Active Recall Studying: Why You Should Try it!

by | Jun 18, 2024

Our general perception of studying often paints the picture of cramming late into the night before an important exam. We’ve been told time and time again that this is ineffective and creates a large amount of stress and pressure on us. While we’re told this, it’s hard to break away from old habits that die hard. For this reason, I’m bringing up the idea of active recall studying and why you should ultimately try it! It doesn’t matter if you’re a middle school or a college student, I promise these techniques will go a long way in helping your study workflow. But before we dive into what these techniques are, let’s first define active recall studying.

What is Active Recall Studying?

Active recall studying is the process in which you use memory techniques to easily recall information. Birmingham City University defines active recall as:

pulling information out of your memory, without any prompts. The magic of active recall for revision is that instead of passively absorbing or recognizing information, you’re forcing your brain to dig it out, strengthening neural connections for long-term memory.

Active recall studying allows students to better retain information pertinent for an upcoming exam or paper. It’s not only useful for studying but, encourages healthier learning techniques. In a study done by the American Psychological Association, students who used active recall studying techniques scored higher on exams when compared to students using more typical study methods. The important thing to keep in mind is that each student has different preferences for studying. While there’s a diverse range of active recall techniques that we’ll cover, not every student will be effective with each and every technique. It’s important to try them all out and find which ones work best for you.

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Active Recall Studying Techniques

It’s important to note that while these are ‘studying’ techniques, many of them will be employed in the classroom during instructional time. This is because active recall actively pushes you to stay engaged with the lesson content both inside and outside of the classroom. On top of this, these techniques can be used in almost any school setting: homeschool, public school, private school, etc. Each technique can be explored and adapted to fit your learning environment.

1. Asking Questions

This may seem obvious, but asking questions is important! Remember how I was saying that we’ll talk about techniques to stay engaged? This is one of them! Students who are asking questions in the classroom are actively engaging with the lesson content. This engagement helps you not only pay attention, but assists with the recollection of information later. Students who are engaged with the lesson have a better understanding of the content and when studying, are able to recall said information more easily. On top of this, it helps build a better relationship with the teacher.

2. Flashcard Studying

Flashcards are a great way to engage in active recall studying techniques. Flashcards are easy to setup and run through, which gives you repetition on the lesson content. If you’re a musician, think about flashcards as like practicing scales but for your brain. Inversely, if you’re an athlete, think about them as going to the gym and prepping before a big game. Practice isn’t just necessary, but builds discipline and rewards dedication. They can even be digitized! Apps like Quizlet, allow you to create custom flashcard decks on your phone. It can highlight problem terms/concepts and helps you reinforce any weaknesses in your studying!

3. Summarize Information

For many students, studying boils down to reading and rereading concepts straight from the textbook. It’s easy to let your mind wander as the minutes tick by which is where this technique comes into play. Summarizing the information you’re studying forces a level of understanding that normal studying doesn’t accomplish. It makes you understand things at a deeper and more fundamental level. Even in subjects like math, just writing down in paragraphs, the process in which to solve an equation, can be a rewarding study session.

Give it a Shot!

We only scratched the surface of active recall study techniques, but I encourage you to give each of these a shot! Like I mentioned previously, not every technique will work for you. Some techniques even work best in combination with others! The one consistent piece of advice I can give you is don’t cram! These techniques need to be employed well in advance before an exam. I challenge you to start as early as today or tomorrow at or after school!

If you need more hands on help with studying, I recommend checking out our one-to-one tutors at TenneyTutors. Each of our tutors are real, professional private school teachers. This means you’re getting the most experienced tutor possible! Fill out the form below to schedule your first free session and see how TenneyTutors can help you today!


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