Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on February 3, 2021

How to Use Spaced Repetition to Remember What You Learn

How to Use Spaced Repetition to Remember What You Learn

While learning is a simple concept on the surface, there is so much that the average person doesn’t know about the topic, including a great deal about spaced repetition. For one, did you know that everything that we learned in school is taught to us ineffectively?

While it’s a rather unusual reveal of information, that question will start to make sense when you apply a special learning technique. It’s not something that’s taught in schools, but if it was, we’d have brighter students and people who are able to retain information better.

This technique is called spaced repetition. Similar to memory palaces, this technique is something that’s been lost to the ages but is an immensely powerful technique.

It is one of the many keys to retaining information, but also to help with learning as we grow older. Today, I’ll be taking a closer look at this technique, showing how it works, and how you too can benefit from this technique.

What Is Spaced Repetition?

Before learning about spaced repetition systems, it’s important to understand how our brains work.In order for us to retain any information in our brain, we have to refresh it periodically with specific time intervals. For example, let’s say you hear that “Ottawa is the capital of Canada.” If you’re not using that information at all, you will likely forget about it after you finish reading this article or sometime later.

However, if you continue to “learn” that Ottawa is the capital of Canada through text or you explaining this, you’ll better retain this information.

The point is:

The more often you encounter certain bits of info, the less often you’ll need to refresh your memory of it.

What makes our brains so interesting, though, is that even long-held pieces of information can be forgotten if we don’t run into it enough. For example, people moving to another country can forget or have difficulty speaking their own native language if they’re not exposed to enough of it in the new country.

Advertising

With that understanding, spaced repetition is based entirely on these principles. It’s the idea of reviewing information at gradually increasing intervals.

Does Spaced Repetition Really Work?

Of course, this technique is effective and well worth your time. To argue this, let’s go back to what I mentioned earlier about school. It’s a fact that learning in school is ineffective compared to this technique.

Aside from the fact most of us probably don’t remember much of anything we learned in high school at this point, even younger generations will have a tougher time retaining that knowledge.

There are two key factors to learning and retaining information:

  1. How much information we retain
  2. The amount of effort spent to retain that level of information

Going back to school learning, we have to retain a lot of information revolving around the various topics we were taught in short periods of time, so the amount of info is considerable.

But it starts to fall short when you consider the second factor. After all, we only have to retain that information for both the test and the exams we take at the end. Because of this, it’s fair to say that school teaches us to learn in order to pass a test. We’re not learning for the sake of retaining that information and growing as individuals.

Compared to spaced repetition, we see this method working wonders for us. While the information could be small or vast, the effects can be transformative.

In Gabriel Wyner’s book Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language and Never Forget It, spaced repetition is the go-to method:

“Spaced repetition…[is] extraordinarily efficient. In a four-month period, practising for 30 minutes a day, you can expect to learn and retain 3600 flashcards with 90 to 95 percent accuracy. These flashcards can teach you an alphabet, vocabulary, grammar, and even pronunciation. And they can do it without becoming tedious because they’re always challenging enough to remain interesting and fun.”

Mindhacker

, a book written by Ron and Marty Hale-Evans, expands on this point:

“Our memory is simultaneously magnificent and pathetic. It is capable of incredible feats, yet it never works quite like we wish it would. Ideally, we would be able to remember everything instantly, but we are not computers. We hack our memory with tools like memory palaces, but such techniques require effort and dedication. Most of us give up, and outsource our memory to smartphones, cloud enabled computers, or plain old pen and paper. There is a compromise…a learning technique called spaced repetition which efficiently organizes information or memorization and retention can be used to achieve near perfect recall.”

How Often Should You Use Spaced Repetition?

By this point, we know fully that frequency matters a lot, but it’s worth looking at the degree and how often we are engaging with information. For one, you might be thinking that cramming might be a good idea, but that’s not an effective method either.

According to German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, facts that you get through cramming vanish.[1] Instead, Ebbinghaus encourages us to focus on some other factors before delving into frequency. Those factors are the intensity of our emotions and the intensity of our attention.

