A Self Assessment of Student Study Practices on campus recently revealed that the greatest deficiency students have is their inability to store information learned in their courses. When asked whether they "reviewed or edited their notes immediately after class," most students responded "Rarely." The results weren't much better for those who review their class notes within 24 hours. These findings, though probably not surprising, are somewhat disturbing since research shows that retention of classroom material can drop to below 45% within one hour of class and to as low as 33% within one day. Without immediate and spaced reviews, even the very best instruction can be sabotaged by the effects of the forgetting curve.

graph showing that overtime we forget more and more--except after 10 minutes, we remember better Obviously, factors such as scheduling back-to-back classes prevent students from being able to review their course notes in a timely manner. While it would serve students well to avoid scheduling their courses in this format, it appears that most students aren't even returning to their notes within 24 hours.

graph showing that overtime we forget more and more except after 10 minutes, we remember better

So what can students and teachers do to beat the effects of the forgetting curve? First of all, it would serve students well to be instructed on the effects of the forgetting curve. They need to know that ultimately more time will be required to go back and re-learn the material than it would to simply retain the information in the first place through immediate and spaced review.



memory video



While there are many activities that one might use for helping students ponder and reflect, the aim of this article is simply to design these activities in such a way that students will be required to review the material as soon after class as possible. For instance, instructors could require students to submit a written summary of the key points from class within a few hours after class and then again within 24 hours give an on-line quiz or require the students to convert what was learned into questions and answers.


The activities one chooses for having students review the material are limitless, but it is clear that the proximity of the review to the instruction is crucial for retention of the material to happen.


Key Articles:

Jaffe, Eric. (2008, November). Will that be on the test? Association for Psychological Science, 21 (10).

Hunter, Ian M.L. (1957). Memory: Facts and Fallacies. Baltimore: Penguin, 83.

Krug D., Davis T.B., & Glover J.A. (1990). Massed versus distributed repeated reading: A Case of forgetting helping recall? Journal of Educational Psychology. (82), 366-71.

Epstein, Bertram. (1949). Immediate and retention effects of interpolated rest periods on learning performance, Contributions to Education no. 949. New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University.