Beating the Curve: Academics

beat-the-forgetting-curve-5-728So there is this curve that students should concern themselves with. No, it’s not the grading curve, although that is a good kind of curve. I am talking about the forgetting curve.

It is really annoying when you forget something you know you have seen before, but the details are just out of reach. Here are some things I learned while learning about remembering.


Ebbinghaus came up with the “Forgetting curve” [shown in picture], which represents the amount of information that is retained over time. Ebbinghaus tested himself by memorizing and recalling definitions attached to nonsense syllables like “ZOF”. He found the memory to decay exponentially over time. Well, that’s bad news for students, since one semester is a long time to continue remembering so much information.

Back in high school, I was introduced to the art of memorization through the book “Moonwalking with Einstein, the Art and Science of Remembering Everything” by Joshua Foer. Mr. Foer became the 2006 USA Memory Champion though he credits the result to several years of mental training. The thing that struck me the most is that Mr. Foer said most of the memory champions are not memory freaks, but regular folks who have a systematic method for remembering things.

The brain is good at remembering several things:

  • Locations. Walk down your favourite street and place objects along the road. Rehearse. Later when you need to remember, mentally walk down the street and recall the objects. It’s helpful to make the objects be in ridiculous positions and colours, which brings us to…
  • Ridiculousness. The truly ridiculous captures the attention and imagination.
  • Associations things together. Having more associations increases the ways to reach a piece of information. For example, Pax6 is the name of the gene that is important for eye development in fruit flies. Pax sounds like “packs” and reminds me of how insects have compound eyes that pack together, and insects have 6 legs, thus I associate Pax6 with fruit fly eyes strongly.

If you are itching to learn more about amazing memory, here is a wiki page to get you started.

Metamemory. Remembering what you have remembered.


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