‘They need to remember this in three years time’: Spacing & interleaving for the new GCSEs


Yesterday I spent two hours with a colleague discussing the research on memory and how spacing, retrieval and interleaving works. The aim was to consider our new GCSEs which will be running over a 3 year period (year 9-11).

Whilst we didn’t decide anything concrete, mainly because we don’t have approved specifications, we did discuss the possibilities of applying the research in these areas to our plans. It was great to discuss ideas, pose problems and compare how things might work in our subject areas (I’m religious studies and he is science).


Scribbles from discussion: possible use of HW quizzing

We found that the previous research  does not definitively conclude how we should go about this, and in some cases contradicts itself,  but gives us some suggestions that we might trial.

“To efficiently promote truly long-lasting memory, the data presented here suggest that very substantial temporal gaps between learning sessions should be introduced – gaps on the order of months, rather than days or weeks. If these findings generalize to a classroom setting – and we expect they will, at least with regard to learning ‘‘cut and dry’’ kinds of material – they suggest that a considerable redesign of conventional instructional practices may be in order.”

Optimizing Distributed Practice: Theoretical Analysis and Practical Implications –  Nicholas J. Cepeda,Noriko Coburn,Doug Rjohrer,John T. Wixted,Michael C. Mozer,and Harold Pashler

We came up with some questions that we need to answer or at least trial solutions over the coming years:

  • Over a 3 year period what is the optimum gap and retention interval between the initial studying, restudying and the GCSE exam? Research suggests 5% of the time for a year, what about 3 years?
  • How many restudies would be needed and after which period of time?
  • How much would constitute as ‘over learning’ over the 3 years?
  • Would students get fed up with constant testing & quizzing?
  • Does the testing need to be in different forms? Does it matter?
  • Should the tests interleave previous topics within the tests? Or should tests be one topic but interleaved with others?
  • How do we convince teachers that are used to teaching in a linear way that this might have an impact and it’s worth trying?
  • If all teachers followed some of our ideas would it become boring and monotonous for students? Does it matter?
  • Should we share this with other teachers?
  • If we gradually increase the retention interval should we then gradually decrease it again nearer the exam?
  • Do we still need the traditional ‘revision’ period at the end of year 11?
  • Does the order of the content matter? Other than if it relies on prior knowledge should we teach ‘difficult’ concepts first, middle or last?
  • Should we do ‘fun’ topics at the start, middle or end? Does it matter in terms of learning?

However we did discuss how we could:

  • Tell the students what we’re doing; give them overviews of the research & techniques so they understand
  • Plan as much as possible in advance including quiz questions
  • Use multiple choice quizzing to reduce marking
  • Use quizzing for homeworks & possible software that marks it automatically

Once the specifications are approved I will start to consider what needs to be learnt and start the huge jigsaw puzzle of putting it into a format that tries to optimise these principles.

If you have any answers or suggested research to answer any of the questions then it would be great to hear from you.


Resources & research considered

Spacing Effects in Learning : A Temporal Ridgeline of Optimal Retention – Nicholas J. Cepeda,Edward Vul,Doug Rohrer, John T. Wixted, and Harold Pashler

Click to access Cepeda_Vul_Rohrer_Wixted_Pashler.pdf

Optimizing Distributed Practice: Theoretical Analysis and Practical Implications
– Nicholas J. Cepeda,Noriko Coburn,Doug Rohrer,John T. Wixted,Michael C. Mozer,and Harold Pashler

Click to access Cepeda_etal_EP2009.pdf

Peter C., Henry L. Roediger, and Mark A. McDaniel. 2014. Make It Stick. Harvard University Press.

Carvalho PF and Goldstone RL (2015) What you learn is more than what you see: what can sequencing effects tell us about inductive category learning?



2 thoughts on “‘They need to remember this in three years time’: Spacing & interleaving for the new GCSEs

  1. Pingback: (Trying to apply) Spacing in Science | mrbenney

  2. Pingback: Ditch ‘revision’ – A trial of Independent Review from day one | missdcoxblog

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