For most people, studying implies long hours with face in books. Day after day, well into the night. Which is all wrong.
The longer we spend trying to focus, the more foggy our mind becomes, the more easily we get distracted, and the less we end up remembering. If we’re not energized and able to focus, we’re wasting our time.
The best way to study is in short focused bursts. Trying to study when your mind is tired is inefficient, wasting both your energy and time. Taking a break gives us a chance to recharge, but there is another benefit.
Spacing out study sessions leads to better remembering.
This is the spacing effect. While it might at first seem like you’re still studying the same amount of time just spread out, that’s a misconception. If you have 4 hours to study a subject, you will remember more if you study for half an hour a day every two days than if you cram it all in one.
By spreading out your study sessions you allow yourself to forget more, but paradoxically, this forgetting leads to better learning, as each time you reacquaint yourself, the rate at which you forget slows down.
“Spacing out your practice feels less productive for the very reason that some forgetting has set in and you’ve got to work harder to recall the concepts.”
The effect was first documented by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, after he had attempted to memorize thousands of meaningless syllables while recording and measuring the results. Since then it has been cemented in further studies.
“Acts of revision should be spaced in gradually increasing intervals, roughly intervals of one day, two days, four days, eight days, and so on.”
Forgetting is an important aspect of learning, giving you a chance to come back with fresh eyes and find a new perspective. While it’s easy enough to employ this strategy yourself, you can reinforce it by using a flashcard app, especially one that makes use of something called the Leitner system.
This system—named in 1973 after creator Sebastian Leitner—involves shifting your flashcards between boxes depending on whether you are successful or not, and each box is to be studied after different lengths of time.
Studying less and scoring more might sound impossible, but by being smarter with our time, it is not only achievable but preferable.