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Last Updated on September 2, 2020

How to Use Spaced Repetition to Remember What You’ve Learned

How to Use Spaced Repetition to Remember What You’ve Learned

While learning is a simple concept on the surface, there is so much that the average person doesn’t know about the topic. 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 folks. Not to mention people 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.

But before I do so, I’d like to recommend you all learners to take a FREE Learning Fast Track Class offered by Lifehack. It’s a 20-minute intensive class called Spark Your Learning Genius, and will surely upgrade your learning skills right away! Find out more about the Fast Track Class here.

What Is Spaced Repetition?

Before learning about spaced repetition, it’s key to understand how our brains work.

In order for us to retain any information in our brain, we have to refresh it periodically. 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 finishing 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.

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What makes our brains so interesting though is that, even long-held pieces of information can be forgotten. Even the most familiar pieces of info 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 this new country.

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

It’s also worth noting spaced repetition has also been called other things as well. Examples are spaced rehearsal, expanding rehearsals, graduated intervals, repetition spacing, spaced/expanded retrieval, or repetition scheduling.

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 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 not only learning but 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. 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 learning and growing ourselves.

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

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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.

In 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 required 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 frequent we are being 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, cramming facts vanish.[1] Instead, Ebbinghaus encourages us to focus on some other factors before delving into frequency. Those factors being 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”. 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.”

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These are memories we can’t recall consciously, however, when exposed, these memories speed up our process of relearning. 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.

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

The Best Spaced Repetition Schedule

That being said, despite what Ebbinghaus stated, his work has been expanded on. For sure, his theories still stand, however, 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 and go to schedules are SuperMemo SM-2 (SM-2 for short) and Mnemosyne.

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’s at 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.

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

1Within 20-24 hours of the initial intake of information, make sure the information is written down in notes and that you have reviewed them. During the reviewing session, you want to read them, but then look away and try to recall the most important points.

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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 of your first review, 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 Materials Again

After that, recall the material every 24-36 hours over the course of several days. They don’t have to be lengthy recalls. 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.

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 learn new languages, properly prepare for tests, and more.

More About Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Joel Muniz via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

Delegation of Authority: The Complete Guide for Effective Leaders How To Be Successful In Life: 13 Life-Changing Tips 12 Things High Self-Esteem People Don’t Do A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success 7 Simple but Sure Ways to Eliminate Bad Attitudes

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Last Updated on October 5, 2020

How to Use Deliberate Practice to Be Good at Almost Anything

How to Use Deliberate Practice to Be Good at Almost Anything

I first came across the principle of deliberate practice in the book Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. According to Anders Ericsson,[1]

“Deliberate practice involves stepping outside your comfort zone and trying activities beyond your current abilities.”

What that means is breaking down the skill you want to acquire into separate components and developing your skills, so you master each individual part of the skill. Deliberate practice is not practicing something over and over and not pushing yourself to improve.

In this article, you will discover how you can make deliberate practice work in your everyday life and achieve your goals faster, even when you lack innate talent.

How Deliberate Practice Works in Everyday Life

Imagine you want to become a better presenter. Deliberate practice requires breaking down the presentation into different sections.

For example, you could break down the presentation into the beginning, the middle, and the end. Then, you would work only on the beginning one day. You would practice the tone, the pauses, and even your movement at the beginning of the presentation. On another day, you might practice the transition from beginning to the middle, etc.

The opposite approach would be to mindlessly run through the presentation over and over again until you memorize the script. This type of practice might help you to memorize your script, but you would not necessarily deliver a great presentation. It would likely sound forced and over-practiced instead of dynamic and natural[2].

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Do Lots of Deliberate Practice

    In my teenage years, I was an aspiring middle-distance runner. During the winter months, we ran a lot of long distances on the road as well as cross country. The purpose was to develop our overall stamina and basic strength.

    As the summer approached, we transitioned onto the track and did a lot of 10 X 600 meters with 60 seconds rest between runs. Here, we were working on our speed endurance, a key factor in performing well at middle-distance running.

    Six hundred meters was not my racing distance. I ran 800 and 1,500 meters, but those 10 x 600-meter training sessions were a form of deliberate practice to develop the necessary skills to be able to perform at our best in a crucial part of the race—the middle.

