Monday, July 2, 2018

Do you know about "spaced retrieval practice" to help students improve long term learning and exam performance?

This advice comes from an influential research study published back in 2013 in the Educational Psychology Review which I was recently reminded of via the Twitter feed of cognitive science professor Daniel Willingham. The resulting article is called The Power of Successive Relearning: Improving Performance on Course Exams and Long-Term Retention. It suggests a student study and testing strategy that combines the following techniques for improved retention and exam performance:  

  • Making meaningful connections for students between the new material being learned and the concepts they already know.
  • Have students engage in retrieval practice - to maintain the information and make it accessible, learners should practice by attempting to recall that information.
  • Allow for "spaced practice" - to make the practice effortful and effective, distribute student practice repetitions over time.

Researchers call their technique "Spaced Retrieval Practice" and it consists of having students both practice learning the material over carefully spaced intervals and well as practice retrieving it via testing or similar techniques also at spaced intervals.  The study found that students who both engaged in repeated practice and retrieval performed better on exams than those who merely engaged in repeated practice or studied their own way.  The spacing of the practice and retrieval opportunities seems to be key insofar as it requires more effortful engagement with the material on the part of students which leads to longer lasting retention and learning.   

Here's a good summary of the study.


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