For more effective practice, try…longer…pauses

Friday, June 23rd, 2023

For more effective practice, try…longer…pauses:

Several researchers have looked at something known as the “inter-trial interval” or “post-KR delay” (KR stands for Knowledge of Results). This is the amount of time that elapses between one practice attempt and the next. For instance, if you’re practicing a tricky shift, you could just execute the shift over and over with no pauses between attempts. Or, you could try the shift, pause, and then try again. That pause between attempts is the inter-trial interval.

Thinking back, I’m not sure I ever made time for even the slightest pause between practice attempts when I was a kid. I totally piñata’d my way through every practice session. Heck, even in lessons I’d often cut my teachers off while they were still talking in a rush to play the passage again and get it right.

I always assumed that learning happened during the time my muscles were moving. The idea that some of the learning might take place in the time between practice attempts never occurred to me.


A 2005 study (Bock et al.) in the journal Experimental Brain Research yields a few clues.

35 participants were split up into six groups, and given one practice session (and 25 practice attempts) to learn a tricky motor task.

The only difference between groups was the amount of time each was given between practice attempts. One group received a 1 second pause between attempts, while the others were given either 5, 10, 15, 20, or 40 seconds.


Everyone improved with practice, but the participants who received only a 1-second pause between practice attempts consistently performed worse than the others, and weren’t as accurate in their efforts to hit the target.


A 2007 study (Huang & Shadmehrin) in the Journal of Neurophysiology also reported on this phenomenon.


Anyhow, the researchers in this study replicated the findings of the other study, observing that the longer delay of 14 seconds between practice attempts led to more rapid improvements than a shorter 4-second delay.


Take your time between repetitions. Pause. And don’t just count to five or 7 or 11, but use that time to ponder or reflect on what just happened, and why it happened. Plan your next move. Give it a go.

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