Be honest to yourself – have you ever found yourself cramming before your exams?
Personally, during my last year of school I made this exact mistake way too often. Not only because I was lazy and tried to delay studying as much as possible but also because it didn’t seem to have that big of an impact on my results.
Only a few months later when revising for my finals, I noticed huge gaps in my knowledge. This is the consequence and biggest problem of cramming – you don’t build up long-term information retention. And this lead to a bunch of additional work on the long run for me.
Especially when it comes to time-intensive activities like learning, it’s all about studying smarter not harder.
Therefore, I want to present you a scientifically proven method that doesn’t only reduce your pre-exam stress but also allows you to improve your memory with possibly even less time investment – Spaced Repetition!
Spaced Repetition – The Theory And Why It Works
As method’s name already suggests, you want to add spacing between your study sessions.
It takes into account a concept that was first introduced by H. Ebbinghaus over a century ago – the Forgetting Curve. Similar to the decay of radioactive elements this curve shows an exponential decay of your memory over time if it is not recalled.
Spaced Repetition now tries to “reset” this curve whenever you are close to forgetting some information. However, instead of decaying the same way as before, the Forgetting Curve becomes flatter with every additional repetition – consequently leading to long-term information retention!
Ideally you want to have several sessions spread by time intervals that begin with one or a few days and increase up to weeks until you feel like you absorbed your material. It is also possible to have absolute time intervals with the same length though. However, don’t construct rigid learning time tables for each topic. Instead always work at your personal problem areas.
Spaced Repetition has been the subject of scientific research for a long time. Recent studies even have shown that applying this method can lead up to a 200% improvement of you long-term retention in comparison to non-spaced retrieval. So it’s sure to say, that you’re even scientifically on the safe side when applying this technique!
What to watch out for:
Even though Spaced Repetition is to a certain degree already effective if you are just going through your material passively, you really want to get your brain to actively recall the information instead of trying to put the information back in!
So no more rereading or highlighting notes! Instead try testing yourself. You can either do this by putting together sets of questions before hand or working through examples when it comes to subjects like maths. But more on this later!
Against your intuition it could and should actually feel hard to study with this technique. Comparable to muscle training you want it to burn and that’s why you operate at the edge of forgetting. This leads to far more elaborate processing of the information which in consequence gets encoded deeper into your memory!
Consequently you can’t just simply pack all of the repetitions back to back and expect the same results. This just wouldn’t form the strong retention you are aiming for.
Don’t spend hours on perfecting the first topic of your material which you probably already know quite well. Ideally you should spend shorter amounts of time on every concept and especially return to the difficult one’s more often. Doing this even inside of a single study session shows massive benefits.
Overall this drastically reduces study time and increases your efficiency!
In order to enjoy all the mentioned benefits you want to have enough time to apply the method. So you absolutely should avoid cramming! This might be the most difficult aspect of Spaced Repetition but starting out early is key!
But enough do’s and don’ts for now – how do you best apply Spaced Repetition now?
Spaced Repetition – In Practice
As previously mentioned, this method is all about the spacing of study sessions and the active recall of information.
Flashcards – Heroes of Memory
Turns out one of the best methods to combine these aspects are Flashcards with which you can test yourself. Personally, I have never been a big fan of them because of the effort that goes into creating them manually. Luckily though, we have computers to make our lives easier nowadays!
There are countless flashcard apps out there that organize almost everything for you. One of my favorite ones is Anki.
With Anki you can create decks of flashcards about different topics of your material and give them a rating of difficulty according to your struggles when answering the questions. It then automatically schedules them to come up sooner or later the more or less difficulties you had.
It’s often not even necessary to create the decks yourself as you for example have free access to many pre-created decks in medicine, physics or different languages and many more subjects!
Magic Spreadsheet System
If you want to add a little more transparency to your progress and weak spots you should definitely check out Ali Abdaal’s “‘Magic’ Spaced Repetition Spreadsheet System“.
It basically relies on spreadsheets listing the topics you have to study in your respective subjects. Next to each topic you add the dates of your study sessions and color code them according to your respective success in each session.
This gives you a quick overview of your problem areas and where you should focus on next.
Here’s how it looks like for one of my physics courses:
- Spaced Repetition is a proven and one of the most effective learning method
- In the long-term spacing your study sessions out is far more beneficial than cramming
- Try to use Flashcards for Active Recall in order to maximize your results
Overall Spaced Repetition seems to be the best method for “uploading” content to your brain. But there are a bunch of other studying tricks and tweaks out there that you should definitely also check out. When it comes to grasping concepts and the bigger picture the Feynman Technique is unbeatable.
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