Thank you for your interest in the Goldlist Method! I see that your article contains a lot of misconceptions about it, so that even though your understanding of memory is accurate, you reach the wrong conclusion in the end. I’ll try to clear things up for you, since I have been using the GLM for many years and to great effect.
“But how do you know it’s effective? Is it actually based on any real science?”
This is a rhetorical question, but I will answer it anyway. You know it’s effective when it does what it is designed to do. And the GLM does do what it is designed to. And it is based on real science, namely on the forgetting curve. The two weeks are the core of the method; everything else is more or less optional.
“First of all, here is a great video which sums up what this method is all about.”
Christopher Huff’s video is indeed great, but it is intended as a tl;dr version of the full explanation, so it is good that you have included a link to a fuller explanation. However, it would have been even better if you had also included the link to David’s newly refined explanation so that readers could get it straight from the horse’s mouth. The new explanation seeks to clear up common misunderstandings that have become apparent and that he was not (and couldn’t have been) aware of when he first posted it.
“The author of the method maintains that:
1. The method allows you to retain up to thirty percent of the words in your long-term memory.”
This is only partly true. It isn’t the method itself that gives you a 30% retention rate. Rather, the method is based on the observation that, on average, people remember around 30% of the words after two weeks. This is illustrated by Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve later in the article, so I will get back to this.
“2. It is also claimed that the process circumvents your short-term memory – you are expected to make no conscious effort to remember words. Thanks to this the information will be retained in your long-term memory.”
A better way to put it is that it is claimed that conscious memorization is discouraged because it is less effective for long-term retention (but indeed better for short-term retention). David does speak in terms of switching on and off memory functions, but he is not a memory scholar, so his hypotheses are not written in the standard academic terminology.
“1. It doesn’t circumvent short-term memory
One of the big claims of this method is that it is able to circumvent your short-term memory. Somehow, thanks to it, you are able to place all the information straight in your long-term memory.”
Well, around 30% of it, and the method is based on the retention rate, not the other way around.
“In other words, initiation of consolidation is under conscious control and requires the use of central attention. The mere fact of looking at a piece of paper and reading/writing words activates it.”
That’s right, but remember that what David calls ‘short-term memory’ is not the same as ‘working memory’. In GLM terms, the long-term memory is everything you still remember after two weeks, and anything you didn’t remember for two weeks is considered to have been stored in the short-term memory. In standard academic terminology, both of these would be considered ‘long-term memory’.
“Next, the items you learn undergo working memory consolidation.
Working memory consolidation refers to the: transformation of transient sensory input into a stable memory representation that can be manipulated and recalled after a delay.
Contrary to what the creator of this method believes, after this process is complete, be it 2 weeks or more, the short-term memories are not gone. They are simply not easily accessible.”
In practical terms, it doesn’t really make much of a difference whether a memory is gone or you are unable to access it. The result is the same: you have forgotten it.
“You probably have experienced this phenomenon yourself many times. You learned something in the past. Then, after some years, you took it up again and were able to regain your ability relatively quickly. It was possible because your memories were still there. They just became “neuronally disconnected” and thus inaccessible.”
Indeed. This is what is called ‘activation’ in GLM terms.
“What’s more, the Ebbinghaus curve’s numbers are based on the assumption that the learned material :
– means nothing to you
– has no relevance to your life
– has no emotional load and meaning for you
On the curve, you can see that if you memorize information now and try to recall after 14 days, you will be able to retrieve about 21-23% of the previously memorized knowledge. Mind you that this is the knowledge which is incoherent, bears no emotional load and means nothing to you.”
Exactly. So when the words (or whatever else you want to remember) aren’t random, but part of a language you want to learn, we would expect this number to be somewhat higher. And it does indeed seem to be around 30% on average.
“What happens when you start manually writing down words which interest you or when you are able to establish some connection between them and your life? Well, this number can definitely go up.
Keep in mind that your recall rate will also be affected by:
– frequency of occurrence
– prior vocabulary knowledge
So is there anything magical about the method and the number “30”?
Nope. It follows very precisely the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve which takes into account your short-term memory. Sometimes this number will be higher, sometimes it will be lower depending on your choice of words.”
That’s right. And this is what the GLM is based on.
“The Gold List Method is just a spaced repetition method with bigger intervals.”
That’s right, and for good reason. Normal spaced repetition systems try to catch words and bring them back as soon as you forget them, but by doing so, you end up reviewing a lot of words that you already know. In fact, based on the forgetting curve you probably know about 30% of the material essentially for life after having looked at it only once, and yet you will spend valuable study time reviewing it.
In the GLM system, you instead wait until you’ve forgotten all or almost all of what you won’t remember for life, and only then do your review. After two weeks, the forgetting curve is almost completely flat, so that is a good cut-off point.
“Even though the Gold List Method has initially the low activation energy, it starts growing considerably with each and every distillation.”
I’m sorry, what? Each distillation lessens it, if anything, because there are fewer lines for each distillation.
“Having to carry with you a couple of A4 notebooks seems also very impractical to me.”
The vast majority of distillations require only one book, and it does not have to be A4. Only the initial headlist and each transfer into a new book require more than one book.
“However, the biggest problem I have with this method in this department is that it suggests I only learn words I am interested in.”
No, it doesn’t mean that in the way you take it to mean. With any method you have to decide which words you are going to learn, e.g. all the words in your textbook, all the words of a certain frequency, etc. These words are the ones you want to learn, or in other words, the ones you are interested in learning.
“Good learning methods should work for any kind of vocabulary.s
And they should work particularly well for the vocabulary you’re interested in.”
Yeah, like the GLM. 🙂