Spaced Repetition As A Better Studying Method Than Cramming

How many nights have you stayed up late cramming information into your head only to forget it all in the first few minutes of the exam? Sometimes it works, but you discover that what you crammed is not the part of the syllabus that is being examined. Its no secret that cramming doesn’t work in the long run, but students keep hoping for miracles.

Cramming isn’t the best way to study though its popular, especially in colleges where students are always behind schedule. Not only is it stressful, but most of the information you cram into your brain never stays long in the brain.

A lot of times I hear students boasting about a technique they call "Cram, Pass and Forget" and I ask myself, "Whats the point in learning when your goal is to forget?" The goal should be to learn material for the long term. If you understand a concept deeply enough it becomes a part of you and there is no need to cram in order to pass. Ideally, the best way to study is to take your time to learn the concepts in the weeks and days leading up to the exam. Waiting until the last minute will only lead to cramming.

One of the reasons why we cram is because we are constantly being taught how to pass tests, instead of how to learn concepts.

Most teachers teach a single topic per session and usually don’t repeat it until the test because they expect their students to take care of the memorising part themselves. This usually forces students to develop bad learning habits such as cramming to try and memorise information.

Instead of cramming to pass, there is Spaced Repetition as a more efficient study method to learn concepts.

How Spaced Repetition Works

Spaced repetition is an extremely effective learning that involves relearning the same concepts at increasing intervals until knowledge is fully embedded in long-term memory. It is the direct opposite of cramming where information is crammed into the short-term memory in the minimum possible time.

The goal of spaced repetition is to study concepts in small doses over a long period of time. For you to fully understand how spaced repetition works I am going to make an example using muscles as an analogy for the brain.

Think of it this way, the first time you visit a gym you don’t start by lifting the heaviest on your first gym visit though thats your long term goal. Instead, you start by lifting small weights and giving your body ample time to rest. Then as days go by you progressively increase the weights as your body grows stronger each time.

Your brain works in a similar way. With spaced learning technique your brain reviews information before it is forgotten and you progressively increase the intervals between repetitions just like you progressively weights in the gym. This eventually pushes information long-term memory.

The most challenging part of spaced repetition is that it requires forward planning and an investment of time to set it up. However its worth it because in the long run it saves time when revising for the exams since the information will already be there in the long-term memory.

Simple Example of How Spaced Repetition Works

Let us say you have some important concept you want to learn and memorise.

  • First you study the concept lets say today at 7 AM.
  • 4 hours later at 11 AM, you review again the same concept just before you forget.
  • 8 hours later you review the same concept again.
  • 12 hours later the following day.
  • 24 hours later review again.
  • 48 hours later again

The basic idea is to keep increasing the intervals in such as way to beat the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.

After 48 hours, the next review can happen 7 days later, then 30 days later, then 90 days later, and then 180 days later. As you can see, this technique an investment in time and effort but its worth it in terms of recalling the information later.


Sydney Chako

Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics teacher at Sytech Learning Academy. From Junior Secondary School to Tertiary Level Engineering Mathematics and Engineering Science.

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