Australia’s national education evidence body

Tried and Tested – Spacing and retrieval practice Download (PDF, 127KB)

A teacher and a primary school boy face each other at a desk in a classroom. The boy has his work in front of him. The teacher is smiling.

Improve students’ long-term retention of learning

Australian Professional Standards for Teachers | Focus Area 1.2 Understand how students learn

Spacing and retrieval practice can improve students’ long-term retention of their learning. Spacing is the practice of sequencing learning so that information is delivered across two or more lessons rather than just one. Retrieval practice is the strategy of getting students to actively recall their learning. When students are asked to bring information that they have previously learnt to the front of their mind to answer a question, rather than looking up the information in a textbook or having the teacher explain it again, it makes the information more retrievable or accessible in the future. Similarly, if a student cannot recall the information, it helps both teacher and student understand where there are learning gaps that can be addressed. Spaced retrieval is the active practice of recalling previous learning at a point in time after the initial lesson. Spaced retrieval practice uses the principles of cognitive science to help students consolidate their learning in long-term memory so they retain the information for longer and are better able to apply their learning in the future.

Evidence-based practices for applying spacing and retrieval practice in the classroom are listed below. Note that some of the examples offered may not apply in all contexts, may be more suitable for primary students than secondary students (and vice versa), and/or may look different in different content areas. Reasonable adjustments must be made where necessary to ensure full access and participation for students with disability.

Key practices

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