There are several concepts and tools in the book but two of them that stood out for me were the following:

  1. Practice retrieving: Instead of practicing information by reviewing it or rereading it over and over again, have students recall the information by having lower stake quizzes before and after the lesson and then again in a cumulative midterm or final exam.   Lower stake quizzes that are worth little to no points decrease the anxiety of taking them. In the book, it mentions that students do better overall when they know when the quizzes are in going to be held rather than having pop quizzes and also when they have more of them rather than less in order to get them used to the process of retrieving information.   To practice retrieving by quizzing is an effective method that beats reviewing the information by rereading it or highlighting it.

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[The above figure represents a study of undergraduates in a laboratory environment, asking them to read passages about 250 words long. The authors compared three conditions (see Figure 1): students who studied the passages four times for five minutes each (SSSS group); students who studied the passages three times and completed one recall test in which they were given a blank sheet of paper and asked to recall as much of the passage as they could (SSST group); students who studied the passages one time and then performed the recall practice three times (STTT group). Student retention was then tested either five minutes or one week later using the same type of recall test used for retrieval practice.

Results: When the long-term retention is the goal, testing is more effective. The researchers found that when the final test was delayed by a week the results were reversed, with the STTT group performing about 5% higher than the SSST group and about 21% higher than the SSSS group. Testing had a greater impact on long-term retention than did repeated study, and the participants who were repeatedly tested had increased retention over those who were only tested once.]

  1. Interleaving and spacing the learning: Another discovery from the book was to space the learning and interleave the concepts. For example, instead of covering all of Chapter 1 before moving onto Chapter 2, Chapter 1 would be introduced and general concepts would be covered. Then students would read the chapter and take a low stakes quiz. There would be feedback from the quiz and then Chapter 2 would be introduced followed by another low stakes quiz with a compare and contrast of how Chapter 2 builds on Chapter 1.   Then there would be a return to Chapter 1 to go more in depth. At first, it sounded to me like I would be jumping around each chapter, which seems counterintuitive. What makes sense is to master one chapter before moving on to the next which the book calls “massed presentation”. However, in the research and the studies, the ability to recall in the long term was more effective when the learning was spaced and interleaved. Interleaving in learning means alternating between 2 or more concepts. Several studies show that this interleaving and spacing helps our mind retain more information in the long term memory.

The diagram below illustrates an example of the difference between massed learning vs spaced and interleaved learning (

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