the same New York Times piece, Paul explains "practice testing" under the name "retrieval practice."

“Retrieval practice” employs a familiar tool — the test — in a new way: not to assess what students know, but to reinforce it. We often conceive of memory as something like a storage tank and a test as a kind of dipstick that measures how much information we’ve put in there. But that’s not actually how the brain works. Every time we pull up a memory, we make it stronger and more lasting, so that testing doesn’t just measure, it changes learning. 

How do we use "practice testing" at Vocabulary.com? Every question we send you is a mini test; we're asking your brain to recall a definition you may or may not know. If you get the question wrong, we give you a chance to review. A little while later, you'll see that question again, and this time, you'll likely get it right.