Exam Preparation: Say goodbye to cramming!

Preparing for academic examinations can be a highly stressful time for any student. But what if there was a way to prepare which could simultaneously make preparation less stressful AND more effective?

Senior Tutor, Joe Humphries, introduces the Spaced Recall method and offers his advice on starting tuition early.

What is ‘Spaced Recall’?

Spaced Recall is a memory technique, supported by more than a century of educational research, which structures shorter study sessions over a longer period, as opposed to cramming information into longer study sessions over a short period. This approach has been shown to be more effective for the long-term retention of information. It is widely used by many education professionals, including our tutors. What’s more, spaced recall can be used alongside other evidence-based memory techniques, such as elaboration and mnemonics, further increasing the effectiveness of exam preparation.

The research into Spaced Recall demonstrates that information is memorised more effectively when it is presented multiple times over a longer period. This is related to the brain having more time to process and consolidate the information, making it more likely to be stored in long-term memory.

How can Spaced Recall be used?

To benefit from Spaced Recall, it is important to correctly identify the material that you need to memorise. This will vary, dependent on subject, exam board and your current level of knowledge. A subject-specialist tutor can be a huge help with this, as they can provide valuable insight into the allocation of marks for specific material within the exams.

Memorising relevant material is an essential part of preparation for many examinations, including school entrance exams, GCSEs and A-Levels. The specific examples outlined below are just a few ways in which Spaced Recall supports learning.

School Entrance Exams (7+ / 11+)

One of the most valuable areas of preparation for school entrance exams (7+ to 11+) is building a strong vocabulary. The Comprehension, Composition and Verbal Reasoning sections of these examinations are particularly dependent on having a strong vocabulary. The memory based nature of this, along with the volume of material (hundreds of words), make it a common area of weakness in many students. The Spaced Recall technique is therefore the perfect preparation for these exams.

GCSEs and A Levels

Strong performance in these exams depends on both memory and skill. Broadly, papers assess students’ ability to recall key quotes, formulae, writing structures and information from memory before applying these skillfully. Memory is therefore the foundation of an excellent answer. Here are examples from recent papers:

  1. Compare how the authors of two texts you have studied use the endings of their texts to explore ideas about love.
    You must write about at least two poems in your answer as well as the prose text you have studied.

    AQA A Level ENGLISH LITERATURE A, Paper 1 Love through the ages (2021)

  2. Use Pythagoras’ theorem to work out the value of x.


In both of these very typical questions, a strong (or correct) answer is heavily dependent on a solid foundational memory of the relevant text or formula.

Creating a ‘Spaced Recall’ Tuition Programme

Once the exam-specific information has been identified, the next step is to create a clear schedule for studying this information. This schedule should include regular study sessions, spaced out over a period of time that is appropriate for the material you are trying to memorise. Research has highlighted specific spacing lengths between study sessions that are most effective.

Spaced Recall encourages increased retention of information and reduces stress by eliminating the need to ‘cram’ revision for an exam or test. The spacing effect is strongest when the length between exposure is gradually increased over a prolonged time frame. Tutors at Ivy can help with creating an effective schedule for this.

If you are interested in setting up tuition for your child, or wish to learn more about our other educational services, please do get in touch with us at info@ivyeducation.co.uk.