From Forgetting to Remembering: How a Spaced Repetition System Can Help
Updated on 21 Mar 2023 • 6 min read
As many of us have experienced during school years, late-night learning is not the most effective technique. The information might have stuck around for a short period, but just after the day of the exam, it flew away with us unable to recall it.
If you would like to remember more during and after your studies, forget the last-minute learning. Using spaced repetition, a method to rehearse educational material, you will not simply earn better grades, but studying would be an overall easier process and memorized information will be available to recall later in your life.
What is Spaced Repetition System?
The spaced repetition system is a learning technique in which the material previously learned is recalled by the learner from time to time at ever-increasing intervals. This method is based on the intermittent repetition effect on how we tend to forget information. The primary goal of the technique is to recall the material learned as infrequently as possible, just before we forget it. By approaching repetitions in this scientific way, time spent learning can be used much more efficiently.
The Neurological Background of Memorizing
Learning always begins with perception, the form of how we collect information. This data travels through the nerve pathways to the place where the perception is processed, our brain. Some perceptions cause our bodies to react, which usually does not happen consciously.
Scientists once thought that the brain stores memories in a similar way to computers. It was later proved that the artificial approach is completely different: information is broken down into elements (bits) on the computer and is stored that way. The machines can store up to a certain amount of information on a storage device called a hard disk. If our brain would work similarly, despite having hundreds of billions of cells, our internal storage device would have filled up in a matter of hours.
Our brains work in a rather different way: since we always store information in context it is more about capturing the contents of things. That’s why when we recall a memory, related reminiscences come to mind, like smells or the color of the paper, or what we ate for dinner during learning.
What Makes Spaced Repetition Effective?
Spaced repetition technique is one of the most effective learning techniques, which you probably use even if you do not know about it. Using this method consciously makes it far superior to standard learning.
There are three key values it provides:
Delays forgetting learned information by prolonging the forget-curve.
Active recall helps to keep memorized information fresh (as the context layers build-up, it gets easier to remember what you have learned).
Spaced repetition supports long term memory, so you won’t forget the learned information even after the exam.
Best Spaced Repetition Time Intervals
The spaced repetition time intervals will vary depending on the individual and the material being studied, but generally, shorter intervals are used for information that is easier to forget and longer intervals for information that is more easily retained.
The forgetting curve and work of Ebbinghaus that to space things out and remind yourself on multiple occasions with intervals increasing in size to maximize effort and recall each time. For most students exams will likely be 1-6 months away so you will be working with study gaps of 1-3 weeks generally.
- Original Learning: Day 0
- First repetition: Day 2
- Second repetition: Day 10
- Third repetition: Day 30
- Fourth repetition: Day 60
It's important to note that these intervals are not set in stone and should be adjusted based on your personal needs: how well the material is retained, how much time you have, and how much material needs to be learned.
How to Get Started with the Spaced Repetition System
To put the above in practice, try to remember a movie you’ve seen more than one time. After you’ve watched it first, you understood it well, but a few weeks later you only remembered the title and main story points. You watched it with a friend two months later, and while watching, you have realized that you can recall the story and started to watch out for certain details in the background, or the listening closer to the music. When you watched it for the third time, you probably remembered all the names, a few exact quotes, and the story details too.
Of course, the typical study materials are far from a movie’s excitement, however, learning it works the same. Review your documents and memorize them for the first time. After you have finished, try recalling them in a suitable way: you can write them down or simply rehearse the answers out loud. (Trying to recall it through your inner voice is not the best idea as we all tend to cheat ourselves.)
If you recalled it correctly, put the documents down and start another activity. After an hour try to rehearse it again, maybe using a different method. Then again in a few hours, and on the next day morning. Keep lengthening these intervals until you are ready to face the exam.
Tools that Support You Along the Journey
Luckily, today we have multiple choices on how to organize our studies. Different websites, along with applications, will help to study effectively, faster and also memorize for the long-term. Let’s see 5 software programs and applications utilizing the spaced repetition method!
How it fits with SRLT: After creating or choosing your flashcard set, you can start to memorize the information. When you feel ready, you can choose how to check your knowledge. First is the “Learning” phase: Quizlet will show you the term and you will have to answer it from multiple choices or you will have to type it from memory - and the software will immediately review it. Getting it correctly will set the term as “Familiar”, and after multiple times it will be changed to “Mastered”. Furthermore, this spaced repetition app will give you constant feedback based on your answers, where you are in the learning process, and what you should focus on.
Platforms: iOS, Android, web
The basic idea: Signing up for EdApp will give you a choice if you want to educate others or yourself. The registration is fast, and you can immediately create your topic or search in the content library based on your interest.
The contents will be summarized using texts, gifs, and short videos because visualization had a great positive effect on memorizing capabilities. The presentations also have interactive parts, triggering the mind with the element of surprise, stabilizing the learned information. While you are stepping further, EdApp will give you milestones to know where you are in the process.
How it fits with SRLT: With its sophisticated approach and triggering effects, this spaced repetition software helps to improve memorizing information. On its finalizing page it summarizes the studied content, and based on your answers it gives feedback.
How it fits with SRLT: Based on how difficult you have found the lecture, the program will offer you three choices to choose from: to see the lesson again in one minute or to repeat it in ten minutes or four days.
What is Anki's spaced repetition interval? Anki doesn’t set up "the one" spaced repetition interval for you. With Anki, you have full control over the length of the initial learning steps. Anki understands that it can be necessary to see a new card a number of times before you’re able to memorize it, and those initial "failures" don’t mean you need to be punished by being shown the failed card many times over the course of a few days. Performance during the learning stage does not reflect performance in the retaining stage.
Platforms: web, Android, iOS
The basic idea: Brainscape is a specialized spaced repetition system where the algorithm focuses on the areas which need improvements, based on your answers and learning patterns. This is a lively web surface because their team is openly active on other social media websites and showing their results and feedback from users and companies, furthermore, a blog, full of content, is available as well.
How it fits with SRLT: Brainscape will effectively monitor and check your answers and will support you - if you are honest how well you have known the flash cards’ answers, based on a scale from 1 to 5. It will also measure time during your study phases and help you to memorize information faster.
How it fits with SRLT: Its classical surface will help you not simply with drag and drop text flashcards, but you can also insert video and audio files to support the memorization process. Furthermore, typing an answer is also an option during the learning phase, and the program will color results to show if you were correct or not.
Learning accompanies us throughout our entire life, while as we age studying gets harder. Spaced repetition learning is a good-to-know tactic (or even life-hack) that you might have used before without consciously knowing it. Utilizing the method through one of the above spaced repetition software apps will help you to memorize learning materials more effectively and in less time. The method comes handy in all ages, regardless if you go to school, prepare for college exams, or do corporate training to develop your career.