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Published on October 9, 2019

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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

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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.”

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.

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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.

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

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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

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on November 18, 2019

7 Simple Note Taking Techniques for Efficient Learning

7 Simple Note Taking Techniques for Efficient Learning

Whether you are going back to college or have decided to take learning into your own hands, note-taking is a skill that is truly unique.

On the surface, it can seem like jotting down the important points or stating everything word for word. But delving into the world of note-taking begins a realization that there is more to it than that.

So if you feel like your note skills are rusty, or if you didn’t care much about note-taking, here are some strategies to help you prepare and succeed in this area.

What to Do Before Note Taking

There are all kinds of strategies and systems in place to be taking notes. Some are more formal methods for taking notes while others are strategies that have helped others in the past. But before jumping into note-taking techniques, there are some things to consider prior to learning:

Adopt a Note Taking Mindset

Even our attitude and behavior plays a factor in our ability to take notes. For example, snacks with high sugar or high salt will impact our ability to pay attention to. This also applies to coffee which – if not consumed in moderation – can impact sleep and your ability to pay attention and focus as well.

In this regard, we can see already how mood can impact our ability to take notes. If we’re not focused or easily distracted, we will have a tougher time putting together accurate notes. But that is a more extreme case.

If you’re someone who doesn’t drink coffee or has a snack before class, attitude can still play a significant role. Think back to classes that you weren’t that excited for or that you were bad at. The only reason those topics are not your strong suit can be chalked up to your attitude.

Think about it:

The topics you excelled at made you feel good and you had a vested interest in. This is no different from other pursuits in your life. Compared to things you lack interest in, it’s clear that you would make no effort to learn about something that you don’t want.

So attitude makes a difference and this logic can be applied to even topics you’re not big on. All you need to do is have a positive attitude, pay attention, and study with a classmate or two.

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Preparing Before Class

First, if you are taking a formal course, it pays to be prepared. One study by Spies and Wilkin[1] found that law students who read a legal case before getting to class displayed deeper understanding of the material compared to others.

This doesn’t apply to courses where you are assigned reading but in all manner of courses. With plenty of information made available at our fingertips, there is a lot of opportunities for us to learn about the subject before a course or a training session.

This will pay off for you as you’ll spend more time focusing on understanding the tougher aspects of a topic rather than absorbing the information as is.

7 Note Taking Techniques for Effective Learning

In Miami University’s public database, there is a course outlining note-taking and active listening [2]. These particular methods are some of the more popular methods for taking notes.

1. The Outline Method

This method is used for simplicity and is one of the easiest methods of taking notes. Anyone can pick up this method and use it with no issues.

When using this method, the idea is to select four or five key points that are going to be covered in a specific lesson. Under those key points, you write more in-depth sub-points based on what is being discussed on those topics.

The idea with this form of note taking is so it doesn’t overwhelm you. But you’ll pay attention in a different manner. In the case of this approach, if you know what’s being discussed, you’ll focus on the important aspects of that topic rather than wonder what’s coming up next.

Use this method in cases where:

  • You want your notes to be organized from the start.
  • To see the relationships between both topics and subtopics.
  • You want to convert the points into questions to quiz yourself on later.

2. The Cornell Method

Developed in the 1950s by Cornell University, this is the most common note taking method around. In fact, the outline method is likely inspired by this method as there are similarities to it.

In this method, you are still using key points, but this method goes deeper into the organizing method. For one, the page is broken into three sections:

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  • a narrow column called the “cue”
  • a wider column for your actual notes
  • a summary at the bottom

The cue section is the section where you fill out main points, people, potential test questions and more. This section is devoted to helping you recall larger topics and ideas.

The note section is devoted to expanding and explaining those cue points. You still want to summarize them to an extent using headings. When getting into specifics, you want to indent them and use a numbering system, either roman numerals, numbers, or letters.

The summary section is the section you write up at the end summarizing all of the information in a clear sentence or two. You want both the summary and the cue to be simple seeing as your notes are where you want all of the details.

Here’s an example illustrated by Comprehension Hart:[3]

    This method is great if you:

    • Want notes to be organized even further and easier to review.
    • Want to pull out major ideas and concepts quickly.

    3. Mind Mapping Method

    Mind mapping is a method that works for subjects that have interlocking topics or complex and abstract ideas. Chemistry, history, and philosophy are examples where this method shines.

    The use of the map is to serve as a visual aid for how every topic is related to one another. It also allows you to go into detail on particular ideas or topics. An example of this at work is looking at the French Revolution.

    First, you’d start with that concept at the center and then begin branching off that led to events, and people that sparked the French Revolution.

    You can start off with broad general ideas and during the course or when you are reviewing, you can add in sub-concepts to those branches. Things like dates, support facts, concepts that you see between people and events.

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    That being said, this method doesn’t apply to  only those kinds of topics. Any kind of topic that you can break into various points can also help as well. Another example can be talking about different forms of learning and using the nodes to discuss each method and what each one is like.

    Learn more about this method here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    This type of method for note taking is great for:

    • Visual learners who struggle with studying via notes.
    • For people who need to remember and connect relationships, and events with topics.

    4. Flow Notes Method

    Discussed in a post in College Info Geek,[4] this method is for those who want to maximize active learning in the classroom and save time in reviewing.

    The idea of flow notes is to treat yourself as a student rather than transcribing word for word. In this method, you’ll jot down topics, then start drawing arrows, make doodles, diagrams and graphs to get a general idea out there.

    This method also helps in drawing other bridges and form connections in various fields or within the subject. If some information reminds you of another piece of information or technique, make a note and jot it down.

    Take a look at this video to learn a bit more about this method:

    The only catch with this method is that while it’s great for learning at that moment, you may have a tough time reviewing them later. You may want to pair this method with another method mentioned above.

    5. The Sentence Method

    Another simple method and is a lesser version of flow notes. The idea with this is a simple note-taking. You’re jotting down everything that’s being said to the best of your ability. It’s genuine transcription at it’s finest.

    The problem with this method is that it can be tough to keep up with everything else that’s happening. If you’re writing notes by hand, you will definitely be missing key points and ideas. On a computer, you may be able to keep up, however, you may face challenges still.

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    Despite those problems, there are still advantages to this method. Compared to every other method, this provides the most details and information for review:

    • You can still be brief by covering the main points.
    • Your notes are already simplified for you to study and review them immediately.

    6. Charting Method

    Charting notes take the Cornell method and divide a sheet into three columns. Similar to the mind mapping method, this helps you in connecting relationships and facts together between topics.

    This method is a lazier method than the other ones mentioned above but works for the people who want to highlight key pieces of information on various topics and want to organize facts for easy review.

    7. Writing on Slides

    The final method is another strategy for people who can’t be bothered to take extensive notes. This method works well particularly in classes where the instructor provides slides that they’re using for their lectures.

    Whether it’s a handout or you can download them online, all you need to do is print them off and start writing away on them.

    This method is great because it removes a lot of the worry of taking general notes. Since ideas and concepts are already discussed, it’s a matter of expanding those notes already.

    What Note Taking Techniques Are the Best?

    As you may have noticed, each method is good in its own situation. Depending on what you’re learning – and your own preferences – each method has advantages.

    It’s also worth noting that every person learns and studies in a different manner. With this in mind, consider how you study and figure out the method that best compliments it.

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    Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

    Reference

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