From calculus to physics, there are lots of difficult classes that are taught at Iowa State that require effortful learning to understand the concepts within each course. While most people are content with note taking and intense study sessions for aiding their studies in these subjects, others may need more help in remembering key concepts for the upcoming test and courses afterward that rely on the prerequisite coursework.
One such technique that can be used to aid in a student’s studies is called spaced repetition. It is essentially flashcards on steroids. It involves reviewing a flashcard and trying to remember its contents over an increasing number of days at various levels of retention.
Say you are trying to remember that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. If you got the review of that flashcard correct on day one, you would then review it on day two. If you got the review right on day three, you would then review the card on day four and so on. However, if you get a review wrong, you must start over, reviewing that card again at day one.
This practice of spaced memory retrieval begins to make sense when you take into account something called the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. You may have heard about it in an intro psychology class. It theorizes that details and overall retention of a specific memory experience exponential decay over time unless the memory itself is refreshed and recalled at some point.
Spaced repetition acts as that recall mechanism to combat that exponential decay of memories. It makes sense on a physical level, as the neurons related to the memory are wired together more closely with every repetition. The effect of this spaced repetition is that the forgetting curve turns into a line. It will take an extremely long time for you to forget a concept or idea presented with this method.
Spaced repetition is not a time consuming process either, so you can use this process in tandem with your other learning techniques. If you only introduce five new cards every day, the process of reviewing each day’s required levels should only take about thirty minutes. That is a minuscule amount of time in comparison to the time spent in lectures, labs and recitations. It may also be of note that rereading a textbook or reviewing lecture notes are actually inefficient forms of studying when compared to spaced repetition.
The best part is that in this digital age, there are tools that exist for this type of memory retrieval system. Websites like Quizlet can help students review their flashcards with a free account. If you are looking for a more mobile version, AnkiDroid is a flashcard application that is useful for spaced repetition.
If you are struggling in class with hard topics and need a different way to study, spaced repetition may be a useful alternative to the traditional methods for aiding your studies as an Iowa State student.