As we start to approach the exam session again, many students (and teachers) will be entering their favourite purveyor of stationary goods to arm themselves with all the tools that one could need to prepare for an exam: cue cards, revision books and, of course, highlighters. I have seen many students think that revisiting their notes armed with a handful of multicoloured highlighters is an effective way to get ready for the big day — well at least there is something visible to show for their efforts.
In this post, I will suggest a new evidenced based revision strategy called ‘Spaced Learning’. I provide some resources that I use in class at the bottom of the post to get you started too.
A recent study (Dunlosky, 2013) considered the relative benefits of a variety of revision and learning strategies and reflected on the impact they have on both learning and retention. Some of the findings should not come as a surprise to you (highlighting and rereading are not effective) but there is probably more to be gained by focusing on the top performing techniques that both teachers and students should be using.
Elements that seem to be key to improving retention are techniques that encourage the learner to think about what they are reviewing and distributing their efforts over time. The full article is quite a read at over 50 pages but it is possible to drop into it and review each of the ten techniques individually or just read the discussion of the article.
The Spaced Revision Technique
From this the idea of ‘Spaced Revision’ has evolved – an evidence based revision strategy that empowers students to use the techniques that work best for them within a set of scaffolding to support them. It has four stages that repeat over the course of a set period of time. This could be a revision period, over the course of a module, or ongoing over the course of the year.
Each spaced learning topic spans two days with two stages on the first day and the second two on the following day. A variety of different techniques are used for each topic you are reviewing (interleaved practice).
Stage 1: Review a topic – for the first 20 minutes utilise any technique you are comfortable with to review the topic. This could be highlighting, making notes, creating flashcards or using post-its. Often, you might stop after this and think ‘my revision is done!’. But no, this is just the start of an effective learning technique.
Stage 2: Transformation task – this is building on the elaborative learning tasks discussed above. Here you need to transform the notes or highlighting that you have from Stage 1 into something different. This could be a mindmap, a drawing, a song, a poem. By doing this you will have to be thinking ‘how’ am I going to show this content in a different form and ‘why’ does each piece belong. It can be fun too.
That is the end of the first session. When you return to your revision in the next day or two (distributed practice) you complete Stages 3 and 4 on the first topic and then start again with Stages 1 and 2 of a new topic.
Stage 3: Practice testing – with a friend, family member or one of the many websites online that have relevant psychology quizzes – test yourself on the area that you have reviewed.
Stage 4: Exam questions – finally, complete an exam question or questions on the area you have reviewed and mark this yourself using a mark scheme or ask your teacher to mark it (practice testing). Importantly, when you are composing your answer use elaborative interrogation and think ‘why am I writing this?’
The aim of Spaced Learning to to allow students to use techniques that they enjoy and help them revise while giving them a supportive scaffold to keep them going (or get them started).
Give it a go and let me know how you find the technique by tweeting @jamiedavies.
- During Stage 2, the transformation tasks that are used can make or break your whole revision strategy. Don’t just do the same task over-and-over again. This is a handout I give to my students that contains loads of different tasks you can use linked to Bloom’s Taxonomy.
- You need to plan your revision well and make sure that you stick to the plan. If you ever miss a session, you need to double up. It is all too easy to fall behind and then just give up with the process. With that in mind make an achievable plan and stick to it – and here is a sheet to help you do that.
- If you want an example of what your revision plan should look like – this is an example of a spaced revision plan for an AS Psychology module.
- Most exam boards put past exam papers that are more than 12 months old online 0r you could use sites like Resourcd to find them too.