Active recall is a powerful revision technique for memorising information and beating exam stress. If your revision sessions feel time-consuming yet ineffective, then you’re not alone! Many of us revise by using traditional revision techniques like rereading. These study methods are popular but they’re not the most effective for remembering information long term. This is why you might struggle to remember the content you revised despite putting in the time and effort. The good news is, there’s a better way to revise. Active recall can make your revision more effective, efficient, and enjoyable.
What is Active Recall?
Active recall is the process of retrieving information from memory without looking back at your study materials. This study method and learning principle is the best way to remember information long term. If you’ve ever used flashcards or completed exam-style questions without notes, then you’ve experienced active recall! Both of these revision techniques require you to recall information from scratch, and are often more effective than simply rereading. Essentially, active recall is repeated self-testing that is done throughout your revision. Instead of cramming information into your brain, you focus on retrieving the knowledge you already have, and identifying the gaps within your knowledge. This improves your ability to retain and recall the information in your long-term memory.
The Evidence Behind the Study Tip
Is active recall really that effective? This learning principle is backed by research, and recommended by studytubers and productivity content creators, such as Ali Abdaal and Thomas Frank. In 2013, an important review of various study techniques identified practice testing, also known as active recall, to be one of the most useful, easy to learn, and time efficient study techniques for improving student performance. Active recall encourages you to practise retrieving target information from your long-term memory, and allows you to mentally organise that material for better retention.
This review took into account different learning conditions, materials and student characteristics when judging which learning techniques were most effective. By doing this, the authors showed that active recall was effective for most students and subjects. In 2021, a meta-analysis of learning technique studies provided further support for the conclusions made in the 2013 review, and again confirmed practice testing (active recall) to be the most effective learning technique. Recent studies have also shown active recall is beneficial for all students, and promotes long lasting learning.
How to Revise More Effectively
Before we dive into the best ways to implement active recall, let’s look at common mistakes to avoid when using this study and revision technique. Active recall is simple and easy to add to your study routine. However, some students make the mistake of using it to memorise all the information they possibly can for their subject or topics. This isn’t the best way, but you can easily avoid such mistakes by:
- Prioritising your understanding of the material you want to learn. It’s important to have a good base knowledge of your learning material and subject area. This will allow you to make meaningful connections, and will boost the effectiveness of your active recall. Being able to show that you understand how topics link together and can be compared is important for getting those higher grades.
- Making active recall a meaningful and effective process. Your revision content should focus on more than just facts and figures. These specifics are important, but so is a broad understanding of the more general topics. You can then nest those details into the broad topics and build up your knowledge base. Real active recall will feel challenging and require some mental effort. If you encounter something you can’t remember, that’s okay! Have a go at actively recalling the answer and then use your incorrect answers as feedback. This will improve the effectiveness of your revision sessions.
Study Tips for Implementing Active Recall
Active Recall for Learning
You can learn new material more efficiently by implementing active recall into popular study methods such as note taking and highlighting. These methods are ideal for organising your learning material in a meaningful way that aids active recall. This simply involves testing yourself after each section or topic while you learn. The key here is to put away your study materials and readings before you make notes. You can then use free recall to write down everything you remember from memory. This can be done using mind maps, bullet point lists, or by talking out loud. Any gaps in your knowledge can then be filled by returning to your study materials. Before each study session, you can use free recall as a method of active recall to go over the topic you covered previously. This way, you can boost the effectiveness of highlighting and note taking for learning new material, simply by implementing active recall into the process.
Scope Your Subject
You can gain a high-level overview of your learning material by scoping your subject. From memory, actively recall broad topics, sub-topics and the connections between these topics using a mind map or structured diagram. This provides an outline of the important and meaningful learning areas that can act as a framework for revision. You can use this technique regularly to check your understanding of the broader topics, and quickly identify gaps in your knowledge. In assessments, this exercise will help you to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your knowledge.
Active Recall for Revision
Flashcards and Quizzes
You’ve most likely used flashcards and quizzes to revise before. These methods use cued recall and are ideal ways to implement active recall when revising. If you’ve taken the time to understand and organise your learning material, then your flashcards and mini quizzes can help you to commit this information to memory. These study methods are great for memorising key points, important facts, figures or formulae. Be sure to have a good go at actively recalling the answer. If you look before you have a go, you’ll have recognised the information instead of recalling it. Your incorrect answers can be used as future study material to catch yourself if you make the same mistakes.
Apply Your Knowledge
Being able to recall factual information is important, however, being able to apply that information can help you to excel in your exams and assessments. Active recall can be used to complete mock exams, past papers or practise questions. Completing exams and questions before your real exam might sound stressful but you don’t need to treat it exactly like a real-life assessment. Instead, you can break questions down into essay plans, outlines and bullet points. You could take 1-2 topics and write up a paragraph comparing them or listing criticisms. As long as you’re doing this from memory, it’s a great way to implement active recall. Make it easier for yourself to start by breaking the questions into smaller sections.
Space Out Your Revision
Active recall is most effective when paired with distributed practice over time. But how do you know when to use active recall and how often? Spaced repetition provides a timeframe for active recall based on the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. This framework suggests recalling information in shorter intervals at the beginning, and longer intervals when you’re familiar with the information. One way to keep track of your progress with active recall and spaced repetition is the retrospective revision timetable. This planning tool gives you a visual overview of your subject topics, the last date you studied that topic, and a colour code indicating how confident you felt recalling that information. You can use this timetable to study in a flexible way, avoid procrastination, and focus on active recall for each topic until it sticks.
How to Use Jamworks for Active Recall
Jamworks is a personal productivity learning tool for recording live and online lectures, seminars and meetings with assisted note taking, live captioning, and AI generated quizzes. You can break down lecture content into highlight sections that are labelled and paired with your own notes. These highlights are then summarised into bite-sized study notes using artificial intelligence (AI). You can view the AI generated summaries alongside the original transcript for the highlight in a structured and easy to navigate space. Your highlights are then turned into Flashcard Quizzes to help you start your revision.
Learning your lecture material is simple and efficient with Jamworks. Using key highlights and AI summaries, you can scope your subject with ease. You can do this by skimming over the topics covered during lecture for a quick overview. Using labels and personal notes with document or image attachments, you can organise your learning material in a meaningful way that aids active recall later. Finally, assisted note taking, live captioning, and full lecture transcripts can allow you to focus on understanding the material in class, which is an important first step for effective active recall.
Jamworks’ simple but powerful features are the perfect place to start with active recall for revision. Flashcard quizzes save you time by turning your study highlights and AI-powered summaries into questions. These flashcard quizzes are ideal for getting started with active recall early on in your learning journey. You can make use of spaced repetition instantly instead of waiting to refine your lecture notes, or rewatch the content. If you forget something, you can quickly view the summarised answer or easily watch back that highlighted clip without having to scroll through the lecture to find what you need.
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