Repetition- Did I Just Swear?

The Power of Repetition

Rote learning defined as trying to learn something by repeating over and over has, in recent years fallen out of fashion with western educationalists. So I believe fundamentally repetition can underpin learning. You are probably already utilising this in your lessons in the form of repeating exam questiona to build pupils exam literacy.

Science AQA teachers check out for a great resource for exam literacy and question repetition.
There has been a multitude of studies on memory recall, most famously Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist pioneering the experimental study of memory. Ebbinghaus (1913) concluded that frequent repetitions were necessary to both (a) get to the point where content could be reproduced from memory, and (b) prevent forgetting of the content once it had been learned:


Ebbinghaus research (albeit flawed through poor research methodology) states learnt material exponentially decays to around 20% within a week. In the context of a lesson, this means that pupils will only retain a fifth of the core information week on week. Alarming stuff but there is a saving grace within the research.

Ebbinghaus comments on spaced repetition. Here information was repeated at spaced intervals until the information became habitual. This approach has considerable implications when considering revision for tests and examinations.

I know the above reads a bit like an assignment, so let’s keep it real.

How I utilize spaced repetition – Zip Tests

With all of this in mind. I have factored into my lessons a 5 to 10 min slot where I conduct a ‘zip test’, generally this is done at the start of a lesson but the same technique can be utilized throughout the lesson, the importance here is that it is conducted in EVERY lesson.
On a typical day, the pupils are greeted at the door, they prepare for the lesson and then turn to the backs of their books ready for their zip test. A typical test is only ten questions long and the questions are very similar day in day out, and so marks are easily attained. For example:

1. Please state the conservation of energy. Energy cannot be….
2. Which 2 energy types are generally wasted?
3. Efficiency must be between which two numbers?
4. Which colour t-shirt should you wear on a hot summer’s day?
The answers are then read out or elicited from the class. The zip test is self-assessed, as the aim here is not only to use spaced repetition to reinforce prior knowledge but to build the pupils confidence within the subject. To start with the lesson with an ‘I can actually do this’ feeling.

Anecdotally this has yielded massive changes within my own classroom. No control groups or statistical analysis but it works for me and importantly for my pupils.

It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve encountered professionals who don’t believe this has any part in lessons. For reasons such as, it’s not engaging enough, where’s the differentiation? how can you measure progress?

Well, you know what I think about spaced repetition of mastery learning.


Ebbinghaus, H. (1885). Über das Gedchtnis. Untersuchungen zur experimentellen Psychologie. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot; the English edition is Ebbinghaus, H. (1913). Memory. A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University (Reprinted Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1999).
Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved July 4, 2011 from [].
? Donovan, J. J., & Radosevich, D. J. (1999). A meta-analytic review of the distribution of practice effect: Now you see it, now you don’t. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(5), 795-805.

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