Beating the forgetting curve

Study skills | Kiran Kapur | 08 December 2022

Depressingly, your brain does not retain new information efficiently. Yet, you can boost this with some simple techniques

Many qualifications and apprenticeships require you to revise for an exam. This can be daunting if it's been a while and it can bring back hideous memories of past exams. Lots of people still have stress dreams of going to an exam hall with an invigilator saying “you may open the exam paper” and “you have 10 minutes remaining”.
Stress-free exams may not exist, but you can reduce the stress by proper revision technique.
In this Insight, we will look at the best ways to boost your memory by using repetition.

The Forgetting Curve
Depressingly, your brain does not retain new information efficiently. This graph of the Forgetting Curve shows the average human brain's recall over time.

 

Notice that the brain has forgotten nearly half of what you've learnt in just 20 minutes! By the following day, two-thirds of the information has gone. To overcome this, you need to revisit (revise) the information you are trying to remember. Repeating the information again helps you to retain it. This is why we recommend frequent breaks to go back over what you have learnt, this review period is important to retaining the information.


The following graph show how much your recall improves by using this review technique after 10 minutes, one day and one week. As you can see, the amount you retain is higher with each review done. For long term memory, you should review again after 1 month.

 

(source: The Open University)

Some ideas for how to review what you’ve learnt:

1. Write out abbreviated notes
2. Speak out aloud what you covered
3. Explain to someone else what you’ve learnt
4. Do or create a quiz
5. Ask someone else to test you
6. Look for links between topics - your memory will remember links
7. Think how you could apply what you’ve learnt to a real situation
8. Try an exam question

The key is that you have to go over the information several times, so make it different each time to keep it interesting. 

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