He writes:

“Very great is the dependence of retention and reproduction upon the intensity of the attention and interest which were attached to the mental states the first time they were present. The burnt child shuns the fire, and the dog which has been beaten runs from the whip, after a single vivid experience. People in whom we are interested we may see daily and yet not be able to recall the colour of their hair or of their eyes…Our information comes almost exclusively from the observation of extreme and especially striking cases.”

Why did he focus on that rather than a specific time? Well, because Ebbinghaus uncovered more than that fact. After all, he was the pioneer of this work. How he uncovered all of this was through self-experimentation.

Not only did his experiments uncover those factors I mentioned above, but also something called “the forgetting curve”[2]. From Ebbinghaus’s research, he concluded that a certain quantity of information is stored in our subconscious minds. He referred to those memories as “savings.”

Advertising

Ebbinghaus' forgetting curve and spaced repetition

    These are memories we can’t recall consciously; however, when exposed, these memories speed up our process of relearning[3]. Think of a song that you haven’t heard in a decade or several years. You probably can’t recall the words right now, but if you heard the melody, the lyrics would come pouring in.

    Getting back to our question, how often should we be using this technique? According to Ebbinghaus, it’s based more on the quality of our recall rather than the frequency.

    The Best Spaced Repetition Schedule

    Despite what Ebbinghaus stated, his work has been expanded on. His theories still stand, but his work has inspired various spaced repetition schedules.

    Unlike Ebbinghaus, these give specific times for when we should be repeating these processes, countering the forgetting curve Ebbinghaus created.

    Out of the many schedules, the most popular schedules are SuperMemo SM-2[4] (SM-2 for short) and Mnemosyne[5].

    SM-2 is the original and the default spaced repetition schedule out there and for good reason. It was published by P.A. Wozniak in 1990 as a thesis. It was an algorithm that was born through trial and error that took several years to bring it to where it is today.

    According to the publisher, the author memorized 10,255 items and then, based on the algorithm, repeated those items every day. The author spent 41 minutes each day memorizing and reciting those items. After the experiment was over, the overall retention was 92%.

    Since then, many other schedules have come up, but none could hit those expectations, making SM-2 the go-to. Mnemosyne is another popular one as it’s incredibly similar to SM-2. Out of them all, it’s the closest schedule to achieving the same results.

    Advertising

    How to Use Spaced Repetition for Effective Learning

    Having a schedule is one thing, but then it’s a matter of using it and retaining information. Also, if a schedule is too complicated for you, this 4-step method is easy to get into and should yield similar results.

    1. Review Your Notes

    Within 20-24 hours of the initial intake of information, make sure the information is written down in notes and that you have reviewed them for short term retention. During the reviewing session, you want to read them, but then look away and try to recall the most important points.

    Remember, there is a difference between rereading and recalling, so be certain you look away and pull from your memories.

    2. Recall the Information for the First Time

    After a day, try to recall the information without using any of your notes as much. Try recalling when you’re taking a walk or sitting down and relaxing.

    You can also increase your efficiency by creating flashcards of the main ideas and quizzing yourself on the concepts.

    3. Recall the Material Again

    After that, recall the material every 24-36 hours over the course of several days. They don’t have to be lengthy study sessions. Try a recall session when you’re standing in an elevator or waiting in line. You are still free to look at your notes or flashcards, but try recalling while working with those notes.The idea with this step is to ask yourself questions and to quiz yourself in order to retain and recall this information in your long-term memory.

    4. Study It All Over Again

    After several days have passed, take out your material and study it all over again. If this information is for a test, make sure that this is done within a week before the test. This allows your brain to reprocess concepts.

    Bottom Line

    Even without a schedule, spaced repetition feels natural and is a better way to learn than traditional methods. It expands on memory retention strategies like memory palaces, too.

    Not only that, but this technique can apply to all manner of things in life. Thanks to using flashcards and other methods, you can engage effectively in language learning, properly prepare for tests, and more.

