Mar 2017

The Forgetting Curve

March 6, 2017

If you’re the sort of learner who likes to study the science behind studying, no doubt you have stumbled across the notion of the forgetting curve. It’s basically the theory behind how fast the brain retains and then forgets information. Here’s a little more detail on this fascinating subject.

Who discovered the forgetting curve?

Hermann Ebbinghaus was the first person who looked at forgetfulness using a scientific method. He used a basis of three letter made-up words [nothing that was a known word]. He used himself as the test subject and was able to discover that the losing of retained information could be plotted on an exponential curve.

What does the forgetting curve show us?

At the start, when you have just learned a piece of information, you will retain 100% of it. However [and surprisingly] within those first few days after knowing the new piece of information, you lose 60% of the information! After that, the rate of forgetfulness will then slow down.

What else affects the forgetting curve?

Of course, this doesn’t mean you are instantly doomed to lose everything you study within a few days. There are a few things that will actually influence this rate. Of course, the difficulty of the subject plays a big part, if you are not able to easily relate to your current knowledge, you are more likely to forget. If you have not slept well, the amount of learning is also reduced. If you are stressed or sick, you will forget more easily too.

How do our individual personalities influence our knowledge retention?

As we mentioned, the original tests were done using nonsense words. One fascinating aspect of this was that most people, regardless of backgrounds, retain such information almost identically. This suggests that our ‘ability’ to learn is highly influenced by how we acquire. The key lies in finding the right way to translate the information into a way your memory can retain. People who manage to learn how to do this successfully will retain more than people who don’t.
This can mean using different learning methods, like visuals or audio, depending on the individual’s brain’s preference. Some people are also better at using mnemonic techniques and hooks to relate to information.

What does this mean for me?

The most awesome takeaway from this is that we absolutely can influence our ability to learn. The key lies in learning to relate the information both in a way our memory retains [whether that’s writing, audio, pictures or more] and in a way that it relates more easily to knowledge we already have. Active recall is also important- this is why many study techniques taught in JC physics tuition suggest answering questions about the topic rather than merely re-reading.
The good news for learners is that it is possible to learn newer, better learning techniques and defeat the downside of the forgetting curve when you join us for physics tuition in Singapore.

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