Remember those days when you used to pull all-nighters, cramming the whole chapters before the test? You probably forgot what you have learned in such a short period of time. On the other hand, materials which you have learned over a period of time such as multiplication tables you can easily remember in a second.


Unlocking your super memory – the Spaced Repetition technique


It’s quite easy to get into bad learning and revision habits. Putting hours into revising for an exam only to be disappointed with the results could be a matter of past. Lawyers are using it to pass the Bar and it’s a huge hit among medical students trying to learn all those complicated terms and definitions. The technique is called Spaced Repetition, and you should definitely memorize it because it will change the way you perceive your memory. And you’ll start to like the studying process!


Transferring information into a long-term memory is far more difficult than short-term memories. In the 19th century, a German researcher, Hermann Ebbinghaus measured how long does it take for an average man to learn a list of random words showing that over 90% of the information usually disappears within days. Based on his analysis, the best time to remember something is when we start to forget it. It strengthens our neural pathways or synapses which carry every thought and sensation, providing information through the nervous system. Spaced Repetition is a memory phenomenon based on a spacing effect, which means that new materials need to be revised at systematic intervals. To ingrain new information in our memory the intervals are first spaced closely together (in a few hours or within a day). As the materials are remembered, the time intervals become longer (weeks or months). This system of acquiring new information allows us to review the material right before it is forgotten, helping us to memorize it for a longer period of time. By spacing out our learning over time, we are doing the opposite of „cramming“, we are learning for life.


The Learning and Forgetting Curve


Hundreds of studies in educational psychology have demonstrated that cramming technique proves to be effective only when it comes to short-term memories. It has been found that learners forget almost 50-80% of all new information within a few hours or days. The concept of the Learning Curve is all about acquiring new information and the process of learning within the available time. For the learning process to be the most effective and productive, with the real-life results, the key element is timing. When we are planning the perfect timing for studying we need to bear in mind the process of forgetting i.e. the Forgetting Curve. Ebbinghaus was the first psychologist to analyze the memories by creating a chart to show the rate at which memories decay. He called it the Forgetting Curve i.e. the period of time after studying when the acquired information is on the verge of forgetting. By finding out when our Forgetting Curve starts to decay, we allow our learning process to build and unlock our super memory.


How efficient is the Spaced Repetition learning method


Although acquiring and retaining knowledge truly matters in education, a more crucial objective is our own ability to utilize what was learned and solve problems in real-life situations. As per statistics encountered in numerous experiments, the Spaced Repetition technique showed to be two or three times better than the knowledge acquired through the traditional process of studying. The participants of numerous studies have shown that by using this technique, long-term retention of the newly learned materials was improved by 200%. Spacing Repetition effects were especially noteworthy in one early study when the participants, college students, were asked to learn the Athenian Oath. They were divided into two groups; the first group heard the oath six times in a row, while the other heard it three times the first day and three more times three days later. The immediate test which involved repeating the material in the first few hours showed to be more productive for the first group. However, four weeks later, when the participants were asked to repeat the material on the delayed test, the group using the Spaced Repetition technique outperformed the first group of participants. Even though the first group appeared to be more successful in the short-term task, for materials to be stored in our long-term memories, the spacing effect played the crucial role. The research data were later on confirmed within various studies including the 2013 Human Neuroscience study showing a significantly higher efficiency of Spaced Repetition learning when applying to university exams. All in all, the Spaced Repetition technique holds great promise as an educational tool.


How to incorporate Spaced Repetition in your learning process


Spaced Repetition works and can be applied to basically any kind of learning because the technique tends to be complementary with other learning strategies. Some researchers suggest that it works best when learning information in chunks, i.e. pieces of information like definitions, formulas, new vocabulary, etc. If you are taking, for example, a new history or biology course, or you just want to learn a new language, the solution is the Spaced Repetition. It may take some time to create your own learning system, but it’s worth your while. For starters, these are some of the guidelines:

–    Break the materials into bite-sized pieces, especially if you have a large amount of data to be learned.

–    Review your material while you are doing some every-day activities, and set up the best timing to review the materials.

–    Start at the beginning of the semester and make it an every-day habit.

–    Put the information in the context which can be easily remembered. Flashcards, whether paper or electronic, can be very useful for this process.

–    During the gap period, engage yourself with some distracting activities. In that way, you are giving your brain the opportunity to store the newly acquired information.


The Box Method

Creating flashcards out of papers can be very useful for reviewing the learned materials. For example, you can create 5 boxes with flashcards, each of them being reviewed at the different time. The material inside the first box is reviewed each day, the second box once every three days, the third one every week, etc. Each time you create a new card, place it in the first box. Once the material has been correctly reviewed, place the card in the second box, and so on. However, the catch is that if a card in any of the boxes is forgotten and you can’t remember the answer, move it back to the first box. This is a great way of learning what you really need to remember, and it’ll give you enough time to learn the information which needs several review sessions.


Spaced Repetition Software

The Spaced Repetition software is basically a set of computerized flashcards, offering a number of other options such as grading yourself on the recall of data, setting for yourself timely alarms, etc. It really enhances the learner’s interest and keeps him engaged. You can start by setting up an account on Anki, Memorang, Supermemo, Quizlet, etc. Create decks incorporating definitions, reversed definition, questions which you can easily associate with the materials. Think of possible test questions and create both the questions and answers, adding a photo to it. This all is actually up to you. Bear in mind in what context you’ll be using this type of data. The software will also help you to discover your Forgetting Curve through the process of grading and by learning when exactly “do you forget”. For the cards you give yourself a bad grade, the software will represent it again within the next hours or the next day. Keep up with the new definitions and concepts as the semester progresses and you’ll end up with a great set of study notes for the whole course.


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