How to overcome the forgetting curve

Space your learning for better and faster results

Have you ever taken a crash course?

Crash courses teach you a lot of information in a short period of time.

I did this once during my doctoral studies at Columbia.

I had a chance to earn 3 college credits in one weekend (a typical semester-long class is 3 credits).

One weekend in a classroom instead of 3 months seems like a good tradeoff.

And I’ll learn the same content.

Right? Not quite.

The weekend class may have covered the same content as the semester-long class, but…

I remembered nothing from the class. Not a single thing.

To this day, I can’t even remember the class title.

I began forgetting the minute I walked out of the classroom.

I forgot everything a week later.

I had no support structure to reinforce what I learned.

A short term convenience turned into a long term loss and a life lesson.

The forgetting curve

In 1885, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus theorized about how fast we forget information.

Ebbinghaus believed that we forget information quickly when we don’t try to retain it.

He suggested that people continually halve their memory of newly learned knowledge.

One day after learning something, we forget 50% of it.

Forgetting Curve

Today, we know it as the Forgetting Curve.

How we forget

What makes us forget?

First, our memory weakens over time. If we learn something once and never attempt to relearn it, we quickly forget it.

This happened with my weekend crash course.

Second, we get mental exhaustion.

A full-day course crams in too much information for our brain to process.

This leads to brain fatigue.

And we forget whatever we learned.

Spaced learning

Overcome the forgetting curve by spacing learning out over time.

Shorter, more frequent intervals are almost always a better way to learn.

This resets the forgetting curve and helps you retain more information.

Spaced Learning

You can avoid losing 50% of new information after the first day.

Practice or review that information to boost retention.

Become a better writer by writing daily instead of whenever you feel like it.

Learn a language by practicing 1 sentence a day instead of a weekly intensive.

Play the guitar better by practicing a new chord for 15 minutes a day. This is better than practicing 10 chords in a 4-hour marathon session.


You can also use spacing for teaching.

The key is to review what you learned the previous session. Then build upon it.

Remember: if it’s important to learn, you need to say it often. It bears repeating.

Applying spaced learning


In college, I often had a choice for my class times.

Attend a class once a week for 3 hours (example: Mon 6-9p).

Or 3 times a week for 1 hour (example: Mon, Wed, Fri 10-11a).

I often chose the once a week 3-hour class.

This was a poor decision for 2 reasons.

One, mental exhaustion kicked in after the second hour.

Two, I mostly forgot everything from the previous week.

Today, I would choose the 1-hour class 3 times a week.

Shorter, more frequent classes are spaced better for you to learn.

Consider a multi-session learning program instead of a single session.


I started teaching my kids how to play tennis.

In the past, I would have done a 1-hour session a week. We could do a bit of everything.

And we would probably get nowhere fast. We would likely spend most of our time relearning what we forgot from the prior week.

The new approach? We play for 10 minutes a day. No more, no less.

One day is forehand. The next day is backhand. And so on.

We start by reviewing what we covered the previous day. Then we build on it.

Learn better and faster with daily exposure for a short period of time.

One actionable tip

Ask yourself these questions next time you’re learning something:

  • Is this a one-time activity?

  • When will I use what I learn?

  • How will I make sure that I don’t forget what I’m learning?

  • How can I practice what I learn for a few minutes every day?

Overcome the forgetting curve by:

  • Expanding your learning across many sessions (shorter, more frequent intervals)

  • Applying what you learn immediately (within 1 day)

  • Spacing out your learnings (every 2-3 days)

Thanks for reading.

See you next week,