Active recall is a learning technique that can be extremely helpful in boosting your memory and understanding of new information. It is used by both medical school and dental school students when memorizing lots of new material. In this blog post, we will discuss what active recall is, how to use it effectively, and the advantages and disadvantages of using this technique.
What is active recall?
Active recall is a type of retrieval practice where you actively try to remember something that you have learned. This can be done in a number of ways, but the most common is by testing yourself on the material. This could be through writing out answers to questions, verbally answering questions, or using flashcards. This differs from passive learning, where you instead are reading material and not testing yourself to try and remember the information. The aim of active recall is to get you to access the information stored in your long-term memory, and by doing so, you should be able to remember it more easily in the future.
What does the research say About Active Recall?
There is a lot of research that has been conducted on active recall and its effectiveness. The general consensus is that it is an extremely effective way to learn. A study by Karpicke and Roediger (2008) found that students who tested themselves on material were more likely to remember the information than those who simply studied the material. Furthermore, the students who tested themselves also had a better understanding of the material.
To further drive the point home, a comprehensive 58-page meta-analysis assessing the efficacy of ten distinct study methods rated active recall as a high-utility study approach.
Why Does Active Recall Work?
There are a few reasons why active recall is such an effective learning technique. One reason is that it forces you to access the information stored in your long-term memory. When you actively try to remember something, you are effectively telling your brain that this information is important and needs to be remembered. This will lead to the formation of stronger memories, which will be easier to recall in the future.
Another reason active recall is so effective is that it allows you to identify any gaps in your knowledge. When you test yourself on material, you quickly realize if there are any areas that you do not understand. This can then lead to more focused and effective studying as you can target these specific areas.
It is also thought to boost confidence as it provides a sense of achievement when you are able to answer questions correctly.
Finally, active recall is effective because it is spaced out over time. When you test yourself immediately after learning material, you are more likely to forget it soon after. However, if you wait a day or two before testing yourself, you are much more likely to remember the information in the long-term. This is due to the spacing effect, which states that information is more likely to be remembered if it is spaced out over time.
Steps for using Active Recall
Now that we know what active recall is and why it works, let’s discuss how to use it effectively.
Choose the Method of Active Recall Testing You Will Use
The first step is to find a method of active recall that works for you. This will be different for everyone. Medical school students will swear up and down about the benefits of using the Anki app in combination with spaced repetition for learning. Other students prefer using their own flashcards or using apps like Quizlet. The important thing is to find a method that you are comfortable with and that you will be able to stick to.
Create Questions as you Learn New Material
We recommend that you create questions as you learn new material. Your knowledge of topics will be at its freshest when you are learning them. As you digest new information think of possible questions and answers and write them down in your notebook. These can later be converted to Quzliets, anki decks, or flashcards, with questions on one side and answers on the other. This will save you time later when you are trying to come up with questions on your own.
Use Practice Questions Online and from Your Teacher
In addition to creating your own questions, it is also helpful to use practice questions from online sources or given to you by your teacher. When using online resources, we recommend that you find a reputable source as some websites will post incorrect information. A great way to find quality questions is to look for old exams from your school or from other schools. These will usually be more accurate than questions found online.
Follow a Schedule of Spaced Repetition
Once you have found a method, the next step is to create a schedule. In a perfect situation, you should aim to test yourself on the material once per day. Understandably this is not always possible, so use active recall as much as the circumstances allow.
It is important to ensure that you space out your testing sessions. For example, if you learn the material on Monday, it might also be a good idea to test yourself on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. As you continue to relearn the material you can slowly increase the amount of time between study sessions. This will allow you to take advantage of the forgetting curve.
The number of times you study should be proportional to the kind of material you are studying and the amount of time you have. These are just suggestions, alter the timeframe to meet your needs.
Stick to your Schedule
The final step is to stick to your schedule and be consistent with your testing. It can be easy to skip a day or two here and there, but this will decrease the effectiveness of active recall. If you find yourself struggling to stick to your schedule, try setting reminders or enlisting the help of a friend.
How to use Active Recall Effectively
There are a few things to keep in mind when using active recall:
- Make sure you are testing yourself on the material you want to remember. Active recall will only work as well as the questions you create. This means you need to be clear on what the main points are that you want to remember.
- Try to recall the information as soon as possible after you have learned it. The sooner you test yourself, the easier it will be to remember the information.
- Don’t just focus on recalling the correct answer, but also try to understand why the answer is correct. This will help you to better remember the material in the future.
- Be consistent with your testing. The more frequently you test yourself, the better your results will be.
- Be patient with yourself. Active recall can be difficult, and it may take some time to get used to it. However, the more you practice, the easier it will become.
Disadvantages of Active Recall
Despite the many benefits of using active recall, there are also some disadvantages that should be considered. One of the main problems with using active recall is that it can be time-consuming. This is particularly true if you are testing yourself on a large amount of material and creating questions for yourself. Furthermore, active recall can also be frustrating if you are struggling to remember the answers to questions. It is important to persevere with this technique, however, as the more you use it, the easier it will become.
Overall, active recall is a highly effective learning technique that can be used to boost your memory and understanding of new information. Although it can be time-consuming and frustrating at times, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. If you are looking for a way to improve your learning, then active recall is definitely worth trying.