Your automatic, unconscious mind is skilled at forgetting older information in favour of new, on the basis that it’s probably going to be more useful in keeping you alive.
While that’s perfectly natural and normal, it’s not going to get you through your exams. You need a strategy to keep that information in your head.
Fortunately numerous trials and research projects tell us what we need to do to counteract our tendency to forget.
Pay attention; actively soaking up the information, because the more attention you pay to your revision, the easier it will be to remember it.
Anything that goes into your brain is likely to disappear again unless you pay attention to it in such a way that your brain gets the idea that it’s important to remember it.
But remember, it’s operating from making sense of the world and keeping you safe. It couldn’t care less what mark you get in your exam!
Meanwhile, of course it’s important to you to pass your exams, but in the grand scheme of things, and from your unconscious mind’s point of view, just how important is it to remember a minor detail about mortgages, compared with the importance of recognising your children, or remembering which way the traffic will be coming from, as you cross the road?
So our unconscious mind, the automatic part of our brain, will just let all the older information float away, unless we pay attention to it in such a way that it occurs to us as important – as important as which way the traffic is coming from.
So if something really is crucial to your safety, like for example the cooker hob getting hot in your kitchen, your automatic mind will help you remember that straightaway. But if it’s not that crucial (and it’s all relative of course) you will need to convince your unconscious mind that it really is important enough to hang on to.
The way that we do this is 1. By repetition and 2. By making important stuff stand out. (More about #2 another time.) When you use important information over and over and over, it’s usually there for you the next time that you need it.
Think about anything that you’ve learned to do by repetition – eventually you got the hang of it so that it becomes automatic and it’s just ‘there’. (Tying shoe laces, for example.) Any revision that you do; in fact, anything you that you learn, you’ll need to keep revisiting, in order to remember it long-term.
But of course that can be a tricky balance.
If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself going back over and over and OVER the same old stuff, never having time to learn anything new – and that ain’t gonna work either!
That’s where the Learning Cycle comes in, The Learning Cycle is a pattern of revisiting the information that you’ve learnt, that automatically builds in the time you need to learn new material as well as the time to revisit the old. It sets out the bare minimum that you can get away with, for it to stay in your brain.
Normal curve of forgetting
Most people will have forgotten 80% of what they’ve revised within two weeks. But once you’ve mastered the art and science of revising efficiently, you’ll remember 80% and more of what you’ve revised – forever.
Just think how much more useful that’ll be!