Practice makes perfect

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At school, your child has to memorise a lot: phonics for reading, spellings for writing, sums and times tables, the list goes on. If then, you’re asked to help your child practice certain spellings for a test on Friday, you’ll need an efficient way of practicing so that your child aces the test with the least amount of practice time.

Without reminders, the rate at which we forget things over time is like the rate of radioactive decay.

An efficient way to practice is to use flashcards and spaced repetition. The idea behind flashcards is that having to answer an open question (active recall) builds strong memories. Spaced repetition on the other hand, counteracts the fact that people forget things over time.

It does so by repeating a flashcard to you on the day you’re about to forget its answer. Software can automatically pick this day for you based on the rating you give each flashcard as you answer it, wherein the rating is either ‘wrong’, ‘hard’, ‘good’ or ‘easy’. Picking ‘wrong’ yields the shortest interval (a day) and ‘easy’ the longest. Say the first interval for reminding you of a flashcard was a day, then if you keep answering ‘good’, the intervals turn into a week, a month and years after that. The beauty of this is that easy cards are scheduled further and further away into the future while you focus on the difficult cards. In this way, you’ll automatically practice the right cards when they’re due until you’ve mastered them. And when you master them, you won’t see them anymore, freeing up your time for practicing more advanced things if you like. In this way, one can literally memorise hundreds of cards with only minutes of practice a day. The best piece of software out there that incorporates the above principles is called Anki and it’s free.

If only this had been around during my own schooldays…