    Advertising

    More About Effective Learning

    Featured photo credit: Joel Muniz via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

    Your Night Routine Guide to Sleeping Better & Waking Up Productive 74 Healthy Habits That Will Drastically Improve Every Aspect of Your Life 7 Tips for Overcoming Challenges in Life Like a Pro How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them

    Trending in Learning

    1 How To Ask the Right Questions For Effective Learning 2 9 Steps to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective 3 How To Find Motivation To Learn Anything Outside of Comfort Zone 4 How to Take Constructive Criticism Like a Champ 5 How To Apply the Stages Of Learning (With Free Worksheet)

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Published on April 20, 2021

    How To Ask the Right Questions For Effective Learning

    How To Ask the Right Questions For Effective Learning

    Asking the right questions is basically the magic key to any kind of personal or professional development. Sounds pretty awesome, huh? Unfortunately, many people are afraid to ask questions at all. They often think that they look stupid if they ask too many questions.

    Well, funny enough, it’s impossible to move forward without asking questions. How are you supposed to learn anything new if you’re never wondering, “how can I do that?” or “what is required to achieve my desired result?”

    But it’s not only about asking others. You must also master the art of asking yourself the right questions. Yes, you read that right. The kind of questions you ask yourself can have a huge impact on your results. And they can, in fact, make the difference between hitting your goals and not moving forward at all.

    Alright, so in this article, I’ll cover the question (you see what I mean?): how do I ask the right questions for effective learning?

    Why Is Asking the Right Questions Important for Effective Learning?

    Before we look at the “how,” let’s first talk about why it’s so important to ask the right questions for effective learning.

    1. Questions Lead to Answers

    As mentioned before, you can’t learn or move forward without asking questions. Just imagine if you start a new job and you never asked anything at all. Would you ever be able to do a good job?

    Sure, you might be lucky and get all your instructions delivered on a silver platter. But even if that’s the case, what will you do with very specific situations that weren’t covered in the instructions? Or what will you do with constructive criticism from your boss?

    If you just take that and then only do exactly what your boss said without ever questioning what they really meant, will you really be able to improve your work?

    Okay, I think you get the point. You need answers for effective learning and improvement. And the only way to get them is through asking questions.

    Advertising

    2. Asking the Right Questions Will Help You Be Successful

    Asking the right questions will also significantly improve your chances of being successful.

    Let’s take another example. Let’s say you want to build your own business. How do you start? That’s right—that’s the first good question to ask yourself. After that, a lot of your success depends on what you’re asking yourself and others.

    Now, let’s compare two kinds of questions. Let’s say you get stuck in your business building process. You could ask yourself: “why doesn’t this work for me?” Or you could ask yourself “how can I make this work for me?”

    Do you see the difference? The second question is an empowering one that will guide you to success. Of course, you need to be relentless and motivated to actually find a solution. But simply asking yourself this kind of question will significantly improve your chances for success.

    The first question, on the other hand, is a rather disempowering one. It puts you in a victim role where you feel sorry for yourself rather than in a position to look for a solution. And have you ever seen someone who’s victimizing themself be successful? I sure haven’t!

    3. Communication Is Key for Improvement

    Now, let’s quickly look at another important aspect regarding questions addressed to other people.

    Good communication is essential for improvement, good relationships, and success. And that can literally be applied to any kind of situation. Be it your job, your business, your marriage, or with your friends, good communication is the foundation for healthy relationships.

    Effective communication requires active listening more than anything else. But what does that mean?

    It means to ask questions and then actually listen to what the other person has to say. This will not only help you improve your relationship with other people—and, therefore, help you move forward in your professional and personal life—but it will also help you gain a lot of knowledge, which is undoubtedly the most effective kind of learning.

    Advertising

    People love to talk about themselves. So, you only need to find people who have the answers to your questions and then listen in an active way. And boom, you probably just shortened your learning curve by 50%.

    What Is Effective Learning?

    Okay, I’d like to quickly touch on one more important thing before we talk about how you can ask the right questions. And that is, “what is effective learning?”

    Contrary to common belief, we don’t stop learning after college. In school, we’re basically forced to learn certain topics. But it’s actually after this period that the really interesting learning period starts. Once you’re out of school, you can completely choose what things you want to learn yourself, and this is where effective learning really starts

    The best example is laid out in Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. In his book, he explains that the only way you can move forward in today’s economy is to learn hard things at a fast pace. He specifically talks about today’s economy because things are changing faster than ever. You can’t stay stuck with 10-year old technology or you’ll soon be left behind in our fast-paced world.

