In this article we’re going to discuss what active recall studying is and how it can be useful for you. Anyone who has ever taken an exam knows how much anxiety you can feel at that moment. That’s why you can forget information that you have been studying and repeating for a long time. This is a very common problem for many students.
It is clear that we all want to learn things as fast as possible, but what to do if rereading, underlining a textbook is not enough for confident memorization of information?
When you make an effort to remember something, this is called active recall.
Let’s consider the scenario of learning foreign words for an exam. You’ve added all the words you want to know in the flashcard app and now go through them one by one. Each time you turn over a new card, you see the word you need to translate. At this point, trying to remember the answer from nearly nothing before you check it is the process of active recall.
In other words, it is information retrieval training, a process in which your brain searches the vast storehouse of knowledge for one particular fact or solution to a particular problem.
The difference between active recall, recognition, and passive review
So, active recall is different from simply recognizing the correct answer or passively studying the literature.
Active recall vs Recognition
Sometimes you may have the impression that you know it perfectly well, but in fact, you don’t. You may not be able to retrieve it from your memory on an exam or put it into practice when you need it. This is why multiple-choice exams like tests are ineffective when it comes to studying. Students determine the right option already from a ready-made list of answers, which gives them the mistaken impression that they have the knowledge. But in fact, all they do is simply learn the correct answer from the ones presented.
Conclusion: you only really possess knowledge when you can recall it completely from memory.
Active recall vs Passive review
Reading and rereading a textbook, underlining important thoughts, and taking notes is a passive study. Each of these activities is a fantastic way to make sense of information. However, they won’t necessarily help you remember it.
Try this: after a two-hour session of passive study, try giving a presentation of everything you’ve learned. Most likely that you won’t succeed.
Therefore, in addition to this training, it is highly recommended that you use active recall to create the deep brain connections necessary for long-term memorization. The easiest way to do this is with flashcards.
Why does active recall matter?
So, what are the benefits of using active recall as the primary studying method? Active recall helps you to get high knowledge scores. In addition, active recall is necessary for thorough but effective learning.
Active recall is an excellent method of learning new material.
Although both recognition and passive review are useful for reinforcement of knowledge in your long-term memory, active recall is much more successful. It is the most powerful and efficient method of learning. It doesn’t matter if it’s exams, hobbies, or problem solving. This method of learning is even more successful than outlining and making mind maps (although they are useful too).
The cognitive science behind active recall studying
Our ability to get the information from memory improves with practice only. In fact, it is the exercise of retrieving information that helps us in assimilating what we have learned.
The number of times you test yourself on your knowledge of the material makes the biggest difference. Thus, trying to recall material from the beginning of your study speeds up the process of learning and remembering new knowledge.
In addition, you should periodically recall previously learned information to recall previously acquired material, rather than focusing only on trying to remember something new. If you don’t, the new information will simply replace the old information. This is the way our brain works. If we don’t repeat something, our brain thinks we don’t need it and removes the information from our memory.
How can you use active recall to learn quicker?
Using active recall to improve memory and remember information more effectively can be accomplished in several ways.
1. The SQ3R method
In order to memorize the information you read in a textbook, such as an entire chapter in a Spanish textbook, an excellent strategy is the SQ3R approach. This technique consists of five steps:
- Read first. To get a general idea of the content, read the entire text first.
- Compose the questions. Make a list of questions that you think the book answers.
- Read the questions. Actively read the compiled questions, trying to answer them. If unsuccessful, read the original text again.
- Replay the text yourself. This is an active part of the memorization process. You must be able to recall what you have learned from memory. Use your own words when reciting the material. You can do this orally or in writing, depending on your preference.
- Check. Repeat for yourself what the purpose of the material was and summarize what you have learned after completing this unit.
2. The Feynman technique
One of the best learning methods is to teach someone else!
Instead of actually teaching others, you may describe the topic you’re learning out loud to someone else – whether it’s your cat, an indoor plant, or an imaginary sixth grader – as if the person knows nothing. Try to explain it in simple words, even if your subject is complicated.
If you can do that, then you are very good at your subject!
Flashcards are one of the most important tools for active memorization and productive learning. On one side of the flashcard is a question that asks you to actively recall the answer from memory, and on the other side is the answer. The process of memorizing words is based on the fact that you have to actually memorize the words, pull them out of your memory (as most of us usually do). Moreover, you need to memorize not only the translation, but also the spelling (the correct spelling, in fact, needs to be memorized as well).
Langavia Personal Dictionary application uses the active memorization principle in the process of memorizing words. The practice exercises are designed in such a way that you recall the words and pull them out of your memory. Such approach really allows you to strongly remember the words and phrases that you want to know.
Langavia uses the active memorization principle in word memorization exercises
Use active recall to study for your next exam
If you want to pass a difficult test or just master a foreign language, use active recall. It doesn’t matter if you’re in high school, university, getting a professional certification or just learning something new.
Using this learning strategy, you will be able to memorize any information fast and productive.
Repeat out loud as much material as you can remember. This is a process of intentionally remembering previously learned knowledge. You can do this either by yourself or with someone else.
Keep reading and rereading the literature you want to remember or study again, making notes of the information you could not remember or retain.