5 Active Recall Studying Techniques

Tricia Anklam
Published on
May 21, 2021

When it comes to studying, students try to read their notes over and over again to memorize the information, this is often called passive learning. However, passive learning doesn’t necessarily improve your level of understanding.

Active recall, on the other hand, requires you to interact with the material and further your understanding! Students who practice active recall have shown improved retention of material, test scores, and overall they do better in class. I’ve included a few methods of active recall below:

1. Flashcards

A simple but effective method of active recall studying is using flashcards! Write the vocabulary word/topic on one side of the flashcard and the more detailed information/ explanation on the other side.

Before practicing with the flashcards, I recommend becoming somewhat familiar with the material. Once you have a basic understanding, practice reading the definition/explanation side of the flashcard and try to actively recall the vocab word/topic on the other side and repeat this with all of the cards.

Once you have done this, I recommend making a pile of flashcards based on your understanding. For example, you can have low, mid, or high piles of understanding and can create the piles to suit your needs! This method also works well with digital apps for flashcards!

2. Whiteboard Recall

My personal favorite method of active recall is the “whiteboard method.” (If you don’t have a whiteboard, try putting a piece of paper in a sheet protector and writing on that with an expo marker).

Here are the steps:

  1. Start by writing what you need to know on a whiteboard, but try not to write too much information.
  2. Then read the information out loud, and turn away from the whiteboard and attempt to verbally recall the information.
  3. Now face the whiteboard and check yourself.
  4. You can repeat this process as many times as you may need to practice recalling difficult information.

Tip: if you have already made flashcards, try using those! This is a great way to practice information you are having difficulty understanding!

3. Excel Spreadsheet

For digital learners, try using a Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets template. In each row, write a question and next to the question in a separate column, write the answer. Do this for the entire topic you are studying. Then, highlight just the answers portion in white text.

Now you can quiz yourself:

  1. Read the question and try to recall the information.
  2. Once you have an answer, highlight the answer portion and turn the text to black.
  3. Highlight the question green for correct answers, yellow for partial answers, and red for questions you got incorrect.
  4. Repeat this process with the entire spreadsheet until you have all green questions.

4. Visual Aids

For those visual learners out there, try using visual aids to help you understand the material. Examples of visual aids include drawing pictures, diagrams, maps, charts; anything that helps you to visually see the information.

For example, if you need to memorize structures in the skin, drawing a diagram and labeling it would be a great way to help you remember! By using visual aids, you can make your learning process easier and even have some fun while doing so!

5. Practice Problems

For classes such as math and science that require you to solve problems, try doing practice problems! This is a great way to test your knowledge before a test and to figure out your weakest areas where you might need some help. You can find these in your textbook, get some from your teacher, or there are a ton of free resources online!

Active recall studying techniques allow you to interact with the material to further your understanding! By implementing some of these strategies, you can improve your test scores, understanding, and retention of material!

Find more free resources here!


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