Hey, what is going on, guys? So I think we can all agree that studying takes far, far too much time so what I wanna do in this article is show you guys how to study and remember long term of what you learn, even if you’re spending fewer actual hours studying, and the way to do that is by spacing out that study time.
This is a technique called spaced repetition and to do it you add progressively longer and longer time intervals in between each of your study sessions. So in this article I wanna show you exactly how you can do that, both with your paper flash cards and with apps both for smartphones and computers.
But first I wanted to get into why this technique is so powerful and also talk to you a little bit about the history behind it and how it relates to our memories in general. Spaced repetition leverages a memory phenomenon known as the spacing effect, which describes how our brains make better connections and overall remember things more effectively when we space out our learning over time.
How’s how Pierce J. Howard, the author of my least favorite book to haul into coffee shops, puts it: “Work involving higher mental functions, “such as analysis and synthesis, needs to be “spaced out in order to allow new neural “connections to solidify. “New learning drives out old learning when “insufficient time intervenes.”
And we’ve actually known about this effect for quite a long time. Back in the late-1800s a psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus basically launched the field of memory science itself by embarking upon an intense study where he made himself memorize long, long lists of nonsense syllables.
And through that research he eventually came to develop what’s called The Forgetting Curve, which describes how memories decay over time. But what he also learned was that by spacing out his efforts to memorize these lists, he could put in less actual study time to get them memorized perfectly. For example, for one list of 12 syllables he found out it took him 68 repetitions on one day and then seven repetitions the next day to memorize it perfectly, but by spacing out his studying over the course of three days he found he could achieve his same level of perfection in only 38 repetitions.
Over the past 130 years since he published his findings, lots of other studies have been able to replicate this same positive results, which leads us to the question, “Why does the spacing effect work?” Well to put it in simple terms, it turns out that one of the most important parts of learning process is actually forgetting.
To make this a bit more clear, here’s how the author Benedict Carey, who wrote the book “How We Learn,” explains it: “Some amount of breakdown must occur “for us to strengthen learning when we revisit the material. “Without a little forgetting, you get no benefit “from further study. “It is what allows learning to build, “like an exercised muscle.” And that’s the main reason why Carey calls spaced repetition one of the most powerful methods for remembering what you’ve learned in his book.
And I would add to that the fact that you can do this with basically any other learning technique. It’s entirely complementary because it’s all about just modifying the time periods in which you study. You can do anything within those time periods, you’re just using the time periods as intelligently as possible. With that being said, now I wanna get into how you can put spaced repetition into action and implement it into your own study systems. And we’re gonna talk about apps and computer programs that you can use in a minute here but first I want to talk about a system that you can use with your paper flash cards, which is called the Leitner System, and here’s how it works.
The first step is to decide on the number of boxes that you’re gonna use to hold the cards in your system. Now I don’t actually own little boxes so I’ve just substituted rubber bands and sticky notes that say “Box,” but that actually works just as well and actually makes the system more portable, so that’s pretty cool, and from there each individual box is going to represent a different study time interval.
So Box 1 might be studying every day, Box 2 might be studied every other day, and so on. And when you’re studying the cards in the boxes, every time you get a card right it’s gonna graduate to the next box, so you’re gonna see it less and less often. But if you get a card wrong, it’s gonna go all the way to box number 1, no matter where it was. And by using this system you get two main benefits.
Number one, you’re maximizing your learning through the spacing effect, but number two, you’re also studying more efficiently because you’re spending more time on the cards that need the most attention and less time on the ones you know really well rather than studying every single card equally. Now this paper system works really well for both of those goals but if you wanna take advantage of more advanced scheduling algorithms and other features, you’re gonna need to find yourself a space repetition app and there are a lot of contenders in this area but I wanna focus first on what is probably the most popular one right now and that is called Anki.
Anki has a huge community, it’s insanely customizable, and best of all, it has apps for almost every platform outthere and almost all of them are free with the exception of the iPhone app, which oddly costs a whopping $25. Now I think the price is that high because it’s their way of basically letting people support the app since it’s free everywhere else but if you’re on an iPhone and you don’t wanna pay that much, fear not because Anki also has a companion web app called AnkiWeb, which is accessible from mobile Safari.
So you can use that free if you want. Now with Anki, creating cards is really, really easy and I really like the fact that you can add basically any kind of media you want to your cards, including pictures, which is awesome because adding pictures to your flash cards can really help increase retention.However, the killer feature of Anki is the ability to rate cards based on difficulty when you’re studying them.
So essentially, when you turn a card over, you can tell the program how hard it was for you to dredge the answer up from the depths of your memory and it will use that data to decide how long it’s gonna be before you see that card again. And that’s really the main strength of space
repetition apps versus a paper system. Each individual card can be tracked, can have a difficulty rating, and can be adjustedin the algorithm so you’re getting the most benefit of the spacing effect.
Anki is definitely not the only space repetition app out there, though, so if you’re looking for alternatives, I’ve got a few things in mind for you to take a look at, number one being an app called TinyCards. Now TinyCards is only for the iPhone, unfortunately, but there should be an Android version coming soon, and honestly, when compared to Anki I think it’s a lot more simple, a lot prettier, and the process of making cards is more fun and faster because they have an excellent system for adding images to your cards.
Aside from TinyCards there are also apps like Flashcards Deluxe, Memrise, SuperMemo, Mnemosyne, Eidetic, Quizlet, and probably a bunch of others that I don’t even know about right now but I’m sure you will let me know about down in the Comments. So before I wrap this article up I have a couple more things I wanna mention, number one being the script I wrote for this article is actually about half the length of the blog post I wrote so if you want a lot more detail, especially pertaining to the memory bits and how the spacing effect works, you can click the blog post link in the description down below or on the card on screen right now and read to your heart’s content.