Interleaving & teaching for memory; has it worked?


At the start of the year I decided that I would attempt to use an interleaving technique with my GCSE class. A year on, it’s time to think about whether it has had any impact thus far into the course.

What I did differently 

Teaching topics

I used to teach topics like this:
I used to stick with a topic and then teach both religions i.e War, Christianity first and then Islam.

Instead I thought I would trial this model:

new Pand C

Here I’ve stuck with the religion and covered the topics and then moved to the 2nd religion. My hypothesis was that by doing it this way key concepts of the topic would be repeated the second time through, hopefully encouraging recall and embedding in their memory.

Using core teachings/quotes

I also identified core teachings from other units that I could refer to in the teaching of the new topic so students had to recall prior learning (see table underneath). The idea is that repeating core teachings that are appropriate to most topics would help them to remember them and also give a core set of teachings they could apply across the topics i.e ‘Love your neighbour’ and ‘The Golden Rule’.


I also used a method of testing as below. I used to teach then test that topic. Teach another topic then test it etc etc


Instead of teaching all paper 1 topics then all paper 8 topics I’ve also alternated these over the 2 years to see what impact that may have.

This year I have trialled testing all the topics previously studied. Essentially whenever I test it gets longer and longer and covers all content taught thus far.

The idea behind this is that students are having to recall all previously taught material not just the topic they’ve studied. The theory is that if I hadn’t done this the content from September may easily be forgotten.

Testing keywords

Finally I have continued to use a strategy that I’ve used for many years now; keyword tests every fortnight. For each unit students have 12 keywords that they must know the meaning of. There are 8 units so they need to be able to recall 96 keyword meanings. Due to the nature of the mark scheme it is safer for them to learn the definition provided by the exam board so I issue them with these lists and set it as a ‘perma’-homework to learn them.

I then test them every fortnight on the keywords that belong to the unit we’re studying. I record their mark out of 24 and ask them to nominate one word that they need to work on each time. They have to increase the number every fortnight and occasionally I make a minimum number they must achieve. If they don’t they spend time with me to go through the definitions.


This shows how they increase their score each test (or not)

I did a small-scale research on this technique a year ago which looked at their attitudes to the homework & testing. This showed that many of them didn’t actually do the homework but knew the test was happening so briefly looked at the sheet before the test. This was enough each time to usually get them through.


Students have just done a ‘mock’ exam which covered 4 of the unit studied this year.

Here is a summary of my group’s results:


Each unit is out of 20 marks. The colour coding is relative to the student i.e. green is their highest scoring unit and red their lowest.

The units are in order of teaching.

Here is the other group’s results. They have done the testing in the same way but not the other strategies in the same way I have.


Hypotheses & analysis

It would be unwise to suggest any definite correlations between action and results but I have some suggested hypotheses based on the mock exam results:

  • Students did better on the first unit because:
    • They remembered it best as the content has been repeated multiple times through repetition of core teachings
    • I taught it ‘better’ (whatever that means?)
    • We spent more time on that unit
    • They’ve been tested on it four times
    • The questions on that unit were more accessible than the others
    • They answered that unit first in the mock exam when their thoughts were fresh and hand didn’t hurt from writing
  • Students didn’t do so well in the last unit because:
    • We rushed it
    • They didn’t revise it (as much) because it was the last unit we’d done
  • Students didn’t so well in Peace & Conflict because:
    • Some say they didn’t like it as some of it was ‘History’ and they don’t like it
    • I taught it using the new model as above and this hasn’t worked
  • Most students improved from their previous scores on the first two units ( green arrows) because:
    • They’ve been tested on these topics the most
    • The questions were more accessible
  • Overall the majority of students got full marks on the keywords and none misanswered a question ( i.e. they didn’t understand what the question was asking due to not knowing the keyword in the question) because:
    • They had done keyword tests every fortnight
    • It was their homework to learn them
    • They were the ‘easier’ keywords on the specification

Looking at the two groups the difference is stark. The group that have had these strategies used did better on the first topic (mostly green) and the group that didn’t do them did better on the last topic (mostly green).

Here also is how the students did in this test compared to the last test which only had the first 3 topics:

Green = Increase Yellow=Same Red = Decrease

Arrows = Green = Increase
Red = Decrease

This shows that whilst the first topic is generally their best, it is increasingly getting better. This looks similar for the second topic as well.

Questions & next steps

I have some questions that will be interesting to see the answer to in the next 9 months.

  • Will students get better at the latter topics the more they’re tested on them?
  • Will all topics ‘even out’? Or will there always be topics that are better written?
  • If I spent the same time on the following units as I did on the first would that have improved results? Should I spend longer on units with less time for revision at the end of the year?

Next year I will do the following:

  • I will trial another unit using the technique of teaching by religion and see how that goes
  • I am sharing with students some of the reading that I’m doing on memory and trying to show them how it may help them
  • I am focussing on revision and what it really means for them. Teaching them techniques to help with memory.
  • Due to time restraints I can’t fully follow the model of testing all units as this will now be over 90 minutes each time. I will now rotate testing the units.
  • Analysing the difference between marks in each unit. Can I close the gap between units?
  • Focus revision on the topics they need to, using their year 11 mock results
  • Carry on with the keyword tests

If you have any further ideas about what the results might show or what else I can trial then please feel free to comment.

7 thoughts on “Interleaving & teaching for memory; has it worked?

  1. I’m really interested in what you have been doing as I plan to do more repeat testing with my history GCSE sets next term. I am also going to start an MEd next term looking at the impact of repeating the teaching of different concepts in new contexts. I would have speculated your new teaching order would be better as from my experience teaching different ideologies at A level. I think my students would find a thematic approach more confusing and it would be hard to see the way the ideas fit together into a whole. My students also benefit from revisiting the concepts in new contexts. Is this what you have actually found and are there any significant drawbacks to your new teaching order?

    • I need to trial this further this year. I think one error is assuming I can spend less time on things because they already covered it in some way.
      I’m also going to set homework which will be testing all previous knowledge. Will be interesting to see what impact it has.

  2. Pingback: Evaluation of 2 years quizzing, testing & learning | missdcoxblog

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