What is Active Recall?
Active recall is the secret to learning how to remember and retrieve information effectively. This learning principle proposes that we need to engage in retrieval practice to remember what we learn. Through this process of retrieving information from memory, we consolidate our learnings into long term memory. In contrast to passive methods of re-reading our notes, highlighting and summarising, active recall ensures we are regularly checking for gaps in our knowledge.
This study method is all about testing yourself. You might have used this technique already by practising exam questions or utilising flashcards for memorisation. These methods involve checking whether you can recall information from memory without checking your notes, or looking back at the textbook. By regularly retrieving the information you have learnt from memory, you strengthen the pathways to that memory, making it easier for you to recall in future.
But how can you implement active recall into your learning and revision and ensure you’re recalling information correctly? How can you fill in the gaps in your knowledge? Below, we’ll discuss some methods for putting active recall into place and some tools to make that process easier.
Questions vs. Re-Reading Notes
Instead of re-reading your notes, you can test yourself by turning your notes or learning material into questions. These questions can be as simple or complex as you need them. For each topic, you can write questions that allow you to retrieve the information from memory. Taking the time to turn your notes into questions for revision can be an effective way to pinpoint important themes and essential facts. Alternatively, you can do this as you learn, after learning a new topic, you can create a few questions to test your knowledge later. This will make it easier to get started on revision and regularly review material.
Notion is a digital workspace and note-taking tool that is great for implementing active recall. One feature in particular is perfect for creating well-structured questions lists. The ‘toggle’ option allows you to store information into a block that you can open and close with a click. You can write up your questions and store the answers within the toggle, making it easy to hide the information while you try to retrieve it from memory. These toggles can be nested within one another allowing you to organise topics and subtopics clearly.
This can help you to build an appropriate scope of your subject, and revise topic by topic with ease. For your answers, you can customise the information to your liking by adding images, videos or categorising information using different coloured text and highlights. This ensures you have all the material you need to fill in any gaps in your knowledge. Notion can also allow you to keep track of your progress, and when it’s best to next review the material, check out these templates to find out more: Active Recall and Spaced Repetition System and The Flashcard Database.
For a seamless transition from reading to revising, you can make use of genei’s note-taking and summarising capabilities. While working through your reading list in genei, you can add AI-generated notes and summaries to your notepad, and further build your notes with your own insights. You can make notes on a single document or on a folder of material, this allows you to build up your notes across various reading materials. These notes can then be used to populate revision material such as revision question lists.
Similar to creating questions, digital flashcard tools such as Anki are another brilliant way to practise recalling information. Anki is a free tool for creating and reviewing flashcards. The flashcard method is particularly useful when you need to memorise facts, formulas or remember the details behind readings, such as research papers. The best thing about Anki is that it knows when to show you material and implements spaced repetition. The more you know something, the less you’ll see it, this ensures you’re reviewing the content you’re struggling with.
The process of creating your own flashcards can help you to further engage with the material. You’ll be actively reviewing and organising information to create effective flashcards. Here, genei can also be useful for creating material that is flashcard ready. Particularly, genei’s AI generated notes and summaries are a useful way to populate flashcards when you need to memorise information from academic research. You can spend more memorising the important information rather than trying to condense it down for your flashcards. Likewise, if you’re memorising passages for essays, you can make use of genei pro’s writing features to paraphrase and rephrase content from your notepad. This makes it easier to avoid plagiarism and can provide a starting point for creating well-condensed flashcard material.
4 Tips for Implementing Active Recall
- Active recall can be used to learn material as well as memorise it. If you make it a habit to recall information from memory soon after learning it, you’re engaging with the material more proactively. For example, writing a few summary points after a lecture or completing a reading.
- Creating revision material will be more effective if your information is well-organised. Scope your subject and nest relevant material together. Make use of digital features and backlink material to see the connections as you revise. You’ll be actively thinking about these links when engaging in active recall instead of memorising information randomly.
- Make use of time management techniques to practise retrieving the information. The more often you do it, the better your memory will be. Set a timer or use the pomodoro technique, see how many flashcards or questions you can make it through. For the best results, making use of spaced repetition can help you to recall information when you’re likely to forget it.
- Remember, try your best to remember the information before looking at the answers! It can be frustrating to identify many gaps in your knowledge but regular practice is the best way to make things stick. Whether you’re writing your answers down or simply bringing the information you need to mind, you’re making progress towards understanding and memorising the material.