Spaced Repetition As A Revision Strategy – How Does It Work?

Have you ever tried to study something over and over again until you memorize it? There are a number of different ways that you can do this, and their effectiveness is pretty varied depending on which one you choose!

Spaced repetition is a method of studying material that involves reviewing information at regular intervals. The idea behind spaced repetition is to increase the likelihood that you’ll remember the information later on.

Spaced Repetition As A Revision Strategy - How Does It Work?

It is also a good way of absorbing more information over a shorter period.

By using spaced repetition in conjunction with other study techniques, you can increase your likelihood of absorbing information. 

What Is Spaced Repetition?

Spaced repetition is just a fancy way of saying ‘space out your studying.’ It is simply the idea of spacing out your study intervals so that you are not working over a solid block of time. 

When you are struggling to study for an important test or exam, it can be easy to think, ‘the longer I study, the more I’ll learn and absorb’. Well, this isn’t quite the case.

Have you ever found that after a certain amount of time passes when studying or ‘cramming’ for an exam, that information isn’t going in?

Spaced repetition is the solution to this. Rather than having one 7 or 8 hour study period where you try to absorb pages and pages of information, spaced repetition introduces time intervals between your study sessions. 

Why Use Spaced Repetition?

According to Pierce j Howard, author of The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, spaced repetition utilizes our brain’s memory in a phenomenon known as the spacing effect.

Basically, in layman’s terms, the brain learns more effectively when we space out our learning over time. 

Creating a spaced repetition schedule is one of the most effective learning techniques for getting information to stick in our long-term memory.

When we space out our studying or any learning for that matter, we are allowing time for our brains to make new neural connections and allowing time for these connections to solidify.

The art of repetition isn’t quite enough by itself, we need to take a break between learning sessions and come back to them with fresh eyes and minds and then reattempt to make these connections over time. 

Howard describes it as building a brick wall with your knowledge- we have to give time for our ‘mental mortar’ to dry in between layering up our bricks of knowledge, or we simply won’t retain that information that we’ve learned well. 

Have you ever crammed for a solid few days for a test, perhaps even done well in the test, and then immediately forgot every bit of information you’ve tried to absorb? Yep, it’s a very common occurrence and something avoidable if we change our study techniques.

In many professions, such as being a medical professional or a lawyer, these vast amounts of information need to be readily available in the long-term memory for a whole career’s worth of time, not just for an immediate exam or test scenario.

The same could be said for virtually any career or just information in general, from pub quiz knowledge to recipe learning. 

The more we learn, take breaks and re-learn, the stronger we can make these neural connections until the information we are trying to absorb is retained.

Take numbers or the alphabet for example: as children, we don’t sit and study the alphabet 24 hours a day, we learn it, take breaks and come back to it at regular learning intervals to establish these connections. 

We’ve known about the importance of spaced interval learning since the inception of memory science as a field, yet with our modern-day lives where we are so focused on absorbing as much information as possible in the shortest block of time, we can often get bogged down and feel like the only way to learn is to force ourselves to sit in one place and pummel information into our heads in long, arduous study sessions. 

By changing the learning process and breaking the information down into bite-sized chunks and revisiting them often at regular intervals, we are far more likely to absorb the information we need to.

How To Implement Spaced Repetition As A Revision Strategy

How To Implement Spaced Repetition As A Revision Strategy

So, you now know that this is a better, more powerful technique for absorbing information. How do you put it into practice in your everyday revision?

Create a schedule: Rather than pushing through and trying to absorb huge chunks of information over an 8 hour period, break up your studying into bite-sized chunks.

By dividing up your workload and repeating these sections every time you study for a block of time, you will retain more information and spend less overall time studying.

Flashcards: Divide up your information into flashcards, separated by topic. Flashcards can be question and answer based or snippets of information such as dates for history revision or scientific formulae. 

Leitner Technique: According to 1970’s German scientist Sebastian Leitner, the best way to utilize flashcards is to sort them into groups according to how well you have retained the card’s information.

If you know the information well and can recite or understand it, it goes to a higher group. The higher up the group, the longer the interval between studying it needs to be.

For the flashcards that you are struggling to retain information from, the shorter the time between your study sessions.

This is a great way of maximizing your study routine, so you’re not wasting time trying to learn information your brain has already retained and rather focusing on the flashcards that need to be embedded into your long-term memory. 

Prioritize your studying: This kind of study won’t work if you don’t give yourself ample time to absorb information with retrieval-based activities such as flashcard repetition.

These require a long period so that you can consistently revisit the information and lodge it into your long-term memory. Make study a priority and create a work plan that gives you time to revisit your information multiple times before your exam over your revision period. 

Final Thoughts

Spaced repetition over an extended period is a great way to lessen workload stress, absorb more information for longer, and stop burnout from constant studying that doesn’t even achieve its goals of long-term information retention.

Everyone is different and has different learning preferences, but if you struggle with retaining information or feel like you are wasting your time with your studying efforts, this proven study technique could be a solution for you. 

Sally-May Schinkel