The one reason students don’t remember your lessons

Students studying in the library

“Why don’t any of you guys know this!”

My teacher yelled close to the top of her lungs. She was visibly frustrated none of her students knew the answer. She would stare at the smart students in anticipation they might just open their mouth.


My classmates and I weren’t getting it. Why was it such a struggle for us?

Trouble is, this wasn’t the first time the entire class couldn’t answer a question. It happened every day. And it’s all because of one missed opportunity by my teacher. An opportunity that, given the right tools, could have turned her classroom into a sea of raised hands.

What am I talking about?


Repetition – no matter how many times – is beneficial for many students. Remembering something you heard once, like someone’s name, is tough. That’s why, when you introduce yourself, you say “Nice to meet you , Allison” — in effect, repeating their name to help you remember it.

But, a lot of teachers make the same mistake. They say things once. Plus, they don’t repeat anything. Worst of all, students are struggling to retain that knowledge.

Saying things once is the curse of classroom death. Students can only write so fast. And if they don’t retain the rest of your sentence, they end up with an incomplete thought in their notes. A nightmare when they’re reviewing for an upcoming quiz or test. (At least it was for me)

Why is repetition so important?

You wouldn’t think repetition would have such a profound effect on your students. But, it does. Just look at this chain reaction:

1. Repetition leads to retention

It’s tough for students to remember something they’ve only heard once. But, if you continue to do something, eventually it becomes a habit. Just like when you learn a new language — the best way to remember how to speak it is to become immersed in it – travel to a Spanish-speaking country for example. Repetition and reuse leads to retention of the material.

2. Retention leads to improved test scores

Once information is retained, and students are tested, they perform better on quizzes and tests. (Sidenote — have you heard about QuizBean? It’s a fun free quiz maker.) When students feel they’ve retained more information, they’re more confident with their performance. That not only boosts self-esteem, but makes an ‘A’ a whole heck of a lot more likely.

3. Improved test scores lead to happy students (and parents)

As I mentioned above, doing well on a quiz or a test makes students feel better about their performance in class. Plus, there’s another added benefit: pleased parents. The majority of parents like to keep an eye on their child’s grades. It makes sense. They want to know if Timmy needs more help in math or if Kayla is falling behind in english. Why? So they can help out and improve their grades. What parent wouldn’t want to see their child’s grade go from a C to a B?

What’s the lesson here? (No pun intended, by the way)

Teachers have got to work on repetition and better retention of course material. A great way to do that is by using an online quiz maker. By having pre-loaded quizzes ready to go with each unit, you instantly know if students are retaining your lessons.

QuizBean is 100% free – Get started by making a free quiz at

Photo courtesy of flickr.

  • Great post. One thing we teach in the BOSSreaders program is the importance of talking, writing and drawing for better understanding. Here’s an example of how we put these processes to work for deeper learning: First, we have them read a text. When they are finished reading, we instruct them to draw a picture that visually represents the main ideas in the text. Then we have them talk with other students and explain their drawing. Other students are encouraged to ask questions about parts of the drawing that they don’t understand. This forces the student to clarify their understanding. Finally, we ask them to create a written summary based on their drawing.

    In this sequence, students read, then draw, then talk, and then write. The steps don’t always have to be in that order. In fact, later in the BOSS program, we give students the choice about how they want to use these techniques to build and check their own understanding. The important thing is that each of these techniques create active learning, engaging larger portions of the brain and facilitating more connections than reading alone.

    We wrote a blog post series explaining more about these techniques:

    I’m wondering where you see quizzes fitting into this kind of sequence?