May 13 2022
 min read


Anushka Das

Understanding how our memory works can help us counteract the forgetting process.

It is frustrating to spend a considerable amount of time on learning and yet not be able to retain most of the information when required. Forgetting has become a part of our learning process, which requires us to constantly relearn and practice what we learn. Various memory techniques can be personalised for different concepts and people. We end up using flashcards, jingles, acronyms, graphs, et cetera quite commonly while studying. But, to fully make use of these techniques, we need to understand the process of forgetting.

Understanding how our memory works can help us counteract the forgetting process, and we can effectively make use of these tips and tricks. We introduce to you the concept of the Forgetting Curve.

What is the Forgetting Curve?

It is a memory model which depicts how we gradually lose information if we don’t work on retaining it. Introduced by Hermann Ebbinghaus, who tested his memory loss hypothesis on his memory by attempting to remember strings of meaningless letters, this curve is a graphical representation of how we lose our memory over time.

What does the graph depict?

The Forgetting Curve shows how we exponentially lose retention of information initially. The rate at which we lose information in the first few days of learning is drastically more than the next few days when the loss slowly tapers. This was tested using a variety of information such as words, longer texts, numerals, et cetera over different periods.

What is the use of the Forgetting Curve?

With the help of this graph, Ebbinghaus could come up with factors that affected our memory retention. Factors which, according to him, had a direct correlation to our memory are:

1. Strength of the Memory

We tend to recall stronger memories more than weaker ones. By stronger memories, it would mean memories with relevance and meaning. Thus, when learning new information, it becomes important to grasp the concepts adequately and truly understand the depth of the concepts. Blind rote learning is counterproductive and would only lead to forgetting the information over time.

2. Time Passed

An obvious factor would be the time passed since the information is consumed. Without active relearning and memory replenishment, we forget information over time. As depicted in the graph, the loss of information was exponential in the early days.

3. Presentation of Information

The way the information is presented affects retention directly. Information that is provided logically and in an organised format tends to stay in our long-term memory for a much longer time. For example, a properly arranged and numbered shopping list would stay in our memory for a longer time than a haphazardly written one.

4. Your Conditions

Ebbinghaus also stressed the internal factors which may affect memory retention. Physiological and psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, or lack of proper sleep affect memory retention negatively.  Therefore, it becomes important to maintain a healthy lifestyle with a proper sleep cycle and diet. A stressful learning environment is only detrimental to the process.

It is important to know these factors so that we can work around them. Even if we cannot directly change all factors in our favour, we can still learn to deal with them for maximum productivity. The various memory techniques and tips available have these concepts behind them which make them valid and useful. Try them now with the knowledge of the Forgetting Curve and understand why memory retention is so important.