Review in the Classroom: Connecting What We Know to Where We’re Going

As classroom practitioners, we are often searching for practices and strategies that will help our students find greater success on assessments.  We want them to succeed on all assessments: SAT, ACT or any other test of college readiness; state, quarterly or benchmark assessments; and those we use in our classrooms to determine mastery and guide our instructional decisions.   We also know we want students to be able to use what they learn beyond the assessment; we want them to connect to future learning and to promote interest and inquiry that lead to more complex understandings.  Prior to an assessment, our desire for student success and preparedness often finds us engaging students in review sessions. Research indicates it is not enough to simply have review sessions; it is the quality and structure of these sessions that make the difference for students, ensuring review reflects the ever-increasing rigor and complexity of our assessments. 

When review sessions are carefully designed, they can help students clearly understand what is expected of them and allow them an additional opportunity to be active participants in their learning.  This engagement leads to increased student responsibility and efficacy that supports their ongoing growth as learners in general, beyond the specific content of an assessment.  Strategically planned review sessions offer students immediate feedback on where they are in the learning. This feedback clarifies misinterpretations and provides opportunities for deeper knowledge of the content.  These opportunities also help students reflect on the strategies and approaches they use during independent study time and adjust accordingly.

By structuring activities that allow students to support each other- such as collaborative grouping- students also have opportunities to gather feedback and support from others, to help fill in possible gaps of understanding, and to strengthen their own cognition by communicating with others. Likewise, purposeful review sessions give teachers additional data to make course corrections as they work to deepen student thinking and comprehension. 

Pulling from best practices of teachers we partner with, we offer the following five features and guiding questions when structuring high impact review sessions. 

  1.  Cognitive Alignment- Our assessments, and the high stakes assessments students are responsible for, increasingly ask students to think and respond at higher cognitive and complexity levels.  How does the format of our review strategy match and help reinforce the same type of thinking and responding that students will need to do on the assessment? 
  2. Collaborative Learning- As with all our classroom practice opportunities, the format of review sessions needs to be structured in a way that supports the engagement of all students.   This can be accomplished using collaborative pairs or groups as part of the review session, which allows students to support and coach one another around content.  In what ways are students offered the chance to give feedback and think together with peers? 
  3. Student Ownership and Metacognition- When students are taught to self-assess, they are learning a skill that lasts far beyond the assessment.  Students need opportunities to reflect on their own learning, how they process information, what their strengths and challenges are, and what they can do as next steps to continue their growth.  What opportunities within the review session require students to self-assess?  How do they determine where they are in the learning, rather than how they did retrospectively?
  4. Timeliness- Review sessions should always occur with enough time for students to adjust and continue their own individual studying outside of class.  In fact, review sessions should not be considered a one-time event just prior to an assessment, but rather a series of smaller and shorter review opportunities throughout the learning.  When will review sessions be embedded in the classroom?  How might shorter review opportunities be used at the beginning or end of class periods?
  5. Organization of Material- Time spent organizing and interacting with content in varied ways supports student achievement both short-term and long-term.  Reorganizing content may include: paraphrasing, combining information from multiple courses, creating associations and non-linguistic representations, and writing responses to course objectives.  How are students asked to interact with and reorganize the content in a novel way?  What opportunities do students have to reconstruct concepts? 

Review is an ongoing process in the classroom and may be shorter when done at the end of the class or more involved when encompassing a larger amount of content.  No matter the length, these five features are critical to the success of the review not only for the upcoming assessment, but also for creating stronger connections to new learning.  And as we know, no one learning strategy fits every need; the same is true for review strategies.  We have selected six strategies that support the features discussed above and can help push student thinking about content.   These strategies are flexible and variable in terms of time and structure to meet a variety of needs.  For more information on strategies, as well as to see how our research and experience might benefit your school system, please contact us.


The Institute for Research and Reform in Education (IRRE), a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization, is dedicated to improving educational experiences and outcomes of all children, especially those in underserved areas. We engage with foundations, school districts, government agencies, community organizations, collaboratives, and individual investors to promote educational and social changes benefitting children and youth.