Possible reviewing strategies you can use while practicing

Different reviewing strategies will be necessary depending on your goals, your abilities and the nature of the tasks. If you want to remember something long term, you may have heard me say that you need to learn to combine spaced repetition along with retrieval practice. Using spaced repetition means reviewing often at the beginning and more and more rarely later on. Using retrieval practice means asking yourself questions and practicing “retrieving” the answer without cheating. You can find more explanation about those two concepts in this article. The rules of the game are different when you’re practicing. In that context, you only need to remember something long enough to (hopefully) get everything correct during recall. You may not need or want to review if you’re only going for very quick Memory League drills, at least for some types of exercises some of the times. But in most other training related context, you’ll often need to review much of what you memorize at least once. The concepts of spaced repetition and retrieval practice will often remain useful, but only in a drastically modified, accelerated and limited way. The specific reviewing strategy you should use will depend on what you’re trying to memorize, on your skill level and your personal preference. Here’s one possible strategy that one could use to memorize a list of 70 words:
  1. Make up images for the first 20 words and review them once.
  2. Make up images for the following 20 words and review them once.
  3. Make up images for the following 20 words and review them once.
  4. Once or twice, review everything that you’ve memorized so far.
  5. During the last few seconds, make up images for the next 6 words and don’t review them.
  6. “Grab” the last 4 words by simply reading them in your mind once or twice. Keep silently repeating them in your mind while you’re turning the sheet over.
And then during recall:
  1. First write down those last 4 words that are currently floating in your short-term memory and immediately stop thinking about them.
  2. Then write down the previous 6 words that you memorised a moment ago but never reviewed.
  3. Drop the pen and see if you can quickly go through the rest of your memory palace. If there’s a gap somewhere, don’t stress and don’t waste time on it for now. The goal here is to get one last quick mental review before you risk forgetting anything.
  4. Quickly write down everything you can, without getting stuck on any missing gap.
  5. If necessary, try to find the missing images for those few missing words. Try to think of various elements that could help reactivate those currently missing parts. Was the image interacting with the window? Was it fleeing from the nearby monster? Would going through the alphabet in your mind help you find the beginning of the word? Use anything that can help.
  6. If you’re not “just practicing” and you really care about whether or not you got everything right, take the time to double and tripple check everything. Otherwise, just don’t bother : )
  7. Congratulate yourself for having perfectly or almost perfectly memorized a list of 70 words in order in just a few minutes : )
Again, adaptations of those reviewing strategies will be needed in different contexts, but the basic principles at play will remain the same. You’ll probably need to go through some trials and errors before you figure out what will work best for you.
  • Don’t forget to use those “strategic micro-reviews” that I recommended before!
  • As a general rule, review as often as you need, but no more than that. At least once a while when you’re practicing, try to see if you can get away with less reviews.
  • When you’re trying out a new format for the first few times, you should probaly start with a more conservative reviewing strategy. Just because you can memorize X number of elements in five minutes doesn’t mean that you will be able to remember 4x that number in twenty or even thirthy minutes. It can be quite surprising how having much time doesn’t always translate in that much of an improvement in the final score.
  • Would you rather memorize 40 words and get everything right or memorize 80 words while forgetting 2? Aiming for 100% accuracy makes sense in various circumstances, but it’s not always the best strategy. That’s especially true when you’re practicing and you’re trying to push your limits. However, if you’re competing or you’re under pressure for some reason, it might be wise to aim for less ambitious goals and to review a little more than usual. It can be surprising how much stress can interfere with your ability to focus and memorize efficiently. Some people thrive under pressure, but you can’t assume that it will be the case for you.
Important precision: Many of the reviewing strategies explained above make sense mostly when you’re competing or trying to break a personal record. If you’re only practicing, you can and frequently should choose to be much more careless. The “recall” phase of the memorization process can often be very exhausting and time-consuming. If you’re just practicing, it often makes sense to accept a slightly higher rate of errors in order to save time and mental energy. Recall what you can. Take a little bit of time to try to find the missing gaps, but don’t triple-check everything and don’t torture yourself too much just to get a few more points.

Different kinds of reviews you can use while practicing The process of “reviewing” can take different forms, and I’m not just talking about timing and quantities. If you’re simply reading in diagonal as quickly as you can, this form of review isn’t exactly useless, but it’s far from reliable. If you’re instead using a pure form of retrieval practice – hiding out the answers and checking if you can remember everything without cheating – this will work well but it will be slower. This is what you should be doing most of the time when you’re reviewing for an exam, but not when you only have 5 minutes and you’re trying to memorize as much as you can during that very short period. Here are two possible compromise strategies that I recommend instead:
  • Check the answers directly, but always make sure that you’re at least making a small effort to reactivate the mental images you’ve used to memorize the information in the first place. In most contexts, simply rereading something is usually a very inefficient reviewing strategy. However, when a memory palace and some mental images are involved, I think the benefits of those “simple” and quick reviews are much more substantials.
  • Use your hand to hide the answers. Move it along relatively quickly and try to anticipate what’s coming next before you get to see it. When you can effortlessly say the answer in your mind before it becomes visible, you can feel pretty confident that you’ll be able to recall it later. However, if you see that you need more than a second or even just half a second to come up with the images and the words, don’t waste any time before looking up the answers. When that happens, try to pay special attention to that particular piece of info. I see what I’m advocating here as a compromised and quick form of retrieval practice. It’s an attempt to strike a good balance between reliability and speed.
Personally, I’ll very often alternate between those 2 strategies. If I get to review something twice, during the first review I might go fast and simply reread what I just learned while reactivating the mental images, and then I’ll use some compromised form retrieval practice during the second and last review. * If I only have a few seconds left and I don’t want to try to “grab” something new, I’ll probably just check some previously memorized sections as quickly as I can and hope for the best. This is a very risky and less than ideal strategy, but it’s better than nothing and it allow me to very quickly cover a lot of data.