    So, this is basically what effective learning means—learning hard and relevant things at a fast pace.

    How to Ask the Right Questions for Effective Learning

    Alright, so now that you understand the importance of asking the right questions and what effective learning means, let’s put it all together.

    So, here’s how to ask the right questions for effective learning.

    1. Start by Asking Yourself

    As mentioned before, the most important aspect is to actually start by asking yourself the right kind of questions. Pay attention to always ask empowering questions—meaning, questions that are solution-oriented.

    These are often “how” questions. For instance:

    Advertising

    • “How can I achieve my goal?”
    • “How can I make a better job?”
    • “How can I best use this resource?”

    Avoid disempowering, victimizing questions. It’s sometimes hard to even detect those because we’re often asking ourselves these kinds of questions without even noticing.

    This usually happens when we’re frustrated with a situation. These kinds of questions focus on why you’re in such a bad situation and absolutely ignore the possibility of a solution. These are often “why” questions. Here are a few examples:

    • “Why did this happen to me?”
    • “Why is everyone else successful except me?”
    • “Why can’t I be lucky for once?”

    2. Ask the Right People

    Once you’ve managed to ask yourself the right questions, it’s time to focus on what to ask other people. But it’s not only about what to ask. It’s also about whom to address it to.

    To promote effective learning, you need to ask the right people. These are people who have gone before you and who have achieved what you want to achieve. It doesn’t even need to be in person. Reading their books and wondering “what made them successful?” is a great way to start. If you can, totally opt in for asking those people in person, though. These can become your mentors or role models who will make effective learning significantly easier.

    To find the right people to ask, first determine your goal for this conversation. What do you want to learn? What do you want to achieve with that knowledge? Then, find people who have already achieved that.

    3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

    Once you have found the right people, it’s important to also phrase your questions the right way. That means asking open-ended questions.

    As mentioned before, people love talking about themselves and their achievements. And by asking open-ended questions, you allow them to share as much as possible. This is especially great to start a conversation as it will get you a lot of information right from the get-go. Later down the road, you can ask more specific questions to get the amount of detail you need.

    Great open-ended questions are: “how did you achieve (a milestone)?”; “what are the best tools to be successful?” “what helped you be so successful?”

    Make sure to enter your specific goal or their success in those questions. For instance, you could ask your boss, “what helped you get promoted after only working for the company for a year?”

    Advertising

    4. Practice Active Listening

    Active listening is an insanely powerful skill. You can “extract” all of a person’s knowledge simply by listening and asking more open-ended questions that allow them to share even more of their experience and knowledge.

    Practice it with your friends or spouse. Set an intention of just listening for 10 minutes. During this time, only ask questions that allow them to talk about themselves. Don’t interrupt them and only ask deeper questions after they finished answering.

    After that, think about how much you just learned about the other person. Plus, you probably made the other person feel really good and flattered. This in turn will make it easier to get even more answers from them in the future.

    Once you feel comfortable, try this with one of your mentors. Believe me, they’ll love you for it, and you’ll get your answers much faster that way.

    5. Focus on the Solution

    One last point: always focus on the solution when asking any kind of question. This goes for asking yourself but also when asking other people.

    Your subconscious will automatically guide you towards what you’re focusing on.[1] If you’re focusing on the risks or on what could go wrong, guess where you’ll end up? Right there!

    If you focus on solutions and see struggles as opportunities to learn more, you’ll always end up finding solutions for any kind of problem or issue. So, asking the right questions is all about being solution-oriented and focusing on the opportunities rather than the risks.

    Conclusion

    Asking the right questions is not only essential for effective learning—aka learning hard things at a fast pace—but it’s also key to improving in any personal or professional area of your life.

    There are two important aspects of asking the right questions. The first is about what kind of questions you ask yourself. Make sure to keep them empowering and solution-oriented. This will help guide you to success instead of keeping you stuck with a problem.

    The second aspect is to ask the right kind of people to get answers that will help you achieve your goals. Make sure to find people who have gone before you. Then, ask them open-ended questions and practice active listening to learn as much as possible from them.

    More Tips on Asking Questions

    Featured photo credit: Product School via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next