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Honest Teacher: Five Minutes a Day

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This sponsored column is written by Peter Bui, founder of The Honest Teacher. An Arlington native and former teacher, Peter offers private tutoring services that focus on the individual needs of students and emphasize the core values of confidence, independence and resilience.

The classic approach to learning facts is rote memorization, simply repeating information over and over again to increase retention. Although there is value in this approach, a more effective system was tested by H. F. Spritzer in 1939. His spaced repetition method was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology but didn’t receive attention until the 1960s. It was in the 1980s that spaced repetition was used due to the advent of computers.

The basic principle for spaced repetition is founded on Hermann Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve. As time passes, the likelihood of remembering something greatly decreases over time. As reminders are given, the chance increases back to 100% but this time the decrease over time occurs at a slower rate. Spaced repetition maximizes this phenomenon to promote long-term retention. A fellow colleague once told me the 10-24-7 rule: reminders should come 10 minutes later, 24 hours later, and then 7 days later. The increased time between reminders is key.

This method challenges typical studying methods like cramming. Cramming, also known as mass presentation, may feel effective at the time since the student is doing something, but most of the information is not retained the next day. Studying the same information every day might not be effective as well since interest and novelty is lost through sheer repetition. Students usually have a test less than one month apart so a reminder 1 month after the initial introduction of material might not be appropriate.

Hopefully, while in class, teachers will refer back to material presented and connect it to new information rather than simply moving on. Giving students this first reminder will be key to allowing them to recall it the next day. The next reminder could come at home when students are working. Simply looking at the material again is a reminder. When teachers don’t give any written homework, students usually consider this as having none. This should be an opportunity to look over notes. When I ask my students, before a test, how many times they’ve looked at the notes, they usually reply twice, once when they received it, and the second time as we study.

When there is a feeling of needing to study, usually when the test is the next day, motivation is high and the ability to remember everything seems possible, which actually is an impossibility that students reject if they want to believe that they can still do well. In addition, the prolonged duration that most students spend cramming makes studying feel like a hurdle and leads to avoiding studying on a daily basis and thus more cramming in the future. Cramming becomes a vicious cycle.

The best approach would be simple, quick, and effective. It is not the duration of time spent studying or reminding that is effective but rather the frequency and duration between times that is effective. Even 5 minutes of reminding per subject could be effective if the student is looking over notes from that day, the day before, and a week earlier. Just reading the notes may be effortless enough that daily studying doesn’t seem annoying. This may be a difficult habit to build at first since there is not an immediate need to study but will pay off in the long run.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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