Spaced Repetition: Conquer the Curve of Forgetting


If you are studying for a wine or spirits certification you already know that studying takes time. A lot of time. Just yesterday it took me two hours to read through and take notes on two pages covering the history of wine making in Bordeaux. (And this morning, I can’t remember a thing.)

One thing to keep in mind in the midst of all this book-and-flashcard work is that more does not always equal better in terms of study time. As a matter of fact, science tells us that you will retain more knowledge if you space out your study sessions rather than if you try to do it all at once—even if the total amount of study time is the equal. This sounds like good news to me: five hours of study, spread over a period of time (whether it be 5 days or five weeks) is more effective than five hours of cram time (and it’s easier to take as well).

In other words—just like with physical exercise—you are likely to see the best results if you use multiple, well-spaced study sessions, as opposed to a few long (probably miserable) nights of cramming-for-the-test.


Hermann Ebbinghaus—a German psychologist who pioneered the study of memory in 1885—was one of the first to examine this phenomenon. Simply put, he observed that after learning new material, his subjects forgot 50% of the information within 30 minutes. After 24 hours, they had forgotten between 70% and 80%. Ebbinghaus dubbed this phenomenon of declining memory retention “the curve of forgetting.”

Ebbinghaus also noticed that with each repeated exposure to the new material, the speed of forgetting slowed significantly. As such, he asserted that the best way to combat the curve was through spaced intervals of active recall—what we call “spaced repetition” or “spaced practice.”

The goal of spaced repetition is to re-visit that new material when it is foggy but not completely forgotten. For most people, this means that the ideal time to revisit newly learned material is one or two days after that first exposure.  This should be followed by another short revision session after another two or three days, followed by a series of reviews spaced so that each succeeding interval is progressively longer than the one before. Remember—just like with physical muscles—every time you flex your mental muscles with a review of the material, the memory will be stronger and take a bit longer to fade.

Artist’s rendition of the curve of forgetting. Actual results may vary.

Since this is a wine and spirits blog, let’s hold an imaginary class. For the wine students, we’re having a class on the white wines of Tuscany. The spirits students are having a class on the iconic spirits of Galicia. You attend your class (and take some notes), and—like a good student should—you read you textbook and take some hand-written notes on the material in the book. Now…what do you do with your new-found knowledge and your valuable notes?

Here’s a sample sequence of how you might use spaced repetition to enhance your learning: after your first exposure (the class), review the material the next day. Skip two days and revise the material again;  then skip 3 or 4 days before revising the material; then skip 5 or 6 days (and revise again). After those five repetitions, the knowledge is going to start to stick, and you can slide the material into a longer rotation so that you review it a few more times (maybe once a week or once a month) before your deadline—whether it be an exam, job interview, competition, meet-the-parents, or some other such event. For best results, be sure and combine spaced repetition with active recall study methods (its more fun than just re-reading your notes and much more effective).

All it takes is bit of organization and some (intervals of) time. With the help of spaced repetition, you too can conquer the curve of forgetting!

References/for more information:

P.S. Here’s a little secret—cramming works. Pulling an all-nighter will help your performance on a test. However, if you cram, you will soon forget almost everything you learned. If you never want nor need to use the information again, cramming is your answer. If, on the other hand, you want to be able to use the information in the future…space it out!

Click here to check out the rest of our posts on “How to Study Wine and Spirits”

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…


About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

5 Responses to Spaced Repetition: Conquer the Curve of Forgetting

  1. Pingback: Use it or Lose It: Active Recall (for wine and spirits students) | The Bubbly Professor

  2. Great post Miss Jane! Life can often become too crazy and my studies get pushed to the side. This was a great reminder to revisit what I have studied previously to keep it in my mind for the long term.

  3. Pingback: Eight Good Reasons to Tangle with the Text (before Class) | The Bubbly Professor

  4. Pingback: Fishbowl or Rabbit Hole? (How to Study for an Essay Exam) | The Bubbly Professor

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