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One of the things Ebbinghaus discovered would come as no surprise to any student who has tried 'cramming' the day before an exam: 24 hours after learning something, we forget about two-thirds of it. But he found that there are ways of overcoming this rapid, exponential 'forgetting curve'. He noticed that information sticks in our memory better if learned over several sessions, and that things that are repeatedly recalled are more easily retrieved from memory.
As well as lists of words, Ebbinghaus tested his ability to learn lists of three-letter nonsense syllables. He found that he scored much lower when trying to recall these than words that had meaning, and concluded that memorising and recalling information is more efficient if it is meaningful. Our minds do not simply store and retrieve information mechanically, but go through a cognitive process of trying to make sense of it, so that important or significant information is more efficiently stored and more easily retrieved.