Study skills 7# Spaced repetition

18. 11. 2021 | Student Life

Study skills 7# Spaced repetitionSpaced repetition is a study technique that works on the principle of smart revisions. It might sound complicated or as a chore but it’s actually almost effortless after you learn how to do it and when to use it. Because it’s not about cramming hard over and over again.

Repetition using intervals

The repetition is done on basis of intervals that are gradually being prolonged. It works like this: At your first day, you really have to cram new materials properly as you normally would. The second day (but no later than in 24 hours, ideally after 12 hours) you come back to the study material and revise it. Because you’re revising the information in the moment you still remember it and only minor details might get lost, this revision can take only 5-10 minutes.

After the first repetition, the second revision is after 3 days. If you still remember the material after that, the third repetition is after 7 days. Ideal intervals are as follows:  Day 0 (cramming) -> day 1 (first repetition within 24 hours) -> day 3 (second repetition)-> 7-> 21 -> 30 -> 45 -> 60. After several such repetitions, your brain should finally evaluate that it’s something worth remembering and puts it into your long-term memory. Of course, if you start actively using newly acquired things, they become impossible to forget.

Danger: Laziness and sloppiness

Spaced repetition is brutally effective but it requires discipline. Especially during first repetitions it’s crucial not to skip any. If you forget to revise early, it’s highly likely you’ll just forget that information which means cramming again. And that’s not effective at all because you lose the time you’ve already invested. If you feel like being lazy on your revision days, decide for yourself if you’d rather do those 10 minutes of work today or cram hard later. Again.

Paper flash cards

Paper flash cards are a classical method for learning and the only interactive cramming method that existed before computers. If this term is new to you, a flash card is a paper card with a question or a cue on one side, and the answer on the other side. You can use flash cards for any type of information that can be contained on a relatively small piece of paper like vocabulary, history dates or geography facts.

A lot of people still prefer using paper cards because they like writing them but for paper flash cards to be truly used for efficient spaced repetition, you need to be careful and diligent. That’s why many people using flash cards fail long-term. They do pass their test with good grades but they hardly ever retain that information for longer time. Because even if you get all answers right, how do you know when to revise them? You need this method:

If you get the answer right and without hesitation, use a pencil and write on the card a symbol for plus +. If you get it wrong, write minus -. If you write plus, these cards go into a deck for revision tomorrow (within those 24 hours). If you write minus, you have to repeat these cards as soon as possible and as many times as needed.

If the card with + from the previous day gets minus (meaning you didn’t remember it the next day), it goes back to the stack for cards you didn’t master. If you get your second plus, it goes to the stack for repetition on the third day. The goal is to get three pluses without breaking the cycle. Forget about cheating as you’d be only cheating yourself.

Smart software counts for you

If you don’t have the time or patience for paper cards, you can use special software. There’re many webpages and apps for that but they’re generally called SRS which stands for “spaced repetition software.” Their usage is very simple, quick and convenient. Some of them are free, some paid and it depends on your needs which you choose. Don’t hesitate to pay for the software you really enjoy using as it’s usually not that expensive and can save you a lot of time in the end. We tested two:

Anki is a freeware app without any adverts. You can use it on your computer or phone but it’s generally much more convenient to create decks of flash cards on your computer and use your phone for revisions on the go. You might be surprised that when you open the app for the first time, it’s totally empty and looks pretty rough and basic. Because It’s waiting for you to fill it. You can either download existing packs made by other users (there’s a high chance you might find the one you need) or create a new one tailored just for you. Of course, you can synchronise your data between various platforms so don’t be afraid to create an account. No strings attached.

Memrise works on the same principle as Anki but internet connection and registration are required. Its primary platform is a webpage that is really nice-looking, colourful and inspirational (especially compared to bare Anki) and might be ideal for people who prefer design elements and playfulness. It’s also social as you collect badges, points and compete with your friends which is very motivating. Memrise has a paid membership with premium functions but is totally functionable without it. From time to time, it might send you an email offering you an upgrade but that’s all.


Whether you decide to use paper flash cards or go for a software option, there’s only one rule you absolutely must obey if you want your spaced repetition to be a brutal success. Be consistent!

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