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Don’t waste your time trying to learn unless you follow this rule

Updated: Apr 5

Written by Adam Inder.

Esteemed academic and linguist Dr Paul Pimsleur (1927 – 1976) did a lot of research on learning – particularly related to learning languages. One of the main conclusions he drew from his research is that in order to remember something in the long-term, we need to revisit it again and again in order to maximise our chances of retaining that information. We call this “moving information from our short-term memory to our long-term memory”.

Research has found the ideal spacing of learning repetitions to be as recommended as follows:

When you learn something new,

  • Revise it again in one day

  • Revise it again in one week

  • Revise it again in one month

If we follow this method, it is suggested that we can retain as much as 90% of information learning. Without this method, we may only remember as much as 30% after six days (if we are lucky!).

Famous education guru Professor John Hattie refers to this technique in his Visible Learning research, claiming that spaced practice is far more effective for building learning than “mass practice”, which is to learn things in small blocks or units.

This research goes against the classic student technique of “cramming” the night before – sure, you may remember some of the information for your exams or for the topic test, but it would be a safe bet that you aren’t going to remember much from that study by the time your next exam swings around or when you have to apply it in an actual job.