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The Forgetting Curve


History


Before we unveil the magic behind the Forgetting Curve, let's go back in time. This ingenious idea was first proposed by a German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus in the late 19th century. Ebbinghaus devoted his time to understanding how we retain and forget information. He conducted some groundbreaking experiments on himself, where he memorised lists of nonsense syllables and tracked how quickly he forgot them over time.


How the Forgetting Curve Works


Now, imagine this: you've just finished studying a topic, and you feel like you've got it all locked in your brain. But here's the problem - the moment you stop reviewing that information, you start to forget it! Don't worry; it's entirely normal and happens to all of us. Enter the Forgetting Curve.


Picture a graph with time on the x-axis and percentage memory retention on the y-axis, as shown below. When you first learn something, your memory of it is at its peak (100%). But as time goes on and you don't revisit the material, your memory of it takes a nosedive, forming a steep curve on the graph.



The forgetting curve - a graph of % memory retention against time
Source: Practical Psychology (https://practicalpie.com/ebbinghaus-forgetting-curve/)

Research shows that within just one hour, you will have forgotten around 50% of the information you have learned. Within 24 hours, you will have forgotten around 70% of that information, and within a week, around 90% of it will have fallen victim to the harsh reality of forgetting. As a teacher, it's pretty demoralising to realise that most of what I teach my students will be forgotten by the time they return to the classroom the following day. However, understanding the Forgetting Curve allows us to fight against the process of forgetting, and put strategies in place to help us remember what we've learned.



The Power of Review


The Forgetting Curve reveals that if you review the information you've learned at strategic intervals e.g. one hour, one day, three days, six days and so on after the material was first learned, you can dramatically slow down the forgetting process. As seen on the graph above, every time you review, the curve's slope becomes less steep, meaning you retain the information for longer periods. Eventually, the curve will become flattened, indicating that information has been embedded into your long-term memory. It's like strengthening a muscle through regular workouts; your memory becomes more robust with consistent reinforcement.


Conclusion


By understanding the principles behind this curve and implementing effective memory techniques, individuals can optimise their learning process and significantly improve long-term memory retention. Spaced repetition, active recall (i.e. retrieval practice), chunking, mnemonic devices, teaching others, and using multiple sensory modalities are valuable tools in combating memory decay and mastering the art of remembering things effectively. We’ll go on to explore some of these revision strategies in future blog posts.




 

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