Scheduled Reviews

Scheduled Reviews: an Important Key to Memory

A pathway of sand goes up a Sand dune. We see the ocean in back.The path leading over the sand dune seems to lead straight into the water.  It just seems to disappear.

This reminds me of how we spend endless hours taking lecture notes, reading textbooks, and studying for exams,  and then, all too soon, it all seems to disappear. It is estimated that we forget 80-90% of what we learned within a month. And much of the remaining 10-20% disappears within three to six months.

If this is true, our entire education seems like a terrible waste of time and money. People sometimes say we really don’t need all that information, that the point of college is learning how to learn.

But there must be a way to remember at least the important parts of what we are learning.

There is a way to Remember. If you want to remember some things for the rest of your life, it is possible. The secret is the process of scheduled reviews.

If you haven’t read The Story of Edward Hughes, about the mediocre British student who made fabulous scores on college entrance exams and became a huge success, take a few minutes to read it. It is an inspiring story.

What secrets led to the amazing success of Edward Hughes?

Most people reading his story assume that Edward became an outstanding student because he used ‘Mindmaps.” I believed this, myself, for many years, but it isn’t true.  Edward actually succeeded for four reasons.

1. He used a method that made him search for the main ideas and important details. He used Mind Maps, but A simple outline would have done as well or even better. 

2. He tested himself repeatedly with “Scheduled Reviews.” Research shows that students who read once and test themselves four times remember better than students who read the material four times. Edward tested himself soon after reading, a few hours later, before going to sleep, and then several times daily, etc.

3. Edward re-tested himself before going to bed. This is important to improve learning.

4. Edward  made a decision to change the way he studied. His new-found motivation was crucial.

Students who want to remember what they have learned for a year, for ten or twenty years, or for a lifetime, need to begin by asking what they really want to remember.

For tests, you want to remember a great deal of information

1.  Identify the main ideas and other information you should remember and organize it in some way.  Edward Hughes used Mindmaps.

You might use a combination of detailed reading notes and lecture notes  to create one or a series of concept maps or use other visual strategies. You should also use outlines, summaries, or explanations.

Concept maps help you understand the organization of ideas.  Outlines are helpful for remembering a large amount of detailed information. In Biology you often need diagrams. For history you might use timelines.

2. Test yourself over and over until you know the material well. You might use the strategy of re-creating your outline, concept map, diagram or timeline. Use more short study periods rather than a few longer periods.

3. Begin scheduled reviews. It is best to do your first review after each lecture and each reading assignment, before you have forgotten too much. Tony Buzan suggests doing the first scheduled review 5-15 minutes after you learn the material. Others recommend waiting longer. I suggest reviewing immediately after a lecture and waiting several hours after reading because you’ve already been reviewing during the reading process.  You might want to review again an hour or two later. But you should definitely review again before going to sleep. After the first day, you might review twice a day, once a day, twice a week, once a week, and so on.

You are the best judge of how often you need to review, how to use your review time, and how long your review times should be. If you are working on a large detailed concept map or other visual to hang on your wall, you might practice first and end up using more than an hour. Another time you might review just the main ideas in five minutes.

4. If you are dealing with a large amount of material, you might want to divide it into several smaller parts, at least to begin with.  But do NOT try to learn everything in the lecture or everything in the book. When you focus on a reasonable amount of information, you will learn it well and remember longer. When you try to remember too much, you won’t learn it as well, and you’ll end up remembering less.

Do you want to remember this material for a lifetime?

To remember this material for years or a lifetime, I highly recommend that you cut down the quantity of information. You might try to reduce the information from one course to something manageable like 3-5 pages of information that has been organized into a large, fairly detailed concept map and a detailed outline

The process of selecting and organizing this information helps you remember it well to begin with. You can  review it after a week, then two weeks, then monthly. You can tell by how much you need to re-learn each time, how long you can go between reviews. Eventually you will only need to review it every six months and then yearly.

These guidelines will not work the same for all people or all subjects

Each of us learns differently. Some are more highly motivated. Some use this information regularly. A high school biology teacher remembers what she learned in college biology classes because she continues to teach it. But if she teaches a different subject for five or ten years, she needs to keep up a regular schedule of reviews for biology.

I find it much easier to remember information from science classes, both because I taught science for many years and because I enjoyed studying the subject. I have a terrible time remembering foreign languages. It would require a lot more time and effort to keep up my skills in Spanish or the little bit of Chinese I once learned.

Don’t take any of these guidelines as absolutes

1. Increase or decrease the frequency of reviews in whatever way works best for you and the subject.

2. If you are trying to remember too much, reorganize your material and cut back on what you intend to remember.

3. You will find it easier to remember material if you teach it or continue learning in that area.

No one said it would be easy. But, if you decide to remember what you’ve been learning, it is quite possible to remember it for an entire lifetime (or until your memory begins to fail).

The basic information from this research is that

1.  We remember more when we study in short periods of about 15-20 minutes each. This is because we remember the first five minutes and the last five minutes best.

2. We remember best when we test ourselves regularly and re-learn material we had forgotten.

To learn more about interesting research in this area   Forgetting and Memory

If you are interested in reading basic research on memory  Processing Memory

If you would like to read or re-read  The story of Edward Hughes

To read about some of the other ways of memory

Practical Memory                          Rote Memory                     Mnemonics (memory tricks)

Visual Memory                              Auditory Memory                             Kinesthetic Memory

Relational Memory                      Emotional Memory                       Storytelling in Memory

Multiple Pathways                      research: Processing Memory

To go on to Time Management, I highly recommend that you begin with  Setting Goals

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