How to Avoid the Forgetting Curve

It is highly likely that at some point in your life, after reading and article or attending a class, you do not remember much or anything at all about the subject. It is also likely that after having studied something you find you cannot remember it because even if you memorise it, it starts to fade away after a short amount of time.

The forgetting curve.

Some of the earliest research on the subject of forgetting was done by Hermann Ebbinghaus (1885) when he created something called the forgetting curve.

In his research, Ebbinghaus decided to study memory by using his own memory capacity. He invented 2,300 nonsense words (consonant-vowel-consonant, “WID”) and grouped them into lists. In his research he learned lists of 13 repeating syllables until he made two consecutive mistakes. Afterward, he evaluated his retention capacity in intervals of two minutes to one month.

The results showed that he forgot things immediately even after short periods of time and increased at first, but as time went on it finally decreased. Afterward, he was able to create a logarithmic equation with the information.

The results showed that after memorising the list, what was remembered drastically decreased in the first few minutes and up to half of the information was forgotten throughout the course of a day. After that time, the information continued to fade but the amount of information forgotten decreased after about a week.

To estimate the rate at which things are forgotten in each period he used the savings effect which measured the time it took to re-learn the list in each time interval and then compared them. So the longer it took to re-learn the list meant the more it had been forgotten.

Ebbinghaus showed that he forgot about 75% of what he learned within a period of 48 hours and this conclusion has been supported by other authors like Bloom in 1981.

From this perspective, the loss between the material learned initially and that which is retained is due to both the passing of time and not using the information. This is known as the decline of memory retention which refers to information that is not retained because it is not being used. The information ultimately lessens and fades away with the passing of time.

Forgetting curve data:

  • It is possible to forget up to 50% of what was studied and not reviewed after 1 day.
  • After 2 days, approximately 30% was forgotten.
  • After 1 week, all but 3% of the information was forgotten.

If we add reviewing the information to the graph, it changes entirely. According to this graph, if the information is reviewed within a period of 24 hours it is possible to remember 100% and more importantly, the rate at which things are forgotten changes.

The conclusion is simple: if we want to change the rate at which we forget things and learn more effectively, it is important to review the information learned. However,…

 What should we review?

It is more useful to review the information in a different way than it was learned the first time. Review the information by using tools like graphs, summaries, highlighting, concept maps, etc.

 How long should we review the material and how many times?

After analysing the forgetting curve, it can be seen that if the information is not reviewed within the first 24 hours, almost half of the information is forgotten. It is recommended to review the following day and as a general rule the longer the better but at least:

  • An initial review within 24 hours of learning the information, so that it is possible to remember 100%.
  • Review the information between 7 and 15 days of first learning the information.
  • One final review before the exam and with previous revisions it may be possible to remember around 90% of the information.

 Why not try this review technique and let us know how it goes! If you have any questions or suggestions leave a comment below!

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