This post is by Prof. Gabe Teninbaum, a Suffolk Law faculty member who teaches Legal Practice Skills, Negotiation, and, beginning in the fall of 2014, Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines (a core course in the LPTI Concentration). Gabe is also a frequent contributor to other LPTI initiatives and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers can learn more about SeRiouS at www.spacedrepetition.com.
SeRiouS is an educational technology project I recently founded with the support of LPTI (particularly the aid and advice of the LPTI director, Andy Perlman) and the Suffolk Law community as a whole. It uses cutting-edge technology to help students at Suffolk Law, and elsewhere, pass the bar and succeed on important exams they take during law school.
SeRiouS stands for Spaced Repetition Systems; a learning technique that’s been called the single best way to study by the Association for Psychological Science, a “method that really is effective” by Time Magazine and “a better way to remember things” by the Harvard Business Review. A basic truth of expert exam performance is that, to do well, students have to know the subject matter they’re being tested on, inside and out. Traditional studying methods don’t do that very well. One landmark study found that within 24 hours of memorizing new information, only about 34% of it is remembered. At a month, it’s down to 21%. This is where SeRiouS comes in: by using spaced repetition, users will remember a projected 92% of the material – and not just for a few days – but for as long as they use SeRiouS. And if that’s not enough, it ultimately takes less time to study and learn using spaced repetition than other study methods.
We know from the research just how big a role this technology can play in improving test performance. One recent study of more than 1,000 medical students established that by using spaced repetition, they improved their long-term knowledge retention nearly three times over those that did not use it. Another study showed that spaced repetition improves testing outcomes significantly, sometimes by ½ standard deviation or more. For many, that’s the difference between an A or a B; or, more importantly, passing or failing the bar.
So how does SeRiouS work? It begins by asking users to study an electronic version of the humble flashcard. But, behind that electronic flashcard, is an algorithm based on a century of research and reams of scientific data. The basic concept is that, whenever a person learns new information, they immediately begin to forget it. The rate of forgetting varies from person to person, but predicting when a person will forget is easy to determine with the right information. Scientists call this “the forgetting curve.” For every flashcard SeRiouS users review, they’ll be prompted to report how well they knew the answer after flipping it over. If they knew it well, they won’t see the card again for a longer time; if they struggled to remember, they’ll be shown it again sooner. Based on these answers, SeRiouS’s algorithm customizes itself to a user’s personal forgetting curve, and then uses that information to prompt studying at just the right time.
As users learn with SeRiouS, another well-studied scientific principle kicks in: the spacing effect. The spacing effect says that, as long as people review information at the right time, they forget more slowly and need to remind themselves less often. That means that to memorize a new concept for the long-term, one might have to review it after a day, but then not again for 3 days, and after that, not for seven days, and after that, not for 30 days, and after that, not for 90 days, and so on.
For first-year law students studying for contracts or property, evidence or torts, using SeRiouS will leave them with an advantage not just on their course-specific exam, but also when studying for the bar years later because the Multistate Bar Exam covers the same topics as are covered in the first year. That means when others are re-learning the bar-tested information, SeRiouS users will just be doing rare reviews of concepts they know by heart.
SeRiouS isn’t just for 1Ls: people at all stages of their legal education can benefit. Upper-level students can, of course, study SeRiouS bar cards, but they can also create and collaborate with classmates to make sets of cards for other courses that aren’t bar tested, then share that set with everyone in the course. SeRiouS even invites professors to join in by creatingcards of their own for students to use, or commenting on student-created cards.
As for the cards themselves, SeRiouS recognizes that it’s vital for students to study excellent cards. To give the highest quality content, SeRiouS had law professors create and edit hundreds of flashcards for the topics most likely to be tested on the Multistate Bar Exam and in core law school courses.
SeRiouS works anywhere, on any device, with internet access. iPhone, Droid, PC or Mac; or users can switch back and forth between them. This means it works at the library, or at home, or at the bus stop. SeRiouS updates constantly based on users’ work, and individual users’ data is stored in the cloud. It’s there whenever, and wherever, they are.
In recognition of the support SeRiouS has received from LPTI and the Suffolk Law community, it will be free for all Suffolk Law students. It will also be available at a low cost to students from other law schools. The software will soon be available for a limited number of free beta test slots and those interested in participating (or learning more, generally) can enter their contact information at www.spacedrepetition.com. The full version is expected to be available in April 2014.