Spaced retrieval is a technique that has been found to improve retention of information in people with memory impairment.

About memory

Memory is made up of 2 types of recall:

Explicit memory: - is the recollection of events in the life of a person. It tends to be affected in a lot of people with memory problems. It involves the conscious recall of events.

Implicit memory:- is our memory for habits and learning new skills. This area of memory tends to be less impaired in people with a memory problem. It is often unconscious learning, therefore a person may learn new skills, but not be aware that they have. This is the type of learning that spaced retrieval uses.


What is spaced retrieval?

Instead of repeatedly telling people who are finding it difficult to remember the answer, you get them to tell you.



Teacher: Your son’s name is David.   What is your son’s name?

Participant: My son’s name is David.

Teacher: That is correct, I’m glad you remembered.

Then later:

Teacher: What is your son’s name?

Participant: My son’s name is David.

Teacher: That is correct, I’m glad that you remembered.


You can use this technique to learn all sorts of information, names, birthdays, telephone numbers, car registrations, whatever you want to learn. 


Rules of spaced retrieval:

The information must be something that the person wants to learn. If they aren’t interested in the information, they will not take it in.

  1. It is best used for information that is not likely to change, for example the name of a new friend.
  2. You should always be consistent with what is correct.
  3. Teach only one piece of information at a time.
  4. When the person has successfully recalled the same piece of information in three recall sessions, they are ready to move onto learning something new.
  5. If there are problems recalling information, ask the person to write it down while they say it.
  6. You can also pair the information the person recalls with an action. If the person was learning someone’s name, this could mean showing a photo of them as they say the name.


To do spaced retrieval:

  • If spaced retrieval upsets the person at any point, stop.
  • Your voice and body language must always be positive!
  • Spaced retrieval should be effortless. If you notice that the person is expending a great deal of effort to do it, it may not be the best memory technique for them.
  • Spaced retrieval should contain as few errors as possible. If an error is made, the person should be provided the correct information in a positive manner and given the opportunity for successful recall by asking the information again.


Teacher: What is my name?

Participant: Your name is Debbie.

Teacher: Actually my name is Donna.  What is my name?

Participant: Your name is Donna


Time keeping:

  • This does not have to be strict, take advantage of lapses in the conversation. As a rule, try to double the last time interval (so, test after 2 minutes, 4, 8, 16 and so on).
  • If the person is having trouble with these timings, try testing at 2 minutes, 4, 6, 8, and so on.
  • If the person fails at one timing level, return to the last successful recall level.


Remember - not everyone will respond to spaced retrieval.  

When working with someone to improve memory you must ensure that the techniques are right for them.

You don’t have to stick to the script, (it can feel a little odd when doing it) but try to phrase the question the same or similar ways. Also, remember that the language must be encouraging!



Leaflet reference:




Date last updated:


Archive date:




Was this information useful? Please let us know by clicking here.