The forgetting curve

The forgetting curve is such an important tool that all students need to know about when it comes to learning.  It can really help them to achieve better results!

Regularly students tell me that they feel they understand and know their subject content only to find in test or exam situations it abandons them.  This is what I refer to as the ‘illusion of knowing‘.  This is when a student thinks they understand something but in actual fact they don’t.  All the vital information hasn’t it made its way into their longterm memory and has often been forgotten.

Forgetting something they thought they knew can be extremely frustrating and confidence sapping when it happens.  Therefore is important for students to understand the forgetting curve and how they can ensure what they learn actually sticks!

What is the forgetting curve?

Organising Students - The Forgetting CurveThe forgetting curve was developed by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus and is a visual representation of the way we all learn and how information can disappear over time.  Hermann also discovered that the rate at which a person forgets information can also depends on factors including:

  • memory strength,
  • how meaningful the material is, and
  • physiological factors such as stress.

The forgetting curve demonstrates how when students learn something the biggest drop in retention of information happens very soon after learning.  Without reviewing or reinforcing the learning, a students ability to retain the information plummets.  For example, a student may leave a class with their head full of information only to find that they don’t actually remember very much of it a short time later.

The other important aspect of the forgetting curve is that if students don’t make any attempt to relearn the information they are taught, they will remember less and less of it as the hours, days and weeks go by.  Naturally this is why so many students end up struggling come test or exam time.

What can students do to ensure they don’t forget?

One of the key aspects students need to do is to undertake what is referred to as ‘Retrieval Practice‘.  This is not something that many students actually do and is vital to ensure learning sticks.

Retrieval Practice‘ is the most powerful and effective way for students to keep improving learning and to strengthen their memory.  The more regular a student does this they will see the information they learn strengthened in their long term memory and the chances of forgetting it decrease.  Many students don’t actually do this as they think it will take too much time when in fact it can be done with as little as a few minutes on a regular basis.

One simple example of ‘Retrieval Practice‘ a student can do is to review their notes at the end of each day whilst the information is still relatively fresh.  By doing this they are more likely to ensure what they have learned hasn’t completely disappeared from their memory yet.  It also assists to begin strengthening the neurons in ones brain to ensure the learning builds and stays in the long term memory.  Reviewing notes once isn’t enough and by regularly retrieving and reviewing information (‘Spaced Retrieval Practice‘) over time it can halt the forgetting curve.

In summary a student needs to be retrieving and practicing information learned at regular intervals and this will mean they will remember more and for a longer period of time!

To learn more about how I assist students to succeed at both school and in life please get in touch – or give me a call on 0409 967 166.