The First Studying Tip: Spaced Repetition
The studying tip is actually a studying technique. It’s called spaced repetition, and it’s backed by scientific evidence to help you remember everything you learn! All you need is 20 minutes to an hour every day to become a lifelong learner. You won’t have to worry about finding the time. Plus, you’ll be able to sustain the habit of studying every day.
The Second Studying Tip: Don’t Force-Feed Your Brain
You wouldn’t swallow an entire plate of food in one go, would you? The same logic applies when you study. Your brain will stop storing information if you decide to study without a break for 12 hours. What’s the point of studying when you can’t remember most of it?
“It’s a matter of being efficient. Don’t study hard. Study smart.”
You’ll Remember More By Remembering
Spaced repetition requires that you spend time remembering and writing about the topic in gaps. Your brain has to work hard when the study material isn’t in front of you. This extra effort makes the memory strong.
On the other hand, your brain becomes lazy when it knows you can look at the answer in case you forget. This laziness is known as deficient processing. Yes, it’s a fancy term, but it simply means your brain doesn’t work hard when you can see the answer.
Studies Prove That Your Brain Will Hold Memories for Longer Periods
One study tested the memory of different groups of students. One group (learning everything at once) heard the Athenian Oath 6 times in one day. The other group heard it 3 times on the first day and 3 times on the third day (spaced repetition). Four weeks later, the groups were tested based on how much they could remember. The second group (spaced repetition) outperformed the first group.
Train Your Brain to Remember Just Before it Forgets
Study till your attention span allows: 30 minutes or 1 hour every day. What’s important is that you revise without looking at the answers. This is called recalling or retrieving. Then, create gaps between your recall sessions. These gaps will keep increasing from hours to days as you keep repeating.
Research has proved that creating gaps (spacing) helps strengthen the memory of the topic every time you revise. Revision reduces the speed at which you forget.
So, Why Do We Forget in the First Place?
“Your brain is programmed to forget.”
Yes, it’s true. The brain is a creature of habit. It forgets most of what you learn on the first day, and the speed at which your brain forgets is mapped on a curve known as the forgetting curve.
Studying Tip: Know What The Forgetting Curve Means
The strength of the memory is 100% (the top of the Y axis: Memory) at the time of learning. The red line shows you the speed at which you begin to forget; it’s called memory decay. The memory of what you learned vanishes by day 6 (X axis: Time remembered in days) if you don’t recall—we’ll get to what the green lines means in a bit.
Your brain begins erasing short-term memory the moment your eyes wander off the page (or webpage) or the moment you leave class. This habit of the brain is also the reason why you forget the name of a person and it gets awkward when you see him or her again after a week!
So, what can you do to keep short-term memory from disappearing? Simply put, just convert it into long-term memory.
Studying Tip: Short-Term Memory Lasts for a Few Hours. Long-Term Memory is for Life
Think of short-term memory space in your brain as the RAM (random access memory) space in a PC. You want more RAM (8 GB to even 16 GB) space, right? The more the RAM, the more the actions your computer can perform without lagging.
Our brain’s the same. It’s just that our brain’s RAM space is limited. Cramming everything we want to learn in a 16-hour study session is like opening 1,000 apps in a phone with 1 MB of RAM.
The phone would hang, crash, or short circuit. Our brain would do the same! It’s why we stare blankly at books or blackboards after a long study session. We run out of storage space! But, there’s a solution.
Our Brain Has The Skill to Turn Short-Term Memory Into Long-Term Memory
When you learn a new skill, you store information as short-term memory. You turn it into long-term memory by practicing it every day, every week, and then every month. That’s what we did when we learned to ride a bicycle or recite alphabets from A to Z.
We recalled these bits of information or instructions so many times that they travelled to a part of our brain that stores long-term memory. We call this memory consolidation. This is what you want.
Spaced Repetition In Schools
The science behind this studying technique is so strong that schools are exploring the ways they can use spaced repetition. In the United States, researchers (Kang, 2016) are asking schools to add spaced practiced (spaced repetition) as a teaching method because of its advantages over mass learning (cramming everything at once).
Spaced Repetition Strengthens Memory
The Guardian goes as far as describing spaced repetition as a brain hack:
“Spaced repetition is simple, but highly effective because it deliberately hacks the way your brain works. It forces learning to be effortful, and like muscles, the brain responds to that stimulus by strengthening the connections between nerve cells. By spacing the intervals out, you’re further exercising these connections each time.”Source: The Guardian
This website will teach you how to begin spaced repetition today itself! It breaks down the process step by step in an easy-to-understand and fun-to-read comic book!
Spaced Repetition Decreases the Speed at Which You Forget
Now notice the green lines. They also represent memory decay. The top-most point of the Y axis (Memory) represents 100% of the memory/knowledge—that’s the strength of the memory right after you learn something new. Notice how the green line isn’t pointing to the ground after day 3 (X axis: Time remembered).
It’s flat, right? From day 3 to day 6, you retain more than 90% of what you learned. The speed at which you forget decreases if you recall for a few more days after learning for the first time.
The Discovery of the Relation Between Forgetting and Remembering: Here’s Who Gave Us the Studying Tip
Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, discovered the relation among memory, learning, and forgetting. He discovered both the forgetting curve and the studying technique to beat the curve (spaced repetition).
Since then, scientists dug deeper into the study by Ebbinghaus, and they’ve discovered that learning over time enhances memory better than learning everything in a day. Spaced repetition is the studying tip everyone needs.
Do More in Less Time and Enjoy Learning!
No need to lock yourself in a room for hours while practicing spaced repetition. You don’t have to stress out if you can’t study for 10 hours. You can learn as much if not more than others. You’ll retain more of the knowledge you gain with this studying tip.
Just revisit the memory once every 3, 6, 12, 24 days (keep doubling the frequency of the recall once you get comfortable). Sooner than later, you’ll have to recall the memory once every month, once every 6 months, once every year, and never (just like never having to remember our ABCs)!
Rahul Chitrakar: K11 School of Fitness Sciences