    How to Use Deliberate Practice

    There are specific steps you can take to get good at deliberate practice and achieve a high level of performance for a specific goal.

    1. Break it Down

    Whatever skill you want to acquire, you need to break it down into different parts.

    Imagine you want to become better at writing. You could break down the writing process into creating eye-catching beginnings, strong middles, and inspiring endings.

    If you were to work on the beginning part of the writing process, you could practice different types of introductions. For example, you could try starting with a quote, a detailed description, or a personal story.

    Anything you want to practice can be broken down into smaller steps. Identify them and put them in a list to make sure you stick to the right order of things.

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    2. Create a Schedule

    Now that you know the steps, you should create a schedule to keep yourself motivated. Studies have shown that having a set deadline helps improve motivation by offering feedback on how close or far you are from a goal[3].

    For example, if you want to learn to play the guitar, try scheduling an hour each day to start practicing the chords. You can set yourself a deadline to learn your first song within three months.

    Find what schedule feels doable with the lifestyle you have. This will help you experience continued improvements through purposeful practice.

    3. Get a Coach

    One key part of deliberate practice is toget feedback from teachers or coaches.

    In our writing example, you could ask a friend or a person you know who reads a lot, and ask them what they think of your beginning. Ask them how you could improve it. With the feedback in hand, you can then go back and rewrite the introduction to make it even more eye-catching.

    If you were to develop your presentation skills, you could practice your opening with a colleague or friend you trust, and ask them for feedback. The key is to listen carefully to the feedback and then to go back and fine-tune your practice so you push your skills further.

    If you do not have access to anyone who can provide you with honest feedback, you can video yourself performing your presentation and do a self-critique. It is hard to watch yourself at first, but after you get over the initial shock, you can watch dispassionately and see how you move, sound, and perform.

    Do you use your tone and energy to make it interesting? Are you conveying your message clearly? Are you using too many filler words? All these questions will help you to improve your craft and skills.

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    Earlier this year, one of my communication clients asked me to review and coach his senior leadership team on a presentation they were to give to the CEO of the company, who was visiting Korea. After going through their individual presentations with them, I felt there was no passion, no emotion, no pride in what they had achieved over the previous twelve months.

    Because they had rehearsed their presentation alone with no coaching or feedback, they had focused too much on the script and missed the important energy and passion.

    I advised my clients to look at their scripts and think about what they were proud of and what they were excited about in the coming year. That one, small shift in perspective quickly put the energy and passion into their presentations.

    Getting feedback is an important part of getting the most out of deliberate practice.

    4. Use the Internet to Get Anonymous Feedback

    Another way you can get feedback is to put your writing skills online in the form of a blog post and ask people to give you feedback on your writing style. Or, you could record yourself and upload the video to YouTube. I began a YouTube channel three years ago, and this allowed me to improve my presentation skills through self-analysis.

    I have also received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, which I reviewed and corrected where I felt the criticisms were justified. An example of this was my introductions to my videos. When I first began, my introductions were long and rambling.

    I received a lot of feedback about this, and I soon shortened them and learned to get straight to the point. It has helped me to sharpen my message.

    Bonus Tip

    The role of deliberate practice is

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    to accelerate your learning skills. With learning languages, for example, traditionally we would buy ourselves a textbook and learn grammar principles and long lists of vocabulary. Once we had some basics learned, we would then practice speaking and writing sentences.

    If you were to apply deliberate practice to your language learning process, you would find someone—preferably a native speaker of your target language—and talk to them. They would correct you and advise you where you can improve your pronunciation and intonation.

    Chris Lonsdale talked about this when he delivered his TEDx Talk on how to learn a language in six months. All the advice he gave in that talk was based on the principles of deliberate practice:

    Final Thoughts

    Whatever it is you want to master and improve your skills at, when you use the power of deliberate practice, you can quickly become better than the average and achieve top performance.

    Developing your skills in the area of communication can give you huge advantages in your workplace. Learning and mastering anything new can give you the skills to stay relevant in your industry.

    As we go through the disruptive changes of the “fourth industrial revolution,” the onus is on you to develop yourself, and engaging in deliberate practice is one way you can give yourself the advantage.

    More to Help You Learn Faster

    Featured photo credit: Elijah M. Henderson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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