Computer scientists at the University of Colorado's Institute of Cognitive Science have taken the guesswork out of studying by creating software that personalizes review material with students' best interests in mind, according to Boulder campus researchers.

CU professor Michael Mozer said the software works much like existing online flash cards and practice drills, but it differentiates itself in remembering what students struggled with and tailors itself to help students commit those areas to memory. It then collects that data and adds it to a database so other students using the program can benefit.

Mozer coordinated the project after building models illustrating how spaced review affects memory. He found that spacing out review material over time, as opposed to cramming, results in remembering it longer. The software specializes in spacing out review material to increase retention.

"Cramming is fine if you just want to pass a test you're taking the next day, but if you study material a month apart, you're much more likely to remember it for longer periods of time," Mozer said.

The software is CU doctoral student Robert Lindsey's thesis, which he's been working on for five years. He said statistics separate his program from others like it.

"It's hard to know what you've forgotten, and this pinpoints what that is just based on how hard you or other students struggled to learn it," Lindsey said.

Lindsey and Mozer said similar programs make claims about knowing the most efficient way to review, but their software has the studies, statistics and data to back it up.

Lindsey said the next step is scientific advancement.

The program has only been tested on about 300 middle school students in Spanish classes over the course of a semester. He hopes to expand the software for use in many subjects and conduct multi-year studies to better track retention. Eventually, Lindsey hopes the product will be widely available for consumer use.

"If you're willing to commit time to study, then we can help best allocate what you need to study and when," Lindsey said.

Actually committing the time to study could be a downfall of the program, according to CU students.

CU senior finance major Brenden Kugle, 22, said he doesn't usually study until right before he has to take a test, and then he ends up blanking on the information both during and after the assessment.

"I'm worried that I'm going to graduate and forget everything I've learned in school when I get a real job," Kugle said. "I think a studying software would help me, but it just depends on whether I'd actually do it."