Review: Spaced Repetition: A Method for Learning More Law In Less Time

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By Tonya Krause-Phelan, WMU-Cooley Law School

Spaced Repetition: A Method for Learning More Law In Less Time by Gabriel H. Teninbaum

Spaced Repetition explains why spaced repetition is so much more than learning from flashcards. This article presents a concise tutorial detailing the psychological phenomena known as spaced repetition and how it can help to law students, bar preppers, and practitioners learn the law more quickly, effectively and efficiently. Discovered in the 1800’s, spaced repetition is a learning and memorization method that not only improves the way people learn and prepare for exams, it also fosters faster learning and greater retention. To understand how spaced repetition promotes learning and aids memory,  it is important to consider the three related psychological phenomena that form a spaced repetition system: the forgetting curve, the spacing effect, and the testing effect.

The forgetting curve is the decline in the ability to recall information. This occurs because as soon as a person learns something, they begin to forget it. To combat the forgetting curve, spaced repetition cues learners to restudy immediately before the learned material is predicted to be forgotten. Research shows there is an ideal moment to reinforce learned information. Recalling the information at just the right time allows learners to not only keep the memory active, but to identify the information that has already been forgotten so it can be targeted for restudying.

The spacing effect requires study sessions to be properly spaced to slow down the forgetting curve. Because of the initial steep decline of the forgetting curve, learners will need to review information frequently at first. Over time, the spacing effect increases allowing learners to wait for longer periods of time between review sessions. If done correctly the spacing can go from hours, to days, to weeks, to months, and even to years. As a result, material learned via spaced repetition in the first year of law school could be reviewed periodically throughout the second and third year of law school to be easily recalled during bar review and the bar examination.

The testing effect describes the ability of people to more readily recall learned information. Learners experience the testing effect when they recall learned information by testing themselves instead of passively observing the information. The benefit is even more pronounced when assessment is followed by meaningful feedback that includes exposure to the correct answer. The most effective spaced repetition techniques involve learners answering questions which force them to use their memory as much as possible such as free recall, short answer, multiple-choice, Cloze deletion exercises, and recognition. But spaced repetition can be so much more than just definitional flash cards and fill-in-the blank exercises; it can also be used to help learners apply complex content.

Early on, spaced repetition systems had to be created and used by hand. However, today, mobile applications have opened up a whole new world of possibilities for staging spaced repetition platforms. While Spaced Repetition is a primer on the basics of spaced repetition systems, it also promotes the author’s web-based platform: The author has built in several key benefits into his platform including: it’s a web-based platform easily used on smartphones and mobile devices; it uses an algorithm to apply spaced repetition; it includes expertly created core content; it allows for editable content; it provides a third slide option (to include other pieces of black letter law or context); and, the content is shareable.

Spaced repetition can help law students, bar preppers, and practitioners learn more effectively and efficiently. The author cautions, however, that spaced repetition requires more than just looking at flashcards. Users of spaced repetition must still learn how to organize, apply, and express the law. But, if learners use spaced repetition outside of the classroom, legal educators can make more effective use of flipped classrooms as well as active learning and application exercises. While this article promotes the author’s platform, it is worthwhile read for legal educators looking to understand and provide spaced repetition learning opportunities for their students.


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