Spaced Practice: One of the Keys to a Student’s Final Exam/Project Preparation

In less than 3 weeks, each individual 6th through 12th grade student will share his or her knowledge and skills acquired for each of his or her courses via a final exam or project. Beginning next week, St. Andrew’s students will receive final exam review sheets, project guidelines, or rubrics from their teachers. This is the official commencement of the first of three distinct parts of the final exam period at St. Andrew’s (noted in green on the calendar).

The second distinct period, one that every current and former student (parents, that’s you) has firsthand knowledge of, is completing the exam or project itself (noted in orange on the calendar). However, far too many schools equate the exam with the end of the school year, which certainly was the case for St. Andrew’s until last year.

But instead of just receiving a final exam grade two weeks later, St. Andrew’s students have the opportunity to reflect and receive feedback from each of their teachers on their performance during four final class periods (noted in blue on the calendar).

This decision is informed by research from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring and others in the Mind, Brain, and Education Science field, which suggests that developing a student’s ability to think metacognitively and to receive timely feedback on assessment performance are some of the “biggest bangs for the buck” to deepen learning (more about the exam feedback period will be available in a future newsletter and CTTL blog post).


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What students do with the review sheets is a critical step in their preparation for exams and provides an opportunity for students and parents to talk about the research-informed strategy of spaced practice (as opposed to “massed practice,” better known as cramming).

Using this final exam period schedule, students should layout how they will space their practice and preparation for their exams and projects. Although it can be expected that students will study the night before each of their assessments, their preparation should not be limited to cramming. While at times the cramming strategy might be beneficial for the short run, it also contributes to increased stress and the likelihood that what was memorized will not be there when called upon under a stressful exam situation. 

Think about designing a 10-day period by spacing out what exams students study for on a particular night. It could look something like this:



or, to prepare for more than one class at a time, the spaced practice over nine-days could look like this:


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After setting a spaced practice preparation schedule, students should consider the following strategies as they consolidate, and further embed into memory, the skills and knowledge they have learned this year:

  • Retrieval practice: Always begin each study session with this strategy. Have your child take out a piece of paper and write and sketch what he/she knows (“dual coding” of words plus pictures may help, depending on the subject and student – students can experiment with it and see what works for them).
  • Flashcards (Handwritten or Quizlet): Most students usually use the cards incorrectly. They flip them over too quickly, creating a false sense of understanding. One important tip: students should not turn over the card to check for an answer unless they have deliberately considered the answer. The not-knowing-struggle-pause is the crucial step.
  • Self-testing: Encourage your child to use review sheets, check the posted answer guide, check notes where understanding is unclear, and check in with the teacher if questions or uncertainties remain.

In addition to students independently figuring out what works best for them, the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning is a resource for all students looking for strategies to help make themselves more efficient, confident, independent, and successful learners. Encourage your students to stop by!


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