Updated: Sep 28
Spaced practice is the precise opposite of cramming. It's the repeated, regular study of a subject area over time. Most of us have ‘crammed’ for a test or exam at some point. With everything going on in our lives, we often neglect to study for tests and exams in advance. Instead, we choose intense and long study sessions the night before. However, not only are these cramming sessions exhausting and stressful – they are mostly ineffective in preparing us for the tests. Fortunately, there is a way to improve revision – spaced practice. Spaced practice involves revising content in small increments (10-60 minutes) at least once a week.
To put it another way, let's say you have to walk or run a distance of 5km by next Friday at 11 am. At that time you will sit an exam.
Which approach would give you the best opportunity to do well in the exam?
Walking one or two kilometres in the days leading up to Friday?
Starting to run the 5km at 10 am?
Also, planning to run 5km on Friday at 9 am has more risk because you have less time to react to potential issues. For example, if you injure your foot or sleep through your alarm, you may not meet the 5km criteria. Plus you will likely be more stressed when you sit the exam. Too much stress will impact your ability to do your best in the exam.
Getting Organised At the beginning of a unit of work, schedule time to revise the day after each class. Reviewing the day after is important because it gives your brain time to process the information. As you progress through the unit of work, you should need less frequent revision sessions to keep your knowledge. Here is an example of a spaced practice schedule.
Day 1: Compile your notes and resources for the unit
Day 2: Revisit, review and summarise
Day 3: Self-test and then revise your notes
Day 7: Review and summarise
Day 14: Self-test and then revise your notes
Top tip: Revise older content first – it keeps it fresh in the brain and makes it easier to review newer material.
What Your Brain Needs
If you're cramming late at night you might be making things worse by being sleep deprived. Sleep is super important for learning as well as your mental and physical health. When we are tired and stressed, we struggle to concentrate and recall information. Space practise and getting the recommended eight hours of sleep helps you be in tip-top shape for your tests and exams and have time to relax, socialise and do things you enjoy.
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References Oxford Learning. (August 30, 2018). ‘How to Study Using the Spaced Practice Method.’ Oxford Learning. https://www.oxfordlearning.com/what-is-spaced-practice/
Halsey, J. (February 2, 2018) ‘The Science of Spaced Practice: Why Studying ‘Little and Often’ Works.’ Oxford Study Courses. https://osc-ib.com/article/science-spaced-practice-why-studying-%E2%80%98little-and-often%E2%80%99-works
Weinstein, Y and Smith, M. (July 21, 2016). ‘Learn How to Study Using…Spaced Practice.’ The Learning Scientists.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Milton Park, UK: Routledge.
HIGH IMPACT TEACHING STRATEGIES , Excellence in Teaching and Learning, State of Victoria (Department of Education and Training) 2017