Spaced Repetition: towards more effective learning in STEM

Alison Voice, Arran Stirton


The use of spaced repetition within a physics higher education thermodynamics module has been analysed for: its pattern of use by students; its effect on memory and performance in the end of module exam; and performance in a delayed test after the summer vacation. A custom-built web app with the facility to generate a personalised repetition timetable was used to deliver practice questions on the material throughout the module. Just over a quarter of students, spanning the whole ability range of the class, made use of the app in some way, about half using it in a spaced manner and half using it for massed practice just before the exam. Students who engaged in a spaced manner had an adjusted mean exam score of 70%, compared to 64% for massed usage and 61% for non-usage. The spaced usage represents a positive effect size of 0.47 over non-usage, which is statistically significant (p = 0.000056). For the delayed test the mean adjusted scores for spacers and non-users were 45% and 34% respectively. Whilst less material had been retained over the summer, this revealed a statistically significant (p = 0.021) positive effect size of 0.54. This work provides evidence and mechanisms to involve students in repetitive practice during the learning phase of a course to advantage their long term retention of material.


Spaced repetition; Long term memory; Cramming; Web app;

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New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences

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