Tackling the Forgetting Curve with Spaced Repetition

Spaced Repetition is a system where you revise what you want to remember at intervals until you remember it for a long time.

Why do we forget?

Forgetting is important for remembering. Not because we have limited space, but because the brain needs to know what needs to be remembered. The brain has its own programming to remember stuff. So things that the brain believes is not important will slowly be forgotten. Now why and how will the brain decide what is important and what is not. Well the actual decision lies with you. YOU decide what is important and what is not by the way you pay attention to it. A chance meeting after many years with an old acquaintance will be easily forgotten as compared to a meeting with a dear old friend. That is obviously because you decided somewhere in your mind the dear old friend is more important than the acquaintance. You may even remember all that was spoken at the small chance meeting with your friend, unless of course the acquaintance says something that interests you and makes you remember it better. Similarly, you will remember something that you read if you decide to remember it or are really interested in it. If you’ve been made to sit down and study something your heart is not really into then the chances of remembering are low.

If I am interested will I remember it?

However, when you do decide to remember something there are still chances that you will still forget it after sometime. That all depends on the amount of information your brain is receiving, the way it is being received and the priority being given to the information. Research done by Hermann Ebbinghaus shows the amount of time it takes for us to forget information. If the information is revisited before your brain stacks it somewhere in the back, where it becomes difficult to retrieve, then it becomes fresh once again. Again revisiting the information at regular intervals will make the memory stronger and you will remember it like you remember nursery rhymes even today.

Hermann Ebbinghaus recommended two ways of learning so that memory becomes easy. One was mnemonic techniques and the other spaced repetition. Memory techniques popularly used by learners have been explained in another article: How to Memorize Things You Study. Here we learn a little bit about spaced repetition.

What is Spaced Repetition?

Experts recommend the use of spaced repetition technique simply because it is an easy tool. Spaced repetition is not the same as spaced learning so do not confuse the two. I have covered spaced learning in another blog. Spaced repetition is a rote memorizing tool to help remember something by coming back to it after regular intervals. Like you read or study a concept in the morning. Then you revise it in the evening. Then again the next morning and maybe the evening. And it goes on. The time interval you revisit the concept will increase as days go by until you actually remember it without going back to the book. You can also understand the intervals of revisiting what you need to remember by the forgetting curve. As soon as you believe you start forgetting something you need to remember, you read it or watch the video again. 

forgetting curve

There are numerous smart apps that help you in organising your spaced repetition efforts. The one that I believe is most popular is ANKISRS. Or you can make a small diary to organise your timings. There is one easy way of doing this with flash cards or the ‘Flash in the box’ technique. I have elaborated this technique in another article.