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Forgetting Curve

Learning Curve

3 Examples of the Forgetting Curve

The forgetting curve is the theory that newly acquired information is forgotten with time. This is considered a basic cognitive characteristic of humans whereby our brains eventually discard information that is not retrieved or relearned. The following are illustrative examples of the theory.

Strength of Memory

The forgetting curve isn't a single curve but differs by person, topic and learning experience. Vivid learning experiences may be fully retained as we regularly access these memories. Less interesting memories aren't recalled and can begin to fade within seconds. The degree to which a new memory is retained is known as strength of memory. For example, Ed and Sue attend the same cocktail party and are introduced to the same people. Ed is a people-person and experienced salesperson who remembers most names after the party. Sue finds people uninteresting and quickly forgets their names.
Sue's forgetting curve (above) is typical as new information is quickly forgotten at first followed by a flattening of the curve. Ed's forgetting curve indicates an unusually good memory or strong interest in a learning experience. The same person can have a good memory for one experience and a poor memory for another. For example, a science fiction enthusiast who remembers every detail of a movie a month later who can't remember a math concept they learned yesterday.

Spaced Practice

Spaced practice is the process of studying a topic repeatedly with a short span of time, usually a day, between each repetition. This is designed to strengthen memory and overcome the forgetting curve. Each repetition serves to flatten the curve such that knowledge becomes more and more durable.


Cramming is the process of studying just before information is required. This allows you to absorb information and regurgitate it on a test or in a job interview. However, it results in a very steep forgetting curve as you try to absorb a great deal of information in a short period of time with no reinforcement later. Education systems that encourage cramming tend to produce low knowledge retention.
Overview: Forgetting Curve
Definition (1)
A model that maps out how much knowledge is retained over time after a learning event.
Definition (2)
The degree to which knowledge is lost with time.
Also Known As
Curve of Forgetting
Attributed To
Hermann Ebbinghaus
Related Concepts


This is the complete list of articles we have written about studying.
College Experience
Creative Learning
Forgetting Curve
Growth Mindset
Learning Curve
Learning Goals
Learning Plan
Learning Styles
Rote Learning
School Life
Spaced Practice
Student Performance
Study Goals
Study Habits
Study Skills
Zeigarnik Effect
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