I don’t know how many of my readers have used Spaced Repetition System (SRS) software to learn facts. They are most commonly used for foreign language vocabulary, but can be used for any type of fact that you wish to learn.
Personally I have always found them to be quite effective, but they suffer from some severe negatives which in the end have always lead me to abandon them after a period. Because they put the emphasis on the facts which you are having difficulty learning, you tend to end up with a huge number of difficult words which you have to plough through each day. The list tends to get longer and longer until, if you are not careful, you find yourself ploughing through vocabularly at almost every spare waking moment.
That’s frankly not the way I want to spend my life.
So how about a gentler and easier method which is even more effective?
You will probably think the method I’m going to propose is crazy, but I’m finding it has worked very well so far. I haven’t been doing it for very long, but I’d be interested in the results that other people get if they are bold enough to try it out too on an experimental basis.
Like all my systems I’ve designed it for paper and pen. I suggest if you want to try it that you use paper and pen at first, and then only if you find it works start worrying about how to make an electronic version.
For the purposes of the explanation I am assuming that you are an English speaker wanting to learn French vocabulary.
The system is based on spaced repetition, but with the difference that all the vocabulary items are revised at each interval.
The intervals are:
On the day of entry
The following day
One week later
One month later
One year later
I use a loose-leaf binder with a sheet for each day’s vocabulary. All I have to do when I’ve finished revising is put the date of the next revision at the top of the sheet and re-file it so all the sheets are in date order.
The First Day
On today’s sheet collect vocabulary as you come across it in the traditional two-column format. That is to say, French in the left-hand column and English in the right-hand column. Make no attempt to learn it until you have finished collecting it for the day.
Then you go through two phases: 1) pre-learning 2) learning.
Phase 1. Pre-learning
Cover up the right-hand column (the English) and test yourself on the meaning of the French words in the left-hand column. DO NOT CHECK YOUR ANSWERS. If you can’t get any answer, just go on to the next word. Then cover up the left-hand column and test yourself whether you know the French for the English words in the right-hand column. DO NOT CHECK YOUR ANSWERS.
Phase 2. Learning
Do exactly the same, but this time move the covering card down after attempting to answer each question so you can see whether you got it right. Do it both ways as in Phase 1. That’s all. You only do it once. Don’t repeat it, regardless of how many you got wrong.
This Phase 2 on the first day is the only time in the entire process that you check your answers.
These are all carried out in the same way as Phase 1 on the first day. In other words you test yourself without checking the answers.
Although the process may sound crazy, it is in accordance with the most recent findings on how we learn. A pre-learning test increases learning ability. Not checking one’s answers makes the brain work harder so that it remembers better on subsequent tests.