As we come to the end of Week 7, many students will find themselves busy with assessment including preparation for looming examinations. Being well prepared for examinations is the best way to increase confidence and reduce anxiety, however, research also shows value in giving students time to practise the skills they have learned. When practice is spaced out over time, Researcher John Hattie found that students improved their results by 26% (Killian 2015).
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, many students try to learn the facts, concepts, skills or procedures needed for an examination the night before. Many argue that cramming keeps the information fresh and that studying the night before is actually more effective. Whilst this may appear to be the case in the short term, over the longer term it will not facilitate the desired levels of success because a single study session, no longer how long it goes for, does not support long term learning.
As our Year 11 and 12 girls know, cramming for examinations will not prepare them for the types of assessment contained within our senior system. In the new QCE, external examinations in mathematics, science and arts subjects will assess content covered over Units 3 and 4 (i.e. up to two semesters of learning). Cramming the night before, or even a couple of days before, will not allow students to retain that amount of understandings or practise the variety of skills developed over the learning period.
Research shows that spaced practice can assist in improving students’ memory for essential facts and concepts and prior knowledge facilitates subsequent learning and comprehension. Long term retention of foundational knowledge and quick access to information from memory are often prerequisites for higher order learning and reasoning. For example, remembering arithmetic facts (e.g. times tables) is crucial to mathematical skill learning, and being able to retrieve an answer from memory enables efficient problem solving and more complex learning. Retention of information also allows students to transfer and utilise what they have learned (Kang 2016).
Spacing out study and practice is a good habit to build for academic success. However, students should also remember to seek feedback from their teachers and double check their understandings. Timely feedback on practice remediates student misunderstandings and prevents them learning and repeating mistakes.
As we approach examinations, the following list provides some practical ways parents can support their daughter:
Encourage her to establish a study timetable. Get your daughter to write down the exams she has and the days they are scheduled. Help her to organise her study accordingly. She may want to give some exams more study time than others so help her determine what she needs for each subject.
Encourage her to get rid of all distractions when studying and choose a spot where she is able to focus as much as possible.
Challenge her to start her study by writing down everything she knows about the topic. Then she can highlight where the gaps lie and use her class notes or research to fill them. This also provides an opportunity to liaise with teachers and correct misconceptions or clarify understandings.
Suggest to your daughter that she uses visual aids or diagrams to represent her information. Educational expert Robert Marzano found that deeper levels of understanding can be attained by using graphic organisers to show how different ideas are related to each other (e.g. steps, cause-effect, hierarchy, lists, comparisons, etc.)
If available, make use of revision sheets, past papers, practice questions etc. These help to commit the content to memory but, importantly, they allow students to practise the skills (e.g. analysis, applying knowledge to unseen problems) that will be assessed.
Support your daughters to ensure they maintain healthy habits including by taking lots of breaks, drinking plenty of water, getting lots of sleep and eating well. These things are vital for brain function and assessment success.
Exam periods can be stressful but spacing out study and practice, seeking feedback and clarification from teachers and implementing effective study tips can all help to reduce anxiety and build success.
Kang, Sean H. K. (2016) “Spaced Repetition Promotes Efficient and Effective Learning: Policy Implications for Instruction”, Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 3(1) 12–19
Killian, Shaun (2015) “8 Strategies Robert Marzano & John Hattie Agree On” in The Australian Society for evidence based teaching.
Rawson, K.A. & Kintsch, W (2005) “Rereading effects depend on time of test” in Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 97 (1) 70-80.
Dr John Fry
Deputy Principal - Studies