Spaced Repetition

As a maths tutor, I not only face the challenge of getting students to understand mathematical concepts but also the challenge of getting the students to retain that knowledge in the long term. 

I often work with students who can no longer complete maths that they were capable of doing when they were younger. 

For instance, times tables can begin to become less secure as a student gets older, as they are expected to already know them.

I began to research why this was such a problem and I discovered that an effective method for enhancing mathematical retention is spaced repetition. 

What is Spaced Repetition?

Spaced repetition is a scientifically proven learning strategy that involves reviewing and revisiting information at specific intervals over time. 

It capitalises on the brain's tendency to forget information gradually if not reinforced. 

By strategically spacing out questions on topics and concepts that I have already covered with a student I can begin to help students retain their mathematical knowledge in their long term memory.

The Forgetting Curve

The forgetting curve, initially developed by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, depicts the decline in memory retention over time without proper reinforcement. 

It shows that within hours or days of learning new information, our retention level drops significantly. 

However, with each subsequent review session, the rate of forgetting slows down, leading to stronger and more durable memory.

How I apply Spaced Repetition to my maths tuition

The main way I use spaced repetition in my teaching is by keeping track of the topics a student has learnt and returning to them regularly. 

This works really well as I teach maths in an interleaving teaching style so it is very easy for me to do this. 

In fact one of the main reasons I teach through interleaving is so I can incorporate spaced repetition into each lesson.

During the lessons I keep track of the topics that a student struggles with and make sure we come back to them each week. 

As the student begins to successfully answer questions on the topics that they were struggling with, I begin to stretch out the number of weeks before we come back to that topic. 

Or perhaps increase the difficulty of the questions in the next week.

Over time some topics begin to be reviewed very infrequently and new topics are added to the review schedule. 

This schedule is designed to optimise memory retention by strategically repeating and spacing out the practice of different topics. 

An example of how I used spaced repetition with a student

I had a student called Mary who could never remember how to find the area of a rectangle. 

There are many reasons why students don’t remember how to find the area of a rectangle (it is after all a slightly vague concept).

However, we talked about what area was each week and came at the topic in many different ways each designed to help Mary fully understand what area actually was and specifically how you find the area of a rectangle. 

We covered this topic really well and Mary was always able to eventually tell me that to find the area of a rectangle you multiply the width by the length. 

Great, but come next week she couldn’t remember again.

So we did it every week until eventually it stuck in her mind. 

During that time we made great progress with percentages, fractions, algebra and many other topics reviewing those topics less frequently or looking at those topics in further depth. 

Every lesson after that she would tell me how to find the area of a rectangle before I even asked.

It worked.

How I use revision cards to support spaced repetition


Revision cards are extremely useful for supporting spaced repetition. 

I encourage my students to make revision cards on any topic or concept they struggle with. 

They can then use these revision cards to actively revise by looking at them or even using the Leitner system

I also encourage my students to bring their revision cards to lessons and to use these cards if they can’t remember how to solve a certain type of question. 

I find after a while they use these revision cards for recall less frequently as their memory improves.  

How I personalise the learning experience for every student

Every student has their own unique learning pace and style. 

To ensure maximum retention, I tailor the spaced repetition approach to suit each student's needs. 

By adapting the review schedule and materials to their learning preferences, I create an environment where they feel comfortable and motivated to participate actively in the process. 

Every student I have worked with has always commented on how they enjoy this process and how they prefer it to the way they are taught in schools. 

Many students also use these methods in other subjects.

How I monitor progress and adapt the lessons 

In every lesson I give regular assessments and feedback to track the student's progress. 

I continually evaluate their understanding and adjust the spaced repetition schedule accordingly. 

If a concept proves challenging, I continue to focus on that concept each week to strengthen their understanding before moving on to more advanced topics.

What I believe are the key benefits of spaced repetition:

Enhanced Retention: By reinforcing key concepts at optimal intervals, spaced repetition maximises the retention of mathematical knowledge over the long term.

Improved Problem-Solving Skills: Regularly revisiting and practising mathematical concepts through spaced repetition improves students' problem-solving abilities. It enables them to approach unfamiliar problems with confidence and apply their knowledge effectively.

Reduced Study Time: With a solid foundation of retained knowledge, students can spend less time reviewing previously learned material and focus more on mastering new and challenging concepts.

Increased Confidence: The mastery of mathematical concepts through spaced repetition instil confidence in students. As they witness their progress and improved understanding, they become more self-assured in their mathematical abilities.