Spaced Repetition for Efficient Learning
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I said you can have whatever you like. Stacks on deck, Patron on ice. And we can pop bottles all night. Baby, you can have whatever you like. I said you can have whatever you like. Late night sex, so wet and so tight. I gas up the jet for you tonight. And, baby, you can go wherever you like. Lyrics to 'Whatever You Like' by T.I.: Hey, Jim You know the old suga daddy They be tripin when they tell them girls I said you can have whatever you like (you like) I said you can have whatever you like . Which evaluates to minutes. (This may seem too small, but one doesn’t spend much time in the first year and the time drops off quickly 56 ?.) Anki user muflax’s statistics put his per-card time at 71s, for danhaigh.com maybe Piotr Wozniak was being optimistic or we’re bad at writing flashcards?, so we’ll double it to 5 minutes. That’s our key rule of thumb that lets us decide.
One of the most fruitful areas of computing is making up for human frailties. They make the best calendars, because they always check what there is to do today.
Even if we do not remember exactly, merely remembering a reference can be just as good, like the point of reading a manual or textbook all the way through: it is not to remember everything that is in it for later but to later remember that something is in it and skimming them, you learn the right words to search for when you actually need to know more about a particular topic.
You would just be an ass, To do it en masse , Your remembering would turn out much worsal. Ulrich Neisser 3. One of the worst things you can do is blow your 5 tries within a day or two. Why does the spacing effect work, on a biological level? A graphical representation of the forgetting curve:. A graphic might help; imagine here one can afford to review a given piece of information a few times one is a busy person.
By looking at the odds we can remember the item, we can see that cramming wins in the short term, but unexercised memories decay so fast that after not too long spacing is much superior:. Most people find the concept of programming obvious, but the doing impossible.
Of course, the latter strategy cramming is precisely what students do. So why do people do it? Why is spaced repetition so dreadfully unpopular, even among the people who try it once? Because it does work. Sort of. Cramming is a trade-off: you trade a strong memory now for weak memory later. And tests are usually of all the new material, with occasional old questions, so this strategy pays off! As one would expect if the testing and spacing effects are real things, students who naturally test themselves and study well in advance of exams tend to have higher GPA s.
This short-term perspective is not a good thing in the long term, of course. Knowledge builds on knowledge; one is not learning independent bits of trivia. You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity - it is very much like compound interest.
Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime.
The paradox is resolved by letting a computer handle all the calculations. This is the insight behind spaced repetition software: ask the same question over and over, but over increasing spans of time. You start with asking it once every few days, and soon the human remembers it reasonably well.
Then you expand intervals out to weeks, then months, and then years. Once the memory is formed and dispatched to long-term memory, it needs but occasional exercise to remain hale and hearty 23 - I remember well the large dinosaurs made of cardboard for my 4 th or 5 th birthday, or the tunnel made out of boxes, even though I recollect them once or twice a year at most.
We can look at the science. Of course, if you do take my word for it, you probably just want to read about how to use it and all the nifty things you can do, so I suggest you skip all the way down to that section.
Everyone else, we start at the beginning:. Since spaced repetition is just testing on particular days, we ought to establish that testing works better than regular review or study, and that it works outside of memorizing random dates in history. To cover a few papers:. Allen, G. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior , 8, In learning Swahili vocabulary, students were given varying routines of testing or studying or testing and studying; this resulted in similar scores during the learning phase.
Some students were tested or studied more than others; diminishing returns set in quickly once the memory had formed the first day. Students reported rarely testing themselves and not testing already learned items. Students were tested with no feedback on reading comprehension of a passage over 5 minutes, 2 days, and 1 week.
Studying beat testing over 5 minutes, but nowhere else; students believed studying superior to testing over all intervals. Lesson: testing improves memory compared to studying. Literature review; 7 studies before demonstrating testing improves retention, and 6 afterwards.
