Not all learning methods are created equal. Some of the most effective ways to learn are not the ones most often employed in schools. One of these methods is spaced repetition. Spaced repetition is a scientifically-proven study hack that improves how our brains retain information by presenting it in multiple sessions over time. Applied to learning, it means that instead of cramming and memorizing facts, we can retain concepts more thoroughly and effectively if we digest them gradually and repetitively over a more extended period.
You have probably encountered spaced repetition at some point in your educational career. Tips like “go over your notes from class when you get home” or “study a little bit every day instead of trying to study all at once” are derived from the concept of spaced repetition. So, how can you, as a CFA exam candidate, use spaced repetition to be more successful in your studies and retain more valuable information that will serve you well in your career?
1. Stop Cramming
Cramming as your primary study method is not a good idea. It’s tempting to think that you can cram just before the exam, but you’re more likely to be disappointed with the outcome. Spaced repetition makes it much easier for your brain to understand concepts over a longer period and recall information when you need it, whereas cramming will keep data fresh for maybe a day or two at best.
If you are going to kick cramming to the curb and give spaced repetition a try, you will need to do some planning, be disciplined about your schedule, and give your CFA review time your full attention. That may sound a little intimidating, but it is not as hard as it seems. If you follow these tips, it is much easier than the hours-long cram sessions and all-nighters.
2. Pick a Medium for Your Review
The most common use of spaced repetition in academic settings is flashcards. It is also the spaced-repetition method we at UWorld most recommend. Flashcards can be one of the most versatile and effective ways for CFA candidates to study and retain knowledge for the CFA Exam; this extends beyond simple facts to complex concepts and formulas. Flashcards engage active recall, improve information retention, create repetition, and are quick and easy to produce on our UWorld CFA Level 1 Learning Platform.
3. Create a Review Plan
Here’s an example of a review plan that uses spaced repetition: When you learn new information in a lecture or from reading a chapter of a textbook, you would review that information again in an hour and then again the next day. Two days later, you revisit it, as well as every other day for the next week. Then you scale the frequency to once a week for a month or so. After that, return to a pattern of once a month. Now, if you revisit the information in one way or another, it will become so ingrained in your memory that you won’t forget it.
4. Set a Time Limit
Studying for too long is counterintuitive. If you work at something for too long, your attention will start to waver, and you’ll absorb less of the information you’re studying. Of course, that doesn’t mean that shorter is always better. We recommend giving yourself 20 to 30 minutes per review session. After that, take a break before resuming.
5. Pay Extra Attention to Missed Topics
In all these review sessions, give precedence to topics or questions that you get wrong. If you remember something correctly, you can set it aside until the next review session. If you miss one, review it again. Do this until you remember every topic correctly.
6. Hold Yourself Accountable
None of these suggestions will be effective without the discipline and accountability to stick to the plan. Keeping track of your progress keeps you on schedule and gives you a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue. Luckily, our candidates have access to our Performance Graphs that help them keep track of how much information they have mastered and point them in the right direction of which concepts are the most important to review.
Ultimately, regardless of which CFA level you are studying, spaced repetition is one of the most effective and efficient ways to learn. You would be surprised at how much your brain is capable of learning, remembering, and storing for long periods. Spaced repetition helps you unlock all that brainpower and potential.
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