We typically think of review as something in which we engage students as they prepare for a major assessment. After all, we know that revisiting past learning refreshes memory and helps to retrieve previously learned concepts and skills. While such retrieval can lead to better performance on assessments, of course, review can also play important roles in learning beyond simple test preparation. In fact, review is a key to building long-term information recall, and it is crucial in preparing for new learning.
Regular review of previously learned content needs to be a priority if we hope to have students retain what they have learned beyond the next assessment, or even the end of the year and beyond. The more opportunities we give students to review what they have learned, the longer they are likely to retain it. Further, review can build students’ confidence that they are making progress and building a strong memory base that will serve them well in the future. Let’s examine six learning benefits of regular review.
Review builds and freshens background knowledge. Distributed practice is an effective way to review previous learning and refresh recall. It can also remind students of details and reinforce nuanced elements of previous learning, thus dispelling misconceptions and avoiding faulty memory.
Review creates space for working memory. Working memory has limited capacity, as it functions as a temporary location for new information. When students review information and concepts to which they have recently been exposed, they accelerate the process of moving information from their working memory into their long-term memory, thus creating space for new learning to occur.
Review strengthens long-term memory. Not only does review create space for new learning, but it also builds stronger, more accurate long-term memory. Over time, recall can become selective, and perceptions can drift. Even a quick review of key information and brief practice with previously learned skills can sharpen and reinforce long-term recall.
Review builds connections and schema. When we initially learn new concepts or are introduced to new information, we can miss subtleties and overlook how pieces of information and actions are related. When we return to previously learned content, we often see connections and patterns we missed the first time. As a result, we can build schema that deepens our understanding and insight and increases our ability to apply what we know in new and more effective ways.
Review increases automaticity. We know that frequent review of information such as math facts or standard procedures and processes makes them increasingly easy to recall. When combined with practice, the information becomes so familiar that we sometimes call it muscle memory. If we want students to easily access and apply what they have learned, frequent review is a must.
Review builds expertise. The combination of review-related benefits we have discussed contributes to high levels of proficiency. The journey to becoming an expert is paved with review and practice. Regular engagement in review can prevent a drift into bad habits and faulty shortcuts.
Obviously, review needs to be part of our ongoing learning-support routines. As examples, information learned last week might be a priority for review on the following Monday and learning from the past month might be the focus of review during the second week of the next month. The key is to make review a regular practice if we hope to have our students retain what they learned with us—after they leave us.