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If you are a student, you have probably heard of active recall. It is one of the most talked about study techniques, and for good reason.

It has been proven that practicing active recall regularly is one of the best ways to remember what you have studied

Here are 5 ways to incorporate this technique into your study session. Let’s go!

What is active recall

So what is active recall? In other words, it’s the brain’s process of searching for an answer.

Some examples of active recall:

  • During an exam, when you have to answer a question based on what you have studied, you are using active recall to retrieve information from your memory.
  • Explaining to a friend or classmate a concept you have just studied. The teaching process requires you to actively recall information to explain it correctly.
  • When you write an essay or paper without referring to your notes, you are using active recall to remember the details and concepts you studied.

Compared with simply rereading a chapter or repeating a lecture, the challenge of recalling an answer helps people remember it better.

Active recall triggers the “test effect,” the theory that when information is retrieved from memory, it is better retained in long-term memory.

How do you use active recall?

1. Practice questions and past exams

Practice questions and past exams are another opportunity to test your brain and help you memorize things.

Remember that the goal is not to get everything right, but to get your brain used to the process of retrieving information (sometimes it can even be helpful to get the answers wrong).

Often in textbooks you can find problem sets, with answers at the bottom. Many professors also provide past exams or tests with answers to study from.

If you cannot find practice tests or tutorials, it is likely that your university is not the only one that has such a course. Do an online search to see if you can find past exams from similar courses at other schools.

There are several online communities where you can crowdsource practice tests and study notes.

2. The 3-step active recall study method

Another effective way is the 3-step active recall method.

  1. Getting familiar with the material. The first step involves immersion in the study material. This can be a chapter in a textbook, a lecture, or an educational video. Your goal is to understand the content and grasp the main ideas. Be sure to take notes as you go along. 
  2. Active recall of information. Once you have reviewed the material, it is time for active recall. Put away your notes and resources, and try to recall key points. This can be done by summarizing the content in your own words, drawing a diagram to represent the information, or asking yourself questions based on what you have just learned.
  3. Verify responses. The last step is to check your recall against the original material. Compare what you remembered with what is actually in the text or lesson. This step is crucial because it helps you identify any gaps in your understanding and areas where you need to focus more.

3. Studying with flashcards 

A key tool of active recall is definitely flashcards.

Flashcards work by presenting a question on one side and an answer on the other. This simple mechanism encourages active recall. 

When you see the question, your brain has to actively retrieve the answer from your memory. It is not just a simple review of information, it is an active process that helps reinforce what you have learned.

active recall

To take full advantage of the potential of flashcards in your study sessions, here are some tips:

  • Regular review: consistency is key when it comes to active recall. Review your flashcards regularly to reinforce your memory.
  • Customize your sessions: adjust the number of new cards you see each day and the intervals at which cards are shown according to your learning pace.
  • Use filters: keep your flashcards well organized using filters. This allows you to focus on the areas that need the most attention.
active recall

4. Pre-test before starting review

Pre-tests before the review help you assimilate more information during the actual study session.

You can also take advantage of practice questions – see point 1 – before starting the study session. Alternatively, you can use questions derived from your notes or textbook. Simply scroll through the questions you wrote and try to answer them. Or upload your papers to dende – it will generate questions for you in a few seconds:

active recall

You can use multiple-choice tests as a form of pre-testing before you start studying a new topic. This approach helps you identify weak areas and focus on them as you study.

After studying, repeat the test to see how your knowledge has improved, using active recall to retrieve information. 

5) Teaching a friend 

Teaching is one of the best ways to learn. So find a friend and try to explain to him or her what you are studying.

In this way, you actively access all the information you know and consolidate it, producing a simplified version of it.

Encourage them to find holes in your explanation and ask more questions about things they don’t quite understand. In this way you will be forced to think outside the box and answer ad hoc questions.

The point is to reframe what you know and communicate it so that someone else (who does not know the underlying concepts or vocabulary) can also understand it.

These are 5 ways to incorporate active recall into your study routine. It can be used with any subject or learning material, and you can adapt it to your study habits and preferences.

Remember, consistency is the key. The more you practice this method, the better you will be able to recall information and the more you will remember in the long run. So why not try it in your next study session?

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Alec Conti

Before an exam, I always felt I wasn't ready enough, which caused me anxiety. To solve this, I created I lead the product team, aiming to bring AI learning to the world and help every student believe a little more in themselves.