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Much of what we learn is beyond our ability to recall later. For example, how well would you do at a final exam for a class you studied a decade ago?
However, learning something the second time round is much faster.
Early theories of forgetting were based on decay. They assumed unused memories weaken over time, much like unused muscles.
Another major factor in forgetting is Interference from other memories. The more memories we acquire, the more they become associated with familiar cues, making it harder to retrieve a particular memory. This is not a defect. It’s a feature. Memory is only useful if we retrieve the right memories at the right times and suppress all competing alternatives.
If a memory is very useful, despite hardly remembering it, the memory becomes much easier to recall. This is the basis behind the concept of desirable difficulties.
We benefit more from remembering something when the clues for bringing up the memory are weaker. That is why testing is better than re-reading for studying, and spaced practice beats cramming, and mixing problem sequences is better.
It’s common to feel that you’ve forgotten everything after years of absence from studying a topic.
However, research on memory suggests relearning tends to be much faster than initial learning.
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