What is Spaced Repetition?
One of the simplest and yet most powerful study techniques is Spaced Repetition. When I think back to the success I had in my exams during both school and university, starting revision early was always key. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was making use of one of the most effective study strategies there is. A research paper published in 2013 (Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology - John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, Daniel T. Willingham, 2013 (sagepub.com)) confirms that distributed practice i.e. Spaced Repetition, alongside practice testing, have been shown to boost student performance in educational contexts.
As a somewhat anxious learner, I hated the thought of leaving revision for a test or exam until the last minute. I knew that by getting organised and starting to prepare early, I would feel confident that I possessed the knowledge to do well. People always warn against cramming for exams the night before, and therefore the alternative must be to start revising long before the exam, but it’s not always obvious how to go about this.
We have already seen in a previous blog post that when you first learn something new, your memory of it starts strong, but over time, if you don't review it, that memory begins to fade. This phenomenon is known as the forgetting curve. Implementing Spaced Repetition into your routine can help to combat this forgetting and steer you on the path to achieving those top grades.
How Does It Work?
Instead of cramming all your study into one long session, you spread it out over time, revisiting the material at gradually increasing intervals. Each time you successfully recall the information, the time until the next review becomes longer. This process continues until the knowledge becomes ingrained in your long-term memory.
This study technique goes hand in hand with Retrieval Practice, which we saw in the last blog post. Carrying out regular Retrieval Practice, such as testing yourself with flashcards or past paper questions, well in advance of your tests or exams is one of the best things you can do. This idea is reinforced in the poster below from the Learning Scientists (The Learning Scientists).
Here's an example of a Spaced Repetition calendar created in Notion which would enable students to organise their revision.
Practical Tips for Studying with Spaced Repetition
Now, let's get to the good stuff - how to use spaced repetition effectively. Follow these five practical tips, and you'll be well on your way to becoming a memory maestro:
Start Early and Be Consistent: Begin your Spaced Repetition practice from day one. Consistency is the key to success here. Set aside a fixed time each day or week for review sessions. Short, frequent sessions work wonders and a revision timetable will help you stay on track.
Use Flashcards: Flashcards are your best friends in this learning journey. Write down a question or concept on one side and the answer on the other. Test yourself regularly and focus more on the cards you find challenging.
Prioritise Unfamiliar Material: Pay extra attention to topics you find difficult. If you keep reviewing what you already know well, you'll waste precious study time. Focus on the gaps in your knowledge, and watch yourself improve!
Mix Subjects and Topics: Don't study in blocks; instead, mix subjects and topics in your study sessions. For example, you could revise physics for 30 minutes, then take a break, followed by 30 minutes of English, and so on. Alternatively, if you just wanted to focus on one subject, say physics, then you could start with one topic such as Waves, then move on to Dynamics after a set time. This keeps your brain engaged and prevents monotony. Plus, it mimics real-life situations where you'll need to recall information in various contexts.
Adjust Repetition Intervals: Tailor your spaced repetition intervals based on your comfort level with each topic. For instance, if a concept is still fuzzy after a day, review it again the next day. But if you feel confident, you can space out the next review to a few days or a week later.
You now have a powerful tool in your arsenal to boost your learning prowess. Spaced Repetition is all about working smarter, not harder, and making the most of your brain's natural ability to retain information. Remember, consistency is vital; don't wait until the night before a test to cram. Start early, review regularly, and keep building those connections in your mind.
Source: Ali Abdaal (YouTube)
Check out Ali's free "Ultimate Studying Bundle" which includes a Spaced Repetition template , allowing you to plan ahead and keep on top of your revision: The Ultimate Studying Bundle (notion.site)