Spaced Revision – A focused and personalised technique

Six revision steps...

Revision season is almost upon us and despite telling students that they should be revising throughout the year, this is when it really begins in earnest. We as teachers know that it is not enough to just tell students to revise and expect them to just know how to do it, so with this in mind I was asked to put together a unit of work for year 11 students on effective revision. This includes how to create a revision timetable, the importance of taking breaks and looking after yourself as well as techniques to help them with the actual process of revising.

In doing this I came across a blog post called “Improving revision with effective techniques” on study hacks. In this post, the author talked about an evidence-based strategy called “Spaced Learning”. Spaced learning is essentially scaffolding the student’s revision for them whilst also allowing them the freedom to use the techniques that work for them.

The original idea had four stages:

  1. Review the topic (30 min)
  2. Transformation Activity (10 min)
  3. Practice testing (10 min)
  4. Exam Questions (10 min)

I really liked this idea but wanted to make it more slightly more structured for my students and my subject areas whilst still allowing for a more personalised approach. In my adaption there are 6 steps:

Step 1:

Identification of the Subject/topic to be revised. (5 min)

I think that this stage of the process is very important. From experience, students will gravitate towards the topics that they feel most comfortable with because they already know it and the revision makes them feel good.

Instead, students should be focusing on the areas that they are perhaps struggling with. It has become the practice in my school for students to be given a personalised learning checklist (PLC) at the start of each unit. These allow the students to track their progress and identify areas that they need to focus on and prioritise. This list doesn’t just include course content but also exam skills to help the students when they get to stage 6 in determining what style of question to answer.

Step 2:

Review information on this topic (30 min)

In this stage, the students should be reviewing the notes that they already have on this topic and adding to them. I suggest to my students that because we use blue or black ink in lessons they should use a different colour when adding notes during revision as this will show me what they are doing outside of lessons but also shows them the progress they are making. I talk them through effective highlighting (not covering the whole paragraph/page etc), annotation and making notes, colour coding etc so they have a number of strategies to use in this stage.

Step 3:

Transformation activity inc. quick quiz (25 min)

The transformation activity is taking the students notes and creating something from them, to help them see how much they have actually taken in during Stage 2. These activities vary and I try to get the students to try different ones to see what works for them. The activities include mind-mapping, spider webbing (similar to mind mapping but more structured to Assessment Objectives) creating flashcards, posters, essay planning, story writing, learning grids, foldable etc. Another part of this section is creating a quick quiz of key concepts, ideas or facts. Essentially a short answer test that focuses on the knowledge aspect of the topic. I suggest 10 questions but they could do more if they wish.

Step 4:

BREAK For at least 2 hours.

I have to reiterate this to the students but that doesn’t mean 2 hours of doing nothing but 2 hours away from this topic/subject. It is at this point that revision timetabling becomes important. I suggest to my students once we start revision lessons that they use the lessons for steps 1-3 and do 4 – 5 in their own time. This way if there are areas that they are unsure of I and the rest of the class are available to help them, which also means that they are definitely taking a break between the steps.

Step 5:

Quick Quiz (10 min)

In this step, the student either completes a quiz/test of their own devising or they complete one created by a friend (but still on the same topic). If they score 70% or more they move on to step 5, if they are under 70% it suggests that they need to revise this topic further, attend support sessions or ask for help and should go back to step 2.

Step 6:

Exam-style questions. (30 min)

Using past exam papers students choose a question or set of questions to answer. I get them to refer back to the RAG/PLC list to see which style of question they struggle with most and to try more of those styles in this stage. I tell my students that they should be doing the questions under timed conditions and without any notes available as this will give them a better understanding of their exam technique as well as knowledge. They can then either self mark or peer mark these questions using the mark schemes but I do not look at them until one of those has been done.

I ask all my students to at least try this system to see how it works. If they then decide that it doesn’t work for them then we can discuss why they didn’t feel it helped them and look at other techniques and systems. So far the students seem to like this as it is scaffolded for them.

This article originally appeared in the free April 2016 online UKEdMagazine – Click here to view.

Kim Constable is a teacher of 10 years of experience based in Norfolk. She teaches multiple subjects currently including Sociology, Psychology and PSHE across Key Stages 3 to 5. She blogs as Hectic Teacher and can be found on Twitter at @hecticteacher or on her website:

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About Hectic Teacher 3 Articles
Teacher of over 10 years expereince both in the UK and Europe. Teaching mainly the social sciences and PSHE but experience of many others as well. Blogging about teaching and learning.

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