What is Spaced Repetition?: A Beginner’s Guide
Meta Description: Spaced repetition is a learning method to efficiently remember and recall large amounts of information.
As a student, one of the most important things you NEED to learn how to do is to study effectively. Even though you always have the intention of doing well, you might occasionally find yourself cramming the night before a big exam because you haven’t found a good way to study yet.
You might spend hours reading and rereading your notes or staring at diagrams, only to forget days (or even hours!) later. While still useful, these methods often commit information to short-term memory, making long-term learning difficult. Instead, using alternative study techniques such as spaced repetition will assist in optimizing your learning.
Spaced repetition is a learning system that helps you memorize in an efficient manner. Information is reintroduced at determined time intervals within a flashcard deck. Difficult information presents more frequently in the deck while easier information is spaced out.
How does Spaced Repetition Work?
Your brain is not wired to store and recall large amounts of information in a short amount of time. Instead, it prioritizes what it deems to be important. Exposing your brain to the same information repeatedly is the best way to tell your brain something is important. Not only that, you are far more likely to remember something long-term if you’re re-exposed to it after a lengthened period of time.
Spaced repetition takes advantage of these two important tools by ranking what information is easiest and hardest to remember, and then reintroducing it again and again at varying intervals. These intervals are determined by how difficult to remember the bit of information is to the user. Of course, we all have different memories, so difficulty designations and subsequent time intervals are entirely user-dependent.
For instance, think of a memory from when you were ten. While it may have been a long time since then, you still hold onto some memories for a couple of reasons.
One reason could be that it is a memory that you think about every so often, and therefore your brain decides it is important to keep remembering, so you remember it.
Another could be that your family or pictures have reminded you about this event, recalling what has been previously stored and flagging it as important.
So, even if you lose the rest of your memories from when you were ten, you’ll still hold onto that specific collection of memories because you thought about them again multiple times since the memory.
When you apply this framework to your learning, you’ll be far more efficient in remembering large amounts of information and then recalling it later.
The Spacing Effect
An important part of spaced repetition is the spacing effect. The spacing effect shows that study sessions are more effective when there are significant amounts of time in between them.While there are a variety of hypotheses for why this is, the most robust one seems to be that the harder you work to retrieve something from your memory, the more likely you are to remember it again.
By setting up your flashcard study sessions in a way that spaces out new information and revisits old information, you are much more likely to succeed in remembering it all.
The Leitner System
One of the most famous applications of spaced repetition is the Leitner System of flashcards. In the Leitner System, flashcards are ranked 1-5 into boxes based on how well the studier knows them, and then revisited periodically based on these rankings. However, the Leitner System also came with some problems, such as how often each box should be revisited and when.
While the analog version was useful before the dawn of technology and algorithms, this process is now automated through platforms like Polar, Duolingo and Anki, making spaced repetition much more efficient to use.
When Should I Study with Spaced Repetition?
The best times to use spaced repetition are when you need to memorize and then recall large amounts of information or commit information to your permanent memory.
The first use case is learning a language. Applying spaced repetition to vocabulary learning will not only help you ace your tests, but also ensure you remember those words when speaking or reading in the real world.
Another great time for spaced repetition is studying for standardized tests. Tests such as the GRE or MCAT require you to memorize large amounts of definitions, which can be difficult to remember come test day. Using spaced repetition allows you to learn faster and recall more, resulting in a higher score.
Lastly, spaced repetition is a handy tool for when you want to learn something and keep it forever. Research shows that on average, your brain needs a total of 5 minutes of continued studying to remember one piece of information- making spaced repetition a useful tool to commit information to your permanent memory.
Spaced repetition is a simple but powerful tool to improve your study habits and memorization abilities. Using a software like Polar or Anki allows you to easily harness the potential of your learning and optimize it, meaning you can spend less time learning more.