How to use spaced repetition to learn vocabulary faster

How to use spaced repetition to learn vocabulary faster

Published: Jul 11, 2023 | By: Lucas Weaver

Learning new vocabulary can be a daunting task, but with the right techniques, you can make the process faster and more effective. 

Enter spaced repetition, a learning strategy that maximizes your memory retention and optimizes your study time based on your brain’s neurochemistry. 

In this blog post, we'll look at spaced repetition, uncover its benefits, and provide you with practical tips to implement this technique into your own learning routine. 

Get ready to supercharge your vocabulary acquisition.

What is Spaced Repetition?

Spaced repetition is a learning technique that involves strategically spacing out the time between learning sessions to increase long-term memory retention and increase learning efficiency. 

The concept is based on the idea that revisiting material at frequent, but increasingly spaced-out intervals, aids in long-term memory formation. It’s a concept that has been used by many successful students and professionals to increase their knowledge and understanding.

How does it work?

Spaced repetition involves setting set times or intervals to learn and then review new information. You can break the process down into the following steps:

Initial learning

When you encounter a new word, you learn its meaning and how to use it in context. This could be through reading, studying, or using a vocabulary-learning app or flashcards.

First review

Shortly after learning the word, you review it again to reinforce your memory. This initial review helps to solidify the new vocabulary in your mind.

Scheduling reviews

Based on the concept of the forgetting curve, which describes how information fades from memory over time, spaced repetition algorithms determine the ideal timing for future reviews. Words that you have difficulty remembering are scheduled for more frequent reviews, while those you recall easily are scheduled for less frequent reviews.

Follow-up reviews

As you progress, you continue reviewing the words at specific intervals. The intervals gradually increase as you demonstrate a strong recall ability of the word. For example, you might review a word again after one day, then after three days, one week, two weeks, and so on.

Mastery

The spaced repetition system continues until you have mastered the vocabulary. With regular and spaced reviews, the words become more deeply ingrained in your long-term memory, improving your ability to recall and use them naturally.

The spaced repetition schedule we use

At the Weaver School, we use this schedule for using spaced repetition to help our students learn new vocabulary words in their courses:

Day 1: Introduced to all words for the first time

Day 2: Review all words

Day 4: Review the words you had difficulty with or couldn't recall on Day 2

Day 7: Review all words

Day 12: Review the words you had difficulty with or couldn't recall on Day 7

Day 18: Review all words

Day 26: Review the words you had difficulty with or couldn't recall

If you want to make this simpler for yourself, you can just review all words each time. There’s no harm in reviewing the words you already know, it just takes up slightly more time.

Benefits of Spaced Repetition

Integrating spacial repetition into your vocabulary studying routine can have many benefits. And the best part is, it doesn’t take much more effort on your part. It can even make things simpler because it gives you a set schedule to follow which takes some of the planning away from you. 

Here are just a few of the benefits you can expect from implementing spaced repetition:

Improved retention and recall of material over longer periods of time

One of the main goals of learning is to retain information for the long term. Spaced repetition has proven to be a powerful tool in helping make this happen. By spacing out your study sessions and revisiting the material over increasing intervals, you reinforce the neural connections associated with that knowledge. 

This reinforcement significantly improves your ability to retain and remember the information, even after considerable periods of time have passed.

Research has shown over and over that compared to cramming, where information is reviewed in a short period, spaced repetition leads to superior long-term retention. The repeated exposure to the material strengthens the memory trace, making it more resistant to forgetting. 

So, whether you're studying for an exam, learning a new language, or trying to grasp complex engineering concepts, incorporating spaced repetition into your study routine can greatly enhance your ability to memorize new words and other information, and remember them easily later.

More efficient use of study time

Have you ever found yourself spending countless hours studying, only to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what you've actually learned after you’ve finished? Spaced repetition helps you solve this problem by optimizing the breakdown of your study time. Instead of reviewing everything at the same time, it focuses on the material that requires more reinforcement.

By identifying the concepts or information that you find most challenging or are at risk of forgetting, spaced repetition ensures that your study time is spent where it's most needed. This targeted approach allows you to prioritize your efforts, making your study sessions more efficient and productive. As a result, you can cover more ground, tackle your weaknesses head-on, and maximize the effectiveness of your learning efforts.

