forgetting what you studied

Study tip: How forgetting what you studied can improve your grades

Katie Azevedo memory, study skills, study tips

forgetting what you studied

Many of us have had the annoying experience of studying a bunch of stuff one day, but then forgetting it all the next day. Tell me I’m not the only one this happens to.

As annoying as it is to forget what you studied, it is actually a really important step to learning the material.

Let me explain this insanity:

When we study something for the first time, we are essentially storing that information in our short-term memory. Notice I said short-term. Because this material is only in our short-term memory, it’s not going to stick around for long. And that’s why you find yourself forgetting what you studied, even just a day later. If you’re curious, here’s the science behind my argument.

Why forgetting what you studied is a good thing

There is a way to get information from our short-term memories to our long-term memories, and the way we do that is by studying, forgetting, re-studying, forgetting, re-studying …etc.

Let’s say that we study something relatively new one afternoon during a regular study session. The next day, when we go back to study what we were learning the day before, we are telling our brains to go and search for the information. At this point, much of what we were studying is gone (that is why we can’t “find” it), while some of it is still floating around our short-term memories. Then, when we re-study the material, which is called “recall,” we are slowly but surely moving material from our short-term memories to our long-term memories. Once it’s in our long-term memory, we have essentially learned it.

It’s the simple process of trying to retrieve information from our short-term memories — even if it’s no longer there — that enables us to eventually learn it.

The more we repeat the process of “study-forget-retrieve,” the better we will ultimately learn whatever it is we are studying. In fact, if we don’t go through the whole “study-forget-retrieve” process a few times, we never end up learning the material; instead, we are just temporarily memorizing it by keeping it in our short-term memory. And remember — stuff in our short-term memory never sticks around for long.

short term to long term memory while studying

The next time you find yourself forgetting what you studied, keep in mind that that’s what’s supposed to happen. It means your brain is actually doing the right thing. The good news is that this time, when you study the material the second or third time around (here’s where I explain why it’s best to study in short, frequent bursts), it’s going to take you way less time and effort to re-learn it. And then soon enough – after a few study cycles- it’s all yours.