Memory Retention

Sometimes you can learn something really well, spending your best, focused energy and bringing your strongest mnemonic tactics…

…only to forget it four weeks later because you never reviewed.

Now don’t get me wrong: Since you learned it well, you’ll still know it; it’ll still be in your brain; you just won’t be able to recall it.

Someone will ask you what the population of Chile is, and you’ll rack your brain trying to remember. When they finally spoil the answer by saying 17.4 million, you’ll snap your fingers and say “I knew that!”

And you really did know it!

So why couldn’t you recall it?

Review is what will keep the recall at the front of your mind.

Here’s the good news and the bad news about review: You don’t have to review very frequently to keep something in your memory.

In fact, if you’ve learned it well, it’s better not to review regularly. You’ll actually want your review to be less and less frequent as time goes by in order to strengthen how well you know it.

But that’s both good news and bad news. Why?

Because of the whole complication of good scheduling.

That’s the only problem.

Example: Suppose that in order to be able to speak Spanish in six months, you decide to learn 80 new vocabulary words every week. (This, by the way, is very easy using the right tactics; check out the vocabulary page.)

A solid review schedule, besides actually practicing conversation (which, incidentally, should be happening regularly), is to brush up on each new set of 80 words at these intervals:

  • The next day
  • 1 week later
  • 2 weeks later
  • 4 weeks later
  • 8 weeks later
  • 16 weeks later

So here’s a graph of what the review might look like for the first 16 weeks:

Might seem complicated, but there are two important things to note here:

  1. Notice that you only have to review a maximum of 5 sets a week, which isn’t very demanding to be able to master 1280 words in that period of time!
  2. Each review is just a quick review and will only take a few minutes. Not much time to invest at all.

Bottom line: If you actually take the effort to (1) create a good review schedule and (2) stick to it consistently, you can learn a TON with very little review time.

OK, I’ll admit that sticking to a schedule like that isn’t alway easy for someone on a busy schedule with lots of demands. But you can judge for yourself what that commitment of a few minutes a week, every week without exception, can do for your knowledge. It’s extremely powerful.

Next article: How to learn vocabulary faster than ever.