Revision Revision Revision >> Practice Really Does Make Perfect! @RevisionPub

Revision Revision Revision >> Practice Really Does Make Perfect! @RevisionPub

Guest Blogger: Rebecca Skinner @RevisionPub

When it comes to revision the desired outcomes are simple and easy to define – we want each student to achieve the best possible results in tests and assessments.

But it’s not just about short-term recall to get those ‘all important’ grades. Teachers want to ensure long-term retention so that students have a strong foundation to build upon as they progress in their education and beyond.

With the return to terminal assessment at GCSE and A Level, more so now than ever, we need to look at the effectiveness of different revision techniques. And it’s not just about producing the desired results and retention – it’s also about doing so in the most time efficient way.

We have seen a flurry of papers and articles recently looking at the efficacy of different learning techniques from a neuroscientific and psychological perspective and, whilst approaches to and perspectives on this subject might vary, there is strong agreement when it comes to what actually works.

Repeated practice testing and spaced practice testing are consistently being cited as having the highest efficacy both in terms of results and retention.

In practice, this means answering questions to test understanding and rehearse recall of a topic, and revisiting each topic and repeating this process at intervals over time.

Flashcards, self- and peer-testing, short quizzes (in print and online) and exam practice papers are all valid ways of doing this, providing the student gets quality feedback and has access to the correct answer should they get a question wrong.

For most teachers this is far from revelatory news and many have long-since embedded repeat, spaced practice into classroom teaching. Yet, surprisingly, this approach is often not carried forward into independent study and revision where it is just as beneficial.

In a recent survey we carried out, secondary students admitted that they favour revision techniques like re-reading, summarization, highlighting / underlining and drawing mind maps and diagrams. And whilst they do complete practice papers given to them by their teacher, only a small proportion of their time is spent doing this.

Techniques like those listed above may be legitimate but, when you weigh up their impact on results and retention in relation to the amount of time they require, they are very low yield.

As a teacher there is a limit to your influence when it comes to independent study and revision. You can run in-school revision sessions, dispense guidance on best practice and provide your students with revision resources but, when left to their own devices, they are inevitable going to stick with what feels familiar and safe.

One issue with repeated practice is that, during the initial stages especially, it can have the opposite effect and make students feel insecure. It can be be a real knock to their confidence if they test themselves and get a number of questions wrong or simply fail to come up with an answer.

The message we need to be giving them is that this is not a bad thing – it’s all part of the process. If they answer a question incorrectly in an early practice session, they are actually more likely to get the same or a similar question right in a later session and the actual exam!

Another issue is the revision resources that are available (and as a revision guide publisher, believe me, that is hard to admit).

The problem with traditional revision guides is that they simply don’t support a repeat, spaced practice approach. They are very good at distilling the course content down into the key points, and some do include practice questions but, by nature, they are linear in format and do not encourage students to revisit topics at intervals for further practice.

If you need hard evidence that repeat, spaced practice testing works, the following papers and articles all cite studies where groups of students who followed a programme of repeat, spaced practice consistently achieve higher results in a final test than groups of students using alternative techniques:

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E.J., Nathan, M.J. & Willingham D.T. Improving Student’s Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology, Association for Psychological Science, 2013.

Howard-Jones, P. Neuroscience and Education: A Review of Educational Interventions and Approaches Informed by Neuroscience, Education Endowment Foundation, 2014.

Ranga Krishnan, K. Exam Recall takes the Right Kind of Practice, MediaCorps Press, 2013 (

Our challenge is to ensure that students are getting the information, guidance, support and resources that they need to have the confidence to implement repeat, spaced practice testing in their revision. When this happens, the results will speak for themselves!

For our part, Collins Education is developing revision guides for the new curriculum that will include at least five practice opportunities for each topic, spaced throughout the book. We will also be producing free guidance, in print and online, for teachers and students on how to implement and optimise spaced practice for revision, including tools to help with planning.

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