Using Spaced Repetition to Boost Your Memory
Whether you’re learning a new language, studying for exams or need to memorize something, spaced repetition can help you study smarter and strengthen your memory.
The reason spaced repetition is such a powerful method is because it takes into account something known as the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.
The basic idea behind the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is that you will start to forget the details of any new piece of information at a predictable rate after you first hear it.
As an example, try to memorize this number: 16847291.
Right now you can probably recall the number with ease. Ten minutes from now you might still be able to recall all 8 digits correctly.
In a couple of hours you might start struggling with some of the digits. In a day or two you might only remember the first couple of digits and in a week you might only be able to recall the first digit.
That’s the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve in action and it affects every new piece of information we take in.
But what happens if we refresh our memory along the way? What if in an hour from now you spend ten seconds repeating that number over and over. Then again in five hours, then again tomorrow and again the next day?
When done correctly, this spaced repetition will burn that number into your memory so effectively that you may be able to easily recall all eight digits six months from now.
Revisiting new information over and over to memorize it is pretty obvious, but what makes spaced repetition different is it provides you with the easiest path needed to memorize the information.
You could repeat the number five thousand times over the next week and you’ll definitely memorize it, but that’s overkill.
Spaced repetition works out the minimum number of repetitions you need to memorize the number and spreads the repetitions out in the most efficient way possible.
So for this example in the first day you might revisit the number 20 times. It’s fresh information so it takes more effort to get that number to start sinking in. Then in day 2 you might only need to revisit the number 10 times. In day 3 you might only need to revisit it 5 times. As each day passes, you remember more and more of the number so you don’t need to revisit it as often. Eventually you can recall the number so easily that you don’t need to revisit it anymore.
A good example of spaced repetition in action is with the language learning app Duolingo. After Duolingo shows you a new word for the first time, it reintroduces that word over and over while paying attention to how easily you recall it. If you get the word wrong in a sentence, it will raise the repetitions to strengthen your recall. Or if you easily recall it, it will lower the repetitions and shift focus to other words you need to work on.
The end result is you spend far less time and effort memorizing words which means you can learn faster and easier.
There are a lot of apps available that allow you to take advantage of spaced repetition. Check out the video’s description for recommendations.
Spaced repetition isn’t a miracle cure that will help you cram before an exam, instead think of it as a tool you can use to support the learning process and fight against our natural tendency to forget.
Spaced Repetition Apps to Check Out
Key Lessons to Remember
- We naturally forget new information at a predictable rate after we first hear it (Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve)
- Repeating the new information improves our recall
- Spaced repetition works out the optimal number of repetitions to memorize new information
- Using spaced repetition alongside normal study practices improves your learning rate