‘Make It Stick’: A Summary

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This is something I read and wrote a while ago now (it’s not exactly a new book), but I thought it would be useful to share a summary of this amazing book, which completely changed my approach to teaching and learning. I credit my first year’s improvements in results in part to the strategies in this book, which allowed me to almost double the Sociology GCSE pass rate at my previous school.

Here it is – my one page summary of ‘Make It Stick’ by Brown, et al. and a list at the end of the things you can incorporate into your practice straight away.

Every time you learn something new, you change the brain. Making mistakes and correcting them builds the bridges to advanced learning. When learning requires more effort, it lasts longer.

Re-reading something and massed practice (practicing the same thing over and over again at any one time) works well in the short-term but mere repetition doesn’t enhance learning. Rapid-fire practicing of the same kinds of questions over and over again relies on short-term memory, but if you space out the practice, retrieval of memory is harder but results in deeper learning.

Without knowledge, you don’t have the foundation of higher level skills of analysis, problem solving, etc. Mastery of something requires both the possession of ready knowledge and the conceptual understanding of how to use it.

The act of retrieving something from memory has the effect of making that knowledge easier to call up again in future. The more times you recall something, the stronger the memory. Retrieval must be repeated again and again in spaced out sessions, which helps to embed knowledge into memory (the testing effect). Spacing out tests, allowing a time to forget required greater effort to recall, which meant greater strengthening of the memory.

The most effective form of practice is varied (different topics, different skills). Forces the mind to recall different things.

Repeated testing is necessary to demonstrate mastery. It’s a powerful learning strategy and a potent reality check on the accuracy of your own judgement of what you know how to do.

Growth mindset: It’s better to attempt a solution and supply the incorrect answer than not to make an attempt. Difficulty can create feelings of incompetence that engender anxiety (which hinders learning). Students do better when given room to make errors. Learners must be told that failing is a part of learning and that it can be overcome through effort. Trust that trying to solve a puzzle serves us better than being spoon-fed the solution, even if we fall short in our first attempt. However, a difficulty is only desirable if it’s something the learner can overcome through effort. If the learner doesn’t have the background skills or knowledge to respond to the difficult, it becomes undesirable and unsolvable.

Training/testing that simulates the kinds of demands and changeable conditions that can be expected in real world settings helps learners and trainers assess mastery and focus on areas where competency or understanding needs to be raised.


  • Use frequent quizzing in lessons. Space out these quizzes and mix up topics within them.
  • Teach students how to study – self-quizzing, summarising/elaboration being powerful techniques. Be up front as to why you’re using these methods.
  • Make practice tests that students can download and use to review material.
  • Get students to do exercises that require them to generate short summaries of key ideas of recent material covered in a text/lesson.
  • Log each quiz score, even if it’s for low-stakes.
  • Design quizzes that reach back to concepts earlier in the term.
  • Space out feedback where possible – i.e. not the same lesson as the quiz.

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