Learning is not just about acquiring independent and unrelated pieces of information; it's about understanding how those pieces fit together. Spaced repetition plays a crucial role in fostering a deeper understanding of the subject matter by facilitating the creation of stronger connections between related concepts.

By revisiting material over spaced intervals, you reinforce the neural pathways associated with that knowledge. As a result, the information becomes more deeply ingrained in your memory and forms connections with other relevant concepts. This process enhances your ability to recognize patterns, draw associations, and think critically about the subject matter. 

The interconnected web of knowledge that spaced repetition helps build not only improves your understanding but also equips you with the tools to apply your knowledge in various contexts.

This is similar to the way that using word webs when learning new vocabulary helps you to learn faster and more effectively than just learning the words by themselves.

Improved Memory Retention

When you review information at consistent intervals, it allows you to become progressively more familiar with the material. This familiarity leads to a stronger encoding of the information in the memory, making it easier to retrieve when needed. 

The brain's ability to recognize patterns and reinforce neural connections is leveraged through spaced repetition, resulting in improved memory consolidation.

On top of this, the effects of spaced repetition extend beyond the immediate acquisition of knowledge. By systematically reviewing material at optimal intervals, you can extend the duration of your memory retention. 

Information that might have been easily forgotten after a short period of time can now be retained for significantly longer periods, providing a solid foundation for building further on your knowledge and understanding.

Long-Term Memory Formation

The strength of memory connections is crucial for the formation of long-term memories, and spaced repetition effectively strengthens these connections over time. Each review session reinforces the neural pathways associated with the information, making them more robust and resistant to decay. 

By engaging in spaced repetition, you actively engage your brain's capacity for neuroplasticity, allowing for the establishment of durable memory traces.

This technique proves particularly effective when dealing with complex topics that require the retention of multiple interconnected pieces of information. By spacing out review sessions, you can gradually build a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. 

As each review session builds upon the previous ones, the connections between different elements of the information become more solidified, facilitating the formation of a cohesive and interconnected knowledge framework.

What’s more, the regular and repeated exposure to the material provided by spaced repetition also significantly improves the ease of recall. 

The act of retrieving the information from memory during each review session strengthens the memory trace, making it more readily accessible in the future. This enhanced accessibility is particularly beneficial when it comes to retrieving information during exams, discussions, or real-life applications, as the material is more deeply embedded in your long-term memory.

Easier Retrieval of Information

This repetition used in spaced repetition strengthens the neural connections associated with the information, making it more readily accessible in your long-term memory when you need it. This means that when you study using spaced repetition, you’re making it easy for your brain to remember vocabulary when you need it.

As the brain repeatedly encounters and reinforces these connections, the retrieval process becomes more efficient and effortless. This means that you can quickly recall and retrieve the information you want without experiencing the frustration or mental strain you might often usually feel when trying to remember specific details.

Because of all this, spaced repetition can significantly reduce the amount of time needed to study for exams or tests. By consistently reviewing material at optimal intervals, you build a stronger foundation of knowledge, reducing the need for extensive last-minute cramming. 

As the information is more deeply ingrained in your long-term memory, you can approach exams with confidence, knowing that the material is readily accessible and easily retrievable.

Should I use spaced repetition to learn new vocabulary words?

If you read this post you should clearly know that you should be using spaced repetition to learn new vocabulary and any other information you want to learn. 

In a world full of BS hacks that don’t work, this is a mechanism backed by neuroscience and the biology of your brain that allows you to learn faster and keep information longer. These are the main goals of every learner.

So whatever you’re trying to learn, make sure you’re implementing spaced repetition into your learning routine.

Need a tool to help? Check out my new “neural recall” flashcards tool. It’s a flashcard tool that implements spaced repetition and neural recall to help you learn information faster. You can make flashcards quickly and easily using either text or images.

Have a go and let me know what you think. And as always, good luck with your learning journey.

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Lucas Weaver from the Weaver School

Lucas Weaver founded The Weaver School in 2016. He's passionate about using the latest learnings in neuroscience and education to create the best language learning experience possible for our students, so they can quickly build effective language learning habits that will last for years. Lucas is a graduate of Texas A&M University and after 7 years of living in the Netherlands, he is currently traveling through Southeast Asia while learning their languages along the way.

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