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Spaced Repetition

Learning how to learn is the hallmark of our unique academic coaching program. While we are perfectly capable of traditional subject tutoring or test prep, we prefer to teach students skills that transcend their current grade level and classroom. The ability to self-teach, master complex subject material, and adapt to different teaching styles is quickly becoming an essential skill for academic success. We have discussed interleaved practice, elaboration, and teaching to learn in other posts, but today we turn our attention to a learning skill that helps with almost every subject: spaced repetition.

As parents and educators (and potentially as former students), we are all too familiar with cramming. Procrastination leads to late nights of frantic studying. Unfortunately, this provides more information than the brain can handle in one sitting, not unlike trying to drink water from a fire hose.. Overt cramming, like the process detailed above, is a significant issue. However, there is a second, more subtle type of cramming that most students are guilty of on a nearly daily basis: rapid-fire repetition.

Picture a student trying to memorize a Pablo Neruda Poem for Spanish class. They recite it over and over again for over an hour the night before the presentation. After about thirty minutes, the student thinks they have it down flat, meaning the last thirty minutes creates a perceived sense of mastery. But what happens during the presentation? They forget a few lines, panic sets in, and they end up with a 78 instead of a 100. I have seen this happen more times than I can count. The solution is spaced repetition.

Spaced repetition still requires the student to practice for sixty minutes, but it’s broken into smaller segments of time. This is because four fifteen-minute blocks work much better than an hour-long chunk. Adding time between study sessions forces our brains to work harder to retrieve the information, strengthening neural pathways, and preventing a presentation day fiasco. To be most effective, retrieval must be done repeatedly in spaced out sessions so that the recall, rather than becoming a mindless recitation, requires some cognitive effort. Repeated recall appears to help memories consolidate into a cohesive representation in the brain and to strengthen and multiply the neural routes by which knowledge can later be retrieved. In other words, learning is deeper and more durable when it takes effort.

Encourage your child to space out study sessions for better results. This partners well with the use of a planner, another pinnacle of our unique executive functioning skill coaching program. We love time management, we love personal responsibility, and we love planners.

If you are interested in our one-on-one coaching program for your child, please reach out today. We work with students all over the city to help them build compensatory skills like organization, time management, self-directed learning, and impression management. For more studying tips, head over to our blog page.

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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