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Forgetting is Learning!

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

Forgetting helps learning! This may seem counterintuitive but the process of forgetting is an essential part of the learning process.

Have you ever forgotten a password for your computer or a social media site? Every time you struggle to remember that password when you come back to login actually strengthens your memory. So when you enter a couple of responses and then get the correct one, you just strengthened your memory for that password (pressing the ‘Forgot Password?’ button to get a new password doesn’t count). Robert A. Bjork and Elizabeth L. Bjork (2020) study this link between forgetting and learning emphasizing the struggle to recall information from memory is important for strengthening the memory and reducing forgetting. They call these necessary struggles to recall and its relationship to enhancing learning desirable difficulties because it is important to go through the difficult process of recalling a memory in order to reinforce that memory. Further, Kornell, Bjork, and Garcia (2011) explain that retrieving information from memory improves learning and, perhaps more importantly, prevents forgetting suggesting that the more a memory is retrieved the stronger that memory becomes and, of course, those memories not retrieved are forgotten.

So forgetting and trying to remember is the key to memory. The same idea works with our practice tests; you may not know all the answers but it is important to try and struggle to remember. Then when you go back and look at the feedback following the completion of the practice test you are strengthening the connection, and frankly, when you come back and do a similar question there’s a much better chance that you will remember the answer. So we recommend you struggle through the questions that you don’t know. Respond to every question you encounter. Over time your memory becomes stronger and you gain the background knowledge you need in order to excel in your course.

Try the following social studies practice test. It concerns the causes of the French Revolution. Expressing Nationalism: The Causes of the French Revolution

We create learning modules and practice tests to help students prepare for their courses. Our practices tests activate the testing effect and offer elaborative feedback to help clarify information. We build additional learning science into our modules including spaced practice, interleaving, and metacognition.


Bjork, R. A., & Bjork, E. L. (2020). Desirable difficulties in theory and practice. Journal of

Applied research in Memory and Cognition, 9 (4), 475-479.

Kornell, N., Bjork, R.A., and Garcia, M.A. (2011). Why tests appear to prevent forgetting: A distribution-based bifurcation model. Journal of Memory and Language, 65 (2) 85-97.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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