Flavia Belham
Chief Scientist @ Seneca Learning
March 07, 2018
The Best Way to Revise, According to Neuroscience?

A recent academic study, published in the Educational Research Review journal, found that students’ academic performance is improved when parents are involved (1). The pressure on students at GCSE is very high and this can be tough for both students and parents. Knowing which resources work and which don’t is very important.

Seneca’s Accelerated Learning System was designed with neuroscientists at Oxford, Cambridge and UCL. It is free and students who use it get double the marks of those reading revision guides (see more here) (2). It is all exam board specific and will cover every subject.

Our Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Flavia Belham, wanted to outline some of the principles used in Seneca to help your kids learn the right way for their GCSEs:

1. Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice consists of learning content through testing, as opposed to simply re-reading or making notes (3). This strategy is particularly helpful when exams are still a few weeks off. It is important to vary the types of questions during retrieval practice. For example, using multiple-choice, long answer questions, word fill, and so on.

An easy way of understanding retrieval practice is to imagine that the exam is a maze, in which the right answer to a question is the exit of the maze. With every round of retrieval practice, a new route is created that will lead to the exit of the maze. With more and more routes, it becomes more likely that a student will arrive at the correct answer when faced with exam questions.

2. Spacing and Interleaving

Spacing relates to the observation that revising small chunks of information over longer periods of time is more effective than cramming. A time gap between rounds of revising allows the irrelevant aspects of that content to be forgotten, and the important parts to be strengthened and better learned. This technique enhances not only memory but also generalisation and application skills (4).

To make revision even more effective, Spacing can be combined with Interleaving. In other words, the time gap between revising content A should be used to revise content B. This variability is better preparation, as it is more similar to the conditions found in an exam and improves the ability to understand what a new question is asking (5).

3. Imagery

The more similar the learning and testing conditions are, the better memory will be. Last year, a study (6) showed that this is also true when students use their imagination. Memory is better if students imagine themselves in places (library, cinema, etc) when studying and then take their mind back to that place when sitting the exam.

The Dual Coding Theory (7) suggests that linking verbal and non-verbal information is also an effective learning strategy. In other words, the use of diagrams, arrows, images and drawings during revision creates stronger memory traces.


  1. Castro, M., Expósito-Casas, E., López-Martín, E., Lizasoain, L., Navarro-Asencio, E., Gaviria, JL. (2015). Parental involvement on student academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 14, 33-46.
  2. SENECA’S IMPACT RESEARCH: Feddern, L., Belham, FS., Wilks, S. (2018). Retrieval, interleaving, spacing and visual cues as ways to improve independent learning outcomes at scale. Impact, 2, 33-36.
  3. Schwieren, J., Barenberg, J., Dutke, S. (2017). The Testing Effect in the Psychology Classroom: A Meta-Analytic Perspective. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 16(2), 179-196.
  4. Vlach, HA., Sandhofer, CM. (2012). Distributing learning over time: The spacing effect in children’s acquisition and generalization of science concepts. Child development, 83(4), 1137-1144.
  5. Rohrer, D., Dedrick, RF., Stershic, S. (2015). Interleaved practice improves mathematics learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(3), 900.
  6. Bramao, I., Karlsson, A., Johansson, M. (2017). Mental reinstatement of encoding context improves episodic remembering.Cortex,94, 15-26.
  7. Paivio, A. (2014). Intelligence, dual coding theory, and the brain. Intelligence, 47, 141-158.*