Beginner pains in memorizing, and how to cope

As you learn to memorize, you’ll probably experience some unpleasant new feelings. Once you understand them, they’re no big deal. Some are actually good news.

Test hangups

Tests are probably your least favorite part of school (and maybe life). But with spaced repetition, you have to test yourself on your memory cards almost every day. Is this a recipe for self-torture?

Not at all. Reviewing cards is quite different from taking a test. When you miss a question on a test, bad things happen. You get a bad grade. You never get another chance to get the question right, except maybe on a final. Your report card sags.

When you miss a memory card, good things happen. You see the card again very soon. And soon after that, too. All this means that when you do take a test, you’ll get this right. So even though reviewing cards can feel like a test, it isn’t.

Test panic. I can’t remember the answer!

All that being said, reviewing can feel like a test. Especially that horrid feeling of test panic. You stare at a question and your mind is blank. Your stomach churns. Now what?

Now you wait. And often, the answer will come.

Remember, we try to schedule these cards so that you don’t look at each card until you need to. This is very efficient, because you spend less time studying. On the other hand, it means you’re actually trying to almost forget! You’re trying to get test panic!

If you really hate this feeling, you can simply review your cards a little more often. But you’ll probably get used to it. Once you realize no grade is plummeting, it’s no big deal. Besides, the answer often comes.

How long should you wait? I’ve read 10 seconds – this is longer than you think. For a long time I thought that waiting “only” 10 seconds defeated the purpose of spaced repetition, but that led to some long delays. I thought they’d go away, but no, I was “configuring” those cards to always take about that long to recall.

Basically, you should wait as long as you want to have to wait to remember the fact. And 10 seconds is probably plenty.

Failure! I keep missing cards.

No matter how long you wait, sometimes the answer doesn’t come. You’ll probably miss cards fairly often. And that’s okay. Reviewing isn’t a test. This is a whole new kind of “wrong” answer. The kind that helps you out.

Yes, in real life, I still hate missing cards sometimes. But I have an entire schooling career of self-loathing to get over here. In another ten years, who knows? I might hardly notice when I miss.

If you really hate missing a particular card, the card is probably too long. Try breaking it up.

New skill hangups

Memorizing is a skill, and any new skill can have bad feelings just because it’s new.

Imagining is hard!

When you first start imagining, you’ll probably imagine too small. When you try to imagine bigger and brighter, you may actually feel it takes effort. It can be hard, like squinting into the distance. Or doing math in you head. Or doing pushups.

But imagining will get easier. It’s like a muscle. With exercise, you’ll get stronger.

Boredom! I know this already!

Boredom is the opposite of test panic. Sometimes, when you see a card’s question, you’ll know the answer so well you can actually feel it.

Have you ever finished a book, and then flipped right back to the front and read through it again? Or watched a movie, and then watched it again within a couple days? You get this sensation of boredom. I know all this! Show me something new!

Well, listen to that feeling. What’s it telling you? You know this. That means all this review is working! Congratulations.

It also means you can wait a little longer before you review it again.

Discouragement! All this extra work! Is it all worth it?

Reviewing and memorizing can definitely be more work than the average study habits.

But let’s face it, the average study habits give pretty average results.

And memorizing will save you work as you continue to study. If you keep forgetting stuff, you’ll have tons of work ahead as you keep relearning what you’ve forgotten. But if you memorize, you won’t have to relearn the basics you forgot from last year.

Even better, memorizing will increase your understanding. The more you know, the more new things you can learn, faster.

Summary of these beginner pains, and their solutions

Test panic. I can’t remember!
It’s okay. Hesitation is good. You need this renewal. Wait for the answer.
Failure! I missed a card!
This isn’t a final exam. Good thing you’ll see the card tomorrow.
Imagination is hard!
Good! You’re getting a workout. You’ll get stronger.
This strange new sensation means you know this material. Relish it.
Discouragement! Extra work!
It’s much less work than forgetting it all, then learning it over again.