Make it Stick (1/2)

  • Repeated attempts to recall (retrievals) what you have learnt strengthens learning
  • Space out your retrievals to avoid repetition but not to the point you have to relearn the material
  • Some forgetting is necessary for new learning. The easier it is to recall, the less effective the retrieval

Simple English:

Reading the textbook over and over is the least effective method of studying, at least where long term learning is concerned. Never reread the textbook unless it’s a last resort, or to rush for a sudden test tomorrow.

When you have finished reading an article or a portion of a chapter, stop, and attempt to recall what you have read. The act of recalling IS how you remember the information.

Your attempts at recalling information must be done frequently. Surprisingly, you don’t have to do it everyday. Allow yourself to deliberately forget (either study something else, or relax), come back the next day, and quiz yourself again.

As recalling gets easier, allow yourself to wait a longer time (add 1-2 more days) before you quiz yourself again. This is called spaced repetition.

Though it’s hard to believe, forgetting is important in learning. Eventually, the information is stored long term, and recall becomes a snap.

The higher the difficulty of recall, the more actual learning takes place.

Most Flashcard apps come with spaced repetition. I highly recommend Flashcards Deluxe. It’s complicated to use but it’s the most feature complete app.

If you are not IT-savvy and use traditional hand-made flashcards, do this: As you answer each flashcard, put them in 3 distinct categories:

Category 1: All flashcards you found easy to recall go here. You quiz yourself on these flashcards 5-7-9+ days later, depending on your mastery.

Category 2: Flashcards you struggle somewhat, or are uncertain. Test yourself on them 2-3 days later.

Category 3: Flashcards you got wrong. Test cards from this category as a daily routine.

As you keep this habit up, most cards from category 3 should start to fall into category 1 or 2. When learning new concepts or words, put them in category 3.

Be warned: Learning feels slower from this kind of practice and you don’t get the rapid improvements you see from massed practice.

Repeat consistently, learn to take pride as you move most cards into categories 1 & 2, and after a month or two, you will see your natural recall of information become exceedingly powerful.

This should also be apparent: Regular quizzing or testing, if spaced out properly, is a necessity. Learn to look forward to tests and you are on the right track.

Continue to Make it Stick Part 2/2