Sometimes you are asked for a word that you have met before, but you cannot remember it. In such a case, I usually try to guess the word, trusting my brain to know it, even if I am not consciously aware of it.

Sometimes I am happily surprised to see that I have every letter but one, or I have produced an anagram (right letters, wrong order), or I have simply used the wrong ending. When this happens, I imagine that (the unconcious part of) my brain records the near hit, and then adjusts itself to register the correct answer.

Sometimes, however, I will find that the adjustment does not happen immediately, and that I will type the same slightly wrong word the next (few) times it is asked for.

In other cases, the word I guess is completely wrong. I am concerned that typing such a wrong answer initially encourages my brain to consider it as a right answer, so that the next time I see the cue for this word, my brain feels more confident about giving the wrong answer.

Because of this, sometimes I simply think of the answer that I am tempted to give, and then hit the Reveal button. And to my dismay, sometimes the word I thought of is exactly the right one; if I had typed it, I would have reinforced the right answer in my brain, rather than reinforcing the idea that "I don't know" this word.

So here are my questions:

  • Learners: what technique do you prefer to use when you encounter a word that you know you have seen before, but cannot remember?
  • Lingvist: is there a way that you could test which technique is most effective for learning?

For the test, I imagine adding a checkbox that says something like "My mind is blank". (This could be an evocative icon). If the learner checks this button before either entering a guess or pressing Reveal, then your database can record the learner's doubt. When you have collected enough data, you can run queries to see how many further attempts the learner needed to assimilate the word.

It may be that one technique works better for some individuals and the other technique works better for others, or it may be clear that one technique is better for all learners.