The Basics of Spaced Retrieval Practice

There are many revision and study techniques we can implement to enhance our access to the information tucked away in our brains, however, when reviewed by cognitive psychologists, spaced retrieval practice comes out on top1. Spaced retrieval practice is one learning strategy used within the Mastery Learning Folder process, but what exactly is it?  

First, the research … 

An interesting study on memory and learning was conducted by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885He discovered that if he spaced the practice of nonsense syllables over three days instead of one, he could halve the time it took to learn them2Researchers in retrieval practice have identified that practicing the recall of learning, for example using flashcards and quizzing, consistently outperforms traditional study strategies like re-reading3,4. When the strategies of spacing and retrieval are combinedtermed spaced retrieval practice, students may begin to “master material they never thought they could learn”5 . 

Why spaced retrieval works … 

Ebbinghaus is also known for the creation of the forgetting curve which illustrated that immediately after we learn something we begin to forget it! Amazingly, spaced retrieval practice turns our natural tendency to forget into a learning advantage. Let me explainwhen we try hard to remember something it is uncomfortable and we don’t enjoy it. Research has identified that if we keep demanding this thinking effort, the knowledge we are trying to remember is strengthened in our long-term memory6. Spaced retrieval practice creates these desirable difficulties7 for learning. 

Applying spaced retrieval practice … 

Over four years, Nicola Carr-White investigated the alignment of desirable difficulty research with the Mastery Learning Folder tool and process. The culmination of this research was the development of a revised process8 to assist educators across diverse fields and ages to facilitate durable student learning. Nicola’s thesis was examined by Robert Bjork (desirable difficulties), John Sweller (cognitive load theory) and John Hattie (visible learning) and received a pass without amendments from the Edith Cowan University examination board. 

Find out more … 

Across all learning areas from pre-primary to universityMastery Learning Folders provide systematic practice of classroom instruction through the evidence-informed strategies, including spaced retrieval practice. Having just received her results, Nicola is currently creating free online training materials to reflect the revised process which will soon be ready. In the meantime, she welcomes enquiries from school administrators, educators and other service providers to discuss student learning needs. To speak with Nicola, you’re invited to schedule-a-chat. 


Mastery Learning Group Contact Details 

Nicola Carr-White 

ORCID Researcher Profile 




1 Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58. 

2 Weinstein, Y., Madan, C. R., & Sumeracki, M. A. (2018). Teaching the science of learning. Cognitive research: Principles and implications, 3(1), 1-17. 

3 Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., III, & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. The Belknap Press. 

Adesope, O. O., Trevisan, D. A., & Sundararajan, N. (2017). Rethinking the Use of Tests: A Meta-Analysis of Practice Testing. Review of Educational Research, 87(3), 659-701. doi:10.3102/0034654316689306 

5 Dunlosky, J. (2013). Strengthening the student toolbox: Study strategies to boost Learning. American Educator, 37(3), p. 16. 

6 Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions about How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons. 

7 Bjork, R. A. (1994). Memory and metamemory considerations in the training of human beings. In J. Metcalfe & A. P. Shimamura (Eds.), Metacognition: Knowing about knowing (pp. 185 – 205). MIT Press. 

8 Carr-White, N. (2021). Towards an evidence-informed differentiated learning consolidation process to support classroom instruction. 

Posted by Nicola in Research

Remembrance Day

“Australia’s biggest music names; Lee Kernaghan, Guy Sebastian, Sheppard, Jon Stevens, Jessica Mauboy, Shannon Noll & Megan Washington unite to release the official music video for the charity single, ‘Spirit of the Anzacs’, a tribute to those that have given their lives, those who have served, and those that still today step bravely into the unknown to serve our country.”

Remembrance Day, the 11th November, is an important commemoration in Australian schools and a complex concept for primary aged students. As always, use your discretion as to what is appropriate for your class, but the Lee Kernaghan official video of his song, “Spirit of the ANZACs” upon which my slideshow is based, is relevant and thought provoking.

Join the Flashcard Club for access to other free Australian content, including Remembrance Day theme words.

See also the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba Slideshow.

Free Slideshows & Flashcards

Spirit of the ANZACS lyrics

Some background from the Australian War Memorial Website:

“At 11 am on 11 November 1918 the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years continuous warfare. The allied armies had driven the German invaders back, having inflicted heavy defeats upon them over the preceding four months. In November the Germans called for an armistice (suspension of fighting) in order to secure a peace settlement. They accepted allied terms that amounted to unconditional surrender.

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month attained a special significance in the post-war years. The moment when hostilities ceased on the Western Front became universally associated with the remembrance of those who had died in the war. This first modern world conflict had brought about the mobilisation of over 70 million people and left between 9 and 13 million dead, perhaps as many as one-third of them with no known grave. The allied nations chose this day and time for the commemoration of their war dead.”

The Education at the Australian War Memorial Facebook page has some great photos and further information.

Remembering my grandfather (far right) and his brothers:
Brothers 1943
Individualised Homework
Posted by Nicola in Slideshows

What’s the Story?!

If you’re doing Christmas activities in the classroom this slideshow includes a link to my all time favourite nativity video, produced by St Paul’s Church, Auckland. Enjoy!

Posted by Nicola in Slideshows

Spring Slideshow

It’s nice to have a break in routine every now and then so why not tip-toe through the tulips for one day? This slideshow contains enough material for several lessons including fitness, mat-time, shared reading, writing (with printable), IWB maths, science and craft.  I hope you enjoy the very old rendition of “Tip-toe Through the Tulips” :-)

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Posted by Nicola in Slideshows

Science Week 2019

Hey it’s Science Week. Here’s a junior primary video that I created based on the theme. I’ve snuck in some learning science strategies – spacing and retrieval – to active that prior knowledge and retain some new knowledge. Let’s build those schemas! 

You Tube Version:

Teacher Tube Version: “”></iframe>

Posted by Nicola in News