Do you want to learn the material you’re studying—like, really learn it? Then what you need to do is overlearn it. One learning theory suggests that if you overlearn, you’ll attain automaticity—or the ability to do something without having to think about it—and ultimately retain more knowledge. Here’s what overlearning is and how to do it.
What is overlearning?
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You know something is serious when the American Psychological Association has a definition for it, and that’s the case here: Per the APA, overlearning is “practice that is continued beyond the point at which the individual knows or performs the task as well as can be expected.” The APA says the benefits here can include “increased persistence of the learning over time or better retention and memory.”
Simply put, overlearning involves studying something even once you’re sure you know it. Don’t stop reviewing or studying just because you succeeded in memorizing something. Instead, keep going, digging it deeper and deeper into your brain.
Hermann Ebbinghaus, the researcher who brought us the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, studied memory in the 1890s, figuring out that as time passed, memories decreased. (That’s basically what the forgetting curve is all about.) According to him, overlearning happens when you keep repeating what you’re going over well past the point at which you can recall it with 100% accuracy.
See, recalling it is something that takes effort. The goal of overlearning is to reach automaticity, pulling the information from your longterm memory with no effort and freeing up space in your working memory.
How do you overlearn?
The next time you’re studying, review material you already know front to back. For instance, when using the Leitner method (which involves spaced repetition of flash cards, the frequency of review of each depending on how well you did the last time you quizzed yourself on it), always review all the flashcards you’re assigned on a particular day, even if you feel like skipping them because you got them right last time. Repeatedly going over material you know well is the key to overlearning and eventual automatic recall.
Schedule blocks of time in your week for reviewing materials you’ve already mastered. This can be as easy as re-reading a chapter or your notes, or as complex as taking practice quizzes or using flashcards. Continually reintroducing familiar ideas to yourself will dig them deeper into your longterm memory.