Ask Uncle Colin: I keep forgetting stuff!

Dear Uncle Colin,

I'm revising for a high-stakes exam. I learn material, do the exercises and think I understand it - but when I revisit it a couple of weeks later, it feels like I'm starting from scratch. What can I do to remember things better?

-- Failure Of Remembering General Exam Topics

Hi, FORGET, and thanks for your message!

I think there’s a mismatch between how we expect to learn and how we actually learn — in an ideal world, we learn something, do a few exercises and boom! it stays learnt. Unfortunately, that’s not how it happens.

Instead, we learn it and we immediately start to forget. If we leave a new topic a couple of weeks before revisiting it, it might well have gone completely from your memory. What I recommend instead is spaced repetition. When you learn a topic, review it the next day. Then three days later. Then maybe a week later. (Adjust the times to see what works best for you). Each time you revisit it, you’ll be using a combination of remembering and learning which should — with any luck — help it to stick.

Hope that helps!

-- Uncle Colin


Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.


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