Spacing Reviews / Repetition, Visual Aids, Color Coding, and the FLASH Strategy
Spacing Reviews and Repetition
Learning occurs in spurts. The best way to use study time is to work for short periods of time on different subjects or tasks. Spacing reviews and activities is important because it helps to maintain interest and concentration. It also enhances comprehension and retention of the information covered. Encoding information into memory is maximized by studying for short periods of time and going over the same material repeatedly.
The attention span of most people is 20 to 30 minutes. Therefore, study time should be divided into sessions of similar length for working on different activities or subjects. Switching from one subject to another avoids boredom and daydreaming. Mixing up activities helps one process information in a variety of ways.
Consider the following example. A student has set aside three hours to study for an exam one night. Because studying for six half-hour sessions, with a break in between, is much more effective than studying for three straight hours, the student plans this study schedule. Notice that different activities are mixed up in the plan.
- 6:00-6:30 Review Chapter 1
- 6:30-7:00 Go through flash cards for vocabulary terms
- 7:00-7:30 Review Chapter 2
- 7:30-8:00 Reward: Watch favorite tv show
- 8:00-8:30 Review summary sheets from lecture notes
- 8:30-9:00 Make graphic organizers for main concepts
- 9:00-9:30 Review Chapter 3
The following tips can help students space reviews effectively, so as to enhance encoding of information into memory.
Develop a plan of action.
- Develop a plan for studying, considering what must be done and how much time one has to do it.
- Any combination of these activities may be included in the study plan: complete reading assignments, complete lab assignments, complete homework problems, meet with the instructor or tutors, meet with study group members, reorganize or recopy lecture notes, review information in the notes and the readings, and prepare study aids (flash cards, practice questions, visual aids, etc.).
- The activities selected will depend on the task(s) to be accomplished (e.g. exam preparation, preparation for class), the nature of the information, and personal learning styles.
Budget the time.
- Estimate how long it will take to complete each of the activities in the study plan.
- Organize your hours to include ample time for completing the activities, relaxing, and sleeping.
- Daily and weekly grids are effective means of budgeting time. Examples are given in the Time Management page of the General-Purpose Learning Strategies main stack.
- Make up a schedule and stick to it. Allowing for rewards or considering how your goals will be fulfilled by sticking to the schedule are good ways to get motivated.
- Break the study time into manageable amounts of time to avoid boredom and loss of concentration, and, in turn, to improve encoding. Sessions lasting twenty to thirty minutes are best.
- Mix up activities (outlining, reviewing, organizing, etc.) so that the information is processed in a number of ways.
- Studying for six half-hour sessions is much more effective than studying for three straight hours.
- Encoding is enhanced when one reviews the material several times.
- The key to making repetition effective is to space the reviews so different material is covered in consecutive review sessions.
- Or, mix up the activities so one is processing the information in a variety of ways in each study session.
Use spare time wisely.
- Short periods of "down time" between classes or before meals may be used effectively as review sessions.
- Use such opportunities for simple tasks, like flipping through flash cards or working a few math problems.
Additional information about spacing reviews is located in the Memory page of the General-Purpose Learning Strategies main stack.
Visual aids are pictoral or graphical representations of information. They help one to organize information in a way that enhances encoding and retrieval. Visual aids are especially useful for students with visual learning channel or modality preferences.
Visual aids may take a variety of forms, including comparison-contrast organizers, hierarchical organizers, flow charts, outlines, continuum (scale) charts, matrices, herringbone map, spider map, sample word map, Frayer model, opinion chart, concept or flash cards, and running concept lists. Each of these strategies is fully described and illustrated in the Organization page of the General-Purpose Learning Strategies main stack.
Encoding and retrieval are enhanced with the use of color coding. Color coding functions to: (1) identify important information, (2) indicate relationships among different pieces of information, (3) organize information, and (4) provide a schema for encoding and retrieving information to and from memory. Be creative! Develop your own color coding strategies particular to your needs and skills.
Color coding may be used in a variety of ways during exam preparation to aid encoding and retrieval of information.
- Try writing flash cards about different topics in different colors of inks or on different colors of index cards.
- Use different colors of ink to arrange information in outline form. To distinguish main points from supporting details, write the former in one color and the latter in another. To distinguish information related to different topics, write the main points and supporting details for each topic in a unique color of ink.
- Identify important information in the notes or textbook by using colored highlighters.
Here are some more specific examples of how color coding might be used to aid encoding and retrieval of information.
- For a modern language class, use colored index cards to encode and retrieve word translations. Use blue cards to record all masculine terms and their translations. Use pink for feminine terms and green or yellow for neutral terms.
- For math class, use colored index cards to encode and retrieve geometry formulas. Write all perimeter and circumference formulas on cards of one color, such as pink (pink = perimeter). Similarly, area formulas and volume formulas are written on cards of other colors like red (red = area) and violet (violet = volume).
The FLASH strategy (REFERENCE) is designed to activate prior knowledge, aiding the encoding process. By making students more aware of their knowledge base and more conscious of the encoding process, the strategy makes remembering a more active process. Specific examples of prior knowledge with which new information may be linked are given in the Personalization section of this stack.
The steps in the FLASH strategy are outlined below.
- Focus on the topic.
- Look for familiar information.
- Activate knowledge and ask questions.
- See what's connected.