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Basics of Spaced Repetition
Basics of Spaced Repetition

What is spaced repetition and how does it work in RemNote?

Soren Bjornstad avatar
Written by Soren Bjornstad
Updated over a week ago

Flashcards Can Be Created From Your Knowledge Base

RemNote helps you remember what you learn. In RemNote, you break down information into discrete chunks (using the Concept/Descriptor Framework). As you break down information, you seamlessly transform this information into flashcards. Depending on the symbols you use, they are either scheduled or suspended. For those that are scheduled, practicing these flashcards helps you remember what you've initially learnt.

Here is an example of a hierarchy and its associated flashcards:

Your Optimal Flashcard Practice Schedule

When and how often should you actively recall a new piece of information? To answer this question, cognitive psychologists have measured how quickly people forget what they've learned. If we plot the likelihood that you will successfully recall a piece of knowledge against the number of days since you've learned it, we'll see a decaying curve like the red line below.

This curve is called the forgetting curve. It has two important properties.

  • After initially learning something, your memory of it decays exponentially. That is, the chance that you remember it drops off quickly at first, then more slowly later.

  • Practicing a card at the right time not only prevents you from forgetting the information on it, but decreases the rate of decay thereafter – on average, you’ll remember it longer.

The forgetting curve means that you don't need to practice each card that many times, as long as you practice each at the optimal times. Instead of cramming your practice of a single card many times on a single day, it's best to space out practice over days, weeks, and eventually months and years. This method of spacing out practice is called spaced repetition.

Spaced repetition is practical because the interval between consecutive practice sessions increases exponentially – every time you practice a card, the amount of time you can go before seeing it again is multiplied by some number. There's a delay of 1 day between the first and second session, then 3 days between the second and third, then 7 days between the third and fourth, and so on. After only a few repetitions, you can wait months or years until you see that card again. This means you can remember a card for your entire life by spending only a couple of minutes practicing.

A large body of scientific research has shown that spaced repetition is a significantly more effective learning tool than simply reading material multiple times or otherwise practising without recall. Practicing forces you to determine how well you know a piece of information. Additionally, practice strengthens mental connections so that your brain automatically prompts you to retrieve relevant pieces of information from memory. Finally, aligning your practice schedule against your rate of decay means you can prevent forgetting with minimal effort.

Let's see an example of what a hierarchy about the forgetting curve could look like:

The Spaced Repetition Algorithm Automatically Sets an Optimal Practice Schedule

When you study in your global flashcards queue, or study a particular document “with spaced repetition”, RemNote shows only cards that are due according to a near-optimal spaced-repetition practice schedule. The only thing you need to do is practice them when they appear in the “Flashcards” section of the sidebar.

Practicing your Flashcards

To assess how well you recalled a piece of information, you have four options:

RemNote uses your feedback to automatically schedule the next time you'll practice that card.

Using your flashcards correctly is key to effective learning. After seeing a prompt, make sure that you actually pause and try to recall the associated piece of information. Actively doing so takes effort, but is key to building mental connections to help the idea stick. When reporting your accuracy, choosing the correct response is also extremely important for helping the scheduling algorithm optimize your long-term learning.

First, you see a prompt:

Second, you try to actively recall the associated piece of knowledge. Third, you press "Show Answer" to check your memory.

The Daily Learning Goal helps you stay on track

For spaced repetition to work at its best, you need to practice your flashcards regularly. The Daily Learning Goal feature acts as your personal trainer by automatically setting a goal for the number of cards you should practice each day to remember everything you’ve set as an Active learning priority.

The thin bar at the top of the queue reports your progress. As you work through flashcards, the blue bar advances to the right, eventually turning green once you meet your target. Try to fill up the bar each day!

Flashcards on Your Phone

By the way – the RemNote mobile app is a great way to practice your flashcards. Many RemNote users practice during time that might otherwise have been wasted, like while riding the bus or waiting in line.

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