At Sandringham, we have developed the Memory Clock, an evidence-informed guide to revision for our students and parents. In recent years, a large number of teachers have been influenced by research evidence which has identified the positive impact that low-stakes testing, spacing and interleaving can have on students’ memory and this is reflected in classroom practice. However, it was apparent that, when left to their own devices, students sometimes lacked knowledge about the best ways to revise independently. As such, we have formulated a clear message about the component parts of effective revision, based on the best available evidence. A downloadable copy of this guidance is available here .
The idea is captured in the image opposite and illustrates how a student could spend an hour of their time when revising. This, of course, could be any time period such as twenty minutes or two hours. Crucially, we wanted to convey the idea that revision wasn’t just made up of review activities like writing out flashcards, or creating mind maps. More is needed if students are to have the best chance of committing their subjects to memory. Hence, we split our clock into three parts: review, practice and checking activities. From what we knew, effective revision is made up of these three activities which together give students the best possible chance of remembering.
The first part of the clock focuses on the process of reviewing what needs to be learned. We specify that this work should encompass three elements: planning, spacing and elaborating. Planning is important to ensure that students have time to cover all the topics that need to be revised. Spacing out revision i.e. visiting and revisiting topics once some of the material has been forgotten, rather than mass revising topics all at once, has been found to be more effective (Roediger & Pyc, 2012). Even if it feels frustrating for students to forget, it’s actually helpful in the learning process. Finally, elaboration is important as review activities that require thinking, rather than passive activities such as highlighting, are found to be more effective also (Dunlosky, 2013).
It was evident to us that almost all of our students engaged in review activities when revising but, for many, when their flashcards were written or their mind maps created, the revision would end. We knew it was important to convey explicitly that each period of revision should include opportunities for students to engage in retrieval practice. Retrieval practice refers simply to opportunities for students to recall material from memory. This process not only helps students understand what they have and haven’t remembered but the process itself has been found to boost learning (Agarwal, 2017; Brown, Roedigger, & McDaniel, 2014; Dunlosky et al., 2013). The term ‘retrieval practice’, however, isn’t typically used by our students and so we decided instead to refer simply to practice. We then articulated what we meant by this: practising recalling knowledge in the form of low-stakes knowledge tests or through answering longer questions from memory.
The final part of our guidance highlights the value of students comparing their answers to their correct notes. The process of seeing the correct answers after testing oneself supports learning
and identifies mistakes or misconceptions that, if unchecked, could set in (Mcconnell & Hunt, 2007).
Agarwal, P. (2017). Retrieval Practice: A Powerful Strategy to Improve Learning. http://www.retrievalpractice.org/
Brown, P., Roedigger, H., & McDaniel, M. (2014). Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. London: Belknap.
Dunlosky,J. (2013). Strengthening the Student Toolbox: Study Strategies to Boost Learning. American Educator, 37(3), 12-21.
Dunlosky, J. et al. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.
Mcconnell, M., & Hunt, R. (2007). Can false memories be corrected by feedback in the DRM paradigm Memory and Cognition. 35(5), 999-100.
Roediger, H., & Karpicke, J. (2006). Test-Enhanced Learning Taking Memory Tests Improves Long-Term Retention. Psychological Science, 17(3), 249-255.
Roediger, H., & Pyc, M. (2012). Inexpensive techniques to improve education: Applying cognitive psychology to enhance educational practice. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 1, 242-248.