Can I master 9000 pages in 3 years (for an exam)?

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From: mateus
Country: Brazil
Sent: Apr 26, 2014
Subject: value of incremental reading

Question:

Exam

In Brazil, we have a exam to enter university after three years of high school (it's called Vestibular). To this exam, we have to learn roughly ten subjects (history, biology, philosophy, geography, mathematics, chemistry, etc.) and each year we have for each subject a 300 page book. At the time, I didn't know about spaced repetition, so I used the traditional learning method: I attended lectures, I studied for exams made by my schools teachers and a few months before the Vestibular I attended a revision course of the all the subjects. In the end, I reached a very high score: 129 correct answers of 150 possible. While I do not doubt that the Q&A's would have helped me along the way, my question is if I would be able to process all this knowledge with Incremental Reading?

Volume

Because the texts keeping coming back (in incremental reading), I feel that I would get stuck in order to avoid information overload. I do not affirm that a person would not be able to view all the material on this time frame, but it seems difficult to incrementally read ~9000 pages. I have much less data in SuperMemo, and it already seems a lot!

Testing memory

You can argue that my reasoning makes passing an exam more important than knowledge itself, but I used the example because testing memory is measurable. With an exam, a person can check if she really learned the subject. Otherwise, it's easier to fall on the trap of illusion of knowledge. It's seems difficult to compare two methods without a measurement of some kind, but I am open to hear reasons on the contrary.

Answer:

Exam

Only you can answer this question well. Once you become proficient in incremental reading, you will sense your own speed and efficiency. After some time, you will understand that only incremental reading makes sense, however, if the volume of the material exceeds the capacity of your memory (e.g. 3x300x10 pages in 3 years), you will always want to resort to standard last-minute cramming (like all students). Your excellent long-term memory may not count at the exam when you need to have all facts handy in your head (even if you are to forget them all in a week). Naturally, you can also use incremental reading for cramming (if you are skilled enough).

A proficient incremental reader, will always prefer to use incremental reading for such jobs, but proficiency takes time, and strong long-lasting memories are not the prime thing tested at exams.

Volume

If it is hard to just read 9000 pages in time, you can just read linearly in SuperMemo, and use the generated extracts to form long term memories after the exam. This way, naturally, you will prove that the exam takes little heed of your memory capacity and spaced repetition isn't of much use when you struggle with the volume. If you have 8 difficult pages to process per day, there is very little room for review, unless you pick 3-4 most important things from those pages, create cloze deletions, and make standard SuperMemo repetitions after your compulsory reading (if there is any time left).

Testing memory

SuperMemo will give you a true picture of your memory (as long as you are honest with your grades). The volume of the material will make the exam test only a temporary snapshot of your short-term memory. This test is of little relevance to your future success in the employment of the tested knowledge.

User answer

Hello!

First of all, I'm very grateful for the answer. Unfortunately, the illustration to my original question got more attention than the question itself. I just dredged up a personal experience to refere what I was thinking, but it wasn't my intention to focus on this particular exam. I agree that you can read linearly in SuperMemo, but this observation miss the point between the "philosophy" behind traditional learning and incremental learning. I will try to reformulate my question on a more succint way:

a) Traditional linear reading (TLR) and incremental reading (IR) are two alternative ways to process a material (Supermemo could procress the material in a linear way, but that is not very important to my question);

b) apparently, incremental reading is a superior way to process and retain information, due stresslessness, repetition, etc.; (my view)

c) but this opinion comes from self-observation and personal anecdotes from users, which could be disproven by a more rigid experiment; (as we all know from history of learning and science)

d) thus, the view that traditional linear reading could produce the same, or even more, learning in some specific time frame than incremental reading still is a theoretically viable option;

Remember that I refered that in both cases (TLR and IR) the reading would be supplemented with Q&A's about the more important parts of the material (and we should assume a equal amount of information remembered on this variable). All else also being equal (mnemonic skills, discipline, etc.), we still have the question of who would remember more the rest of the material: the TRL student or the IR student?

Maybe we could express this with a simple formula:

Expected payoff = time spent reading x volume of material processed x retention

Who wins: TRL or IR?

Please write back If I'm not clear enough - English is not my native tongue, as you may notice! Thank you,

Mateus

problem in the definition

From the article about forgetting index, you might conclude that TLR would produce more learning than IR. Maximum speed of learning occurs at FI that is much higher than in SuperMemo. This is why more learning would need to be defined. There is a difference between more learning depending on the criteria, e.g. for a specific exam, for life, for memory strength or stability, for volume, for retention, etc.

Rigorous testing is possible, but you would get wildly different results depending on the design of the procedure. E.g. if you took incremental reading novices, they could all do poorly due to their struggles with software, techniques and procedures.

Most of articles about IR speak of high efficiency, which comes from a theoretical description of the process, or from anecdotal reports by advanced users.

equal ground

Q: All else also being equal (mnemonic skills, discipline, etc.), we still have the question of who would remember more of the material: the TRL student or the IR student?

It is hard to say who benefits more from mnemonic skills: an ordinary student or an incremental reader. Both will benefit tremendously. Poor mnemonics might greatly increase chances of wasting time on SuperMemo (getting the same questions over and over again without any effect).

It is also hard to say who benefits more from self-discipline. In incremental reading you can be lazy for months and still capitalize on once done work.

Of those two, probably high mnemonic skills are more important for IR.

The above tells you that all else being equal may also produce different outcomes depending on equal at what starting point?.

ultimate answer

Let's pit an excellent TLRer against and excellent IRer. If they are to battle for a decade, whatever criteria you choose, in the end, it will be a heavy knockout win for the IRer.