As with 2, the purer forms of testing in this case, open-book versus closed-book testing did better over the long run, and students were deluded about what worked best. Bangert-Drowns et al Meta-analysis of 35 studies varying tests during school semesters.
Meta-study found large benefits to testing even once, then diminishing returns. Completion of reading quizzes was related to both better exam and course performance. This is an unsupported assertion inasmuch as the experimental literature on learning styles is poor and the existing evidence mixed that there are such things as learning styles. The above studies often used pairs of words or words themselves. How well does the testing effect generalize? Certainly, we agree that most forms of objective testing would be difficult in these sorts of courses, but we do believe the general philosophy of testing broadly speaking would hold-students should be continually engaged and challenged by the subject matter, and there should not be merely a midterm and final exam even if they are essay exams.
Students in a course on Spinoza might be assigned specific readings and thought-provoking essay questions to complete every week. Continuous testing requires students to continuously engage themselves in a course; they cannot coast until near a midterm exam and a final exam and begin studying only then. In sum, although various types of recall interference are quite real and quite interesting phenomena, we do not believe that they compromise the notion of test-enhanced learning.
At worst, interference of this sort might dampen positive testing effects somewhat. However, the positive effects of testing are often so large that in most circumstances they will overwhelm the relatively modest interference effects.
A lot depends on when you do all your testing. Above we saw some benefits to testing a lot the moment you learn something, but the same number of tests could be spread out over time, to give us the spacing effect or spaced repetition. There are hundreds of studies involving the spacing effect:. Besides all the previously mentioned studies, we can throw in:. The research literature focuses extensively on the question of what kind of spacing is best and what this implies about memory: a spacing that has static fixed intervals or a spacing which expands?
But for practical purposes, this is uninteresting; to sum it up, there are many studies pointing each way, and whatever difference in efficiency exists, is minimal.
So too here. Carpenter, S. Applied Cognitive Psychology , 19, Logan, J. Spaced and expanded retrieval effects in younger and older adults.
Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Washington University, St. Louis, MO. This thesis is interesting inasmuch as Logan found that young adults did considerably worse with an expanding spacing after a day. The fixed vs expanding issue aside, a list of additional generic studies finding benefits to spaced vs massed:.
Seabrook et al Keppel, Geoffrey. A week later, the massed reviewers went from 5. Note the usual observation: massed was initially better, and later much worse, less than half as good. Four days after the 2 high school groups memorized 16 French words, the spaced group remembered 15 and the massed Rea, Cornelius P; Modigliani, Vito. Vol 4 1 Jan-Mar , These results seem to show that the spacing effect applies to school-age children and to at least some types of materials that are typically taught in school.
In one meta-analysis by Donovan and Radosevich , for instance, the size of the spacing effect declined sharply as conceptual difficulty of the task increased from low e.
By this finding, the benefits of spaced practise may be muted for many mathematics tasks. The Donovan meta-analysis notes that the effect size is smaller in studies with better methodology, but still important. Bahrick, Harry P; Phelphs, Elizabeth. Vol 13 2 April , ; the extremely long delay after the initial training period makes this particularly interesting:.
Harry Bahrick and Elizabeth Phelps examined the retention of 50 Spanish vocabulary words after an eight-year delay. Subjects were divided into three groups. Each practiced for seven or eight sessions, separated by a few minutes, a day, or 30 days. In each session, subjects practiced until they could produce the list perfectly one time…. Everyone also took a multiple choice test, and again, the spacing effect was observed.
Practice sessions were spaced 14, 28, or 56 days apart, and totaled 13 or 26 sessions. Once again, it took a bit longer to reach the criterion within each session when practice sessions were spaced farther apart, but again, this small investment paid dividends years later.
Further, the effect was quite large. If words were practiced every 14 days, you needed twice as much practice to reach the same level of performance as when words were practiced every 56 days! Long intervals between tests necessarily means you will often err; errors were thought to intrinsically reduce learning. While the extra errors do damage accuracy in the short-run, the long intervals are powerful enough that they still win.