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Testing yourself to the max with spaced repetition!

By Tom Lenton on 18 December 2017UKblogStudy tips

Do you wanna be the very best, like no one ever was? Is finding new study techniques your real test? Is using them your cause? Have you travelled across the land, searching far and wide for new ways to maximise your learning? 🌍 If so, look no further.

I want to introduce you to a learning technique called “spaced repetition”. The idea of spaced repetition has been around for donkey’s ears. Yet, for some reason, most students still don’t know about it - maybe everyone thinks you’re not smart enough to handle it. Well, here at Atomi we disagree, so we’re going to show it to you!

The Principle

Spaced repetition is a special technique that literally just helps you to better remember the content you’ve learned. Essentially, the idea is that if you test your knowledge of something after increasing periods of time away from it, you’re more likely to remember it in future. Here’s a graph which shows ‘forgetting curves’, meaning how quickly you forget information after learning and then reviewing it:


So, as the graph suggests, there’s a good chance you’ll forget something a few days after first learning it. It’s also true that if you learn something new then test yourself on it for the next three days, you’re pretty likely to remember it on the fourth day but far less likely to remember it three weeks later, for instance. However, if you test yourself after one day, then after another two days, then another three days and so on, you increase your chances of remembering your new knowledge further down the line. Pretty ideal for your exams!

Those of you who do Maths or Science subjects or Economics are probably thinking ‘ah yeah sure, nice graph’ 📉 . Those of you who got rid of all of those and opted for English, more English and History might be throwing up 😷 .

But it doesn’t matter, the graph’s not that important. The important point is just that waiting longer and longer to test yourself on material makes you more likely to remember it. By revising this way, you’re effectively interrupting the process of forgetting - and it turns out that that is a very powerful way to revise!

How to Do It

That’s all great in theory, but how can we put that knowledge into practice?

Pretty easily, it turns out 🎉 .

If you’re ridiculously on top of your study, you could start using spaced repetition from the start of year 12. Whenever you learn something new, you could plan to briefly test yourself on it the next day, then two days after that, and then three days after that, until you’re only testing yourself on it every few weeks or so.

And when we say ‘test yourself’ we don’t mean sit down and do an hour of practise questions - even just taking thirty seconds to remind yourself what something is can be really helpful. Otherwise, it gets pretty easy to forget all that content that you haven’t looked at for fifteen months when it comes to revision time...

If you’re a little further into the process than that, why not try use some spaced repetition in your revision schedule? The application would be exactly the same, except you probably wouldn’t reach the part where you’re waiting a number of weeks to test yourself each time. Plus, you might wanna test yourself a bit more thoroughly each time and do harder practice questions. The point would still stand: space out the testing and wait longer each time.

If you’re cramming in the few days before an exam, you might still be able to get something out of spaced repetition. According to spaced repetition, you’d be best mixing up what you’re cramming and testing yourself on topics after an hour then two hours then three hours etc. You get the idea. It might feel like a riskier way of cramming but think about it this way: you don’t want to read something, test yourself on it immediately and only once, feel like you understand it but then have forgot it in an hour!

So regardless of where you are in your studies or revision, you might be able to find a use for spaced repetition!


Spaced repetition is just one nice little trick that some of you might want to try and use. It’s not going to determine your grade alone - you still need to do the work. However, spacing out the topics you’ve covered more and more should, in theory, make you better at remembering the content, and up your chances of smashing your exam! So, give it a go and see if the science checks out!

p.s. spaced repetition works great with interleaving - so check that technique out too!

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