In school – due to systemic reasons – students are unfortunately taught an unfavorable culture of learning. Phases of the treatment of the material are interrupted by smaller or larger scheduled knowledge tests. These can be short, written checks or class tests that cover the content of several weeks of lessons. Probably the majority of students follow the learning strategy of memorizing as much content as possible just before the test begins. This form of learning brings the material at most into the volatile short-term memory, which may be sufficient for cursory recall during a test – as long as the content is not too far away from the actual test. But this gives rise to problems that take at least two forms: On the one hand, content “learned” in this way is of short duration, is quickly erased from short-term memory, and would have to be rehearsed again on a later test on the same topic. On the other hand, the transition to the next topic in the lesson plan also causes a cognitive break: What has just been internalized is no longer relevant, since the absence of further tests means that there is no longer any fear of a bad grade. This is accompanied by a very unnatural and thematically choppy form of learning, which runs counter to the connecting and context-seeking learning that is probably characterized by more success. But isn’t there a solution that is better suited to bring material permanently into the long-term memory? Yes, and it is called “spaced repetition“.
Only spaced repetition makes you ready to study
It may still work in school, but at the latest when it comes to learning-intensive and thematically increasingly difficult studies, short-term, separate memorization reaches its limits. At university, it is necessary to enrich, understand and analyze complex issues with knowledge from previous semesters, seminars and lectures. This is where the aforementioned “distributed repetition” comes into play. The basis is the repetition of the learning material. Briefly about the concept of learning material itself: The easiest way to implement the system is with vocabulary of a foreign language. On the front of an index card is a word in the target or native language, on the back the equivalent in the other language. However, in principle, other topics can also be learned by placing questions and answers on the front and back of a card. The card index box is divided into several compartments, with all flashcards initially placed in the front first compartment. If you want to use “distributed repetition”, start by gradually reading the front of the cards, answering them internally and comparing them with the correct answer on the back. If you are correct, you put the card into the next pocket, i.e. the next phase. If you are wrong, the card is moved back one tray if it was no longer in the first phase. Every day you work your way through the card box, but you don’t always have to work through all the boxes. The higher the trays, the less often the cards in them are repeated. This is where the so-called “spacing effect” is exploited. According to this phenomenon, content is better anchored in memory if it is learned and repeated over longer periods of time. This is in contrast to intensive learning over a short period of time, as typically happens before exams. With the spaced repetition system, difficult-to-remember content is repeated more frequently, while simple content does not block the flow of learning through disproportionate occurrence. Although there are now digital solutions for computers and smartphones that relieve you of the task of controlling the time intervals, it is still more beneficial from the point of view of learning psychology to use index cards that can be accessed, as these make learning easier in terms of motor skills when preparing and adding new content. With a card index box, you quickly reach a new, more efficient and effective form of learning, where old content can meet new content and be connected synaptically. Try it out with the next foreign language or in your studies, it will be worth it.
Extra tip: you can also keep some flashcards from the first subject together with a rubber ring and take them with you as a companion in everyday life. For example, you can work through some flashcards while riding public transportation or waiting at the supermarket checkout. See the learning tip flashcards on the ring.