Study Techniques You Need to Know Now (Stop Highlighting!).

click here for 3 study techniques to use active recall

If you are still highlighting your notes, you need to put that bright yellow texta away. I’m about to hit you with some way better study techniques.

And if don’t know what active recall is yet, you are digging yourself an even bigger hole!

Active recall is a method of studying that allows you to get the most out of your study sessions and teaches your brain to be better at recalling information – exactly what you need to do when your exam comes around.

If you haven’t heard about it yet, check out my blog post here that looks at exactly what active recall is, the neuroscience behind it and some tips on how to implement it correctly.

Today, we’re going to look at three physical study techniques you can use to study with active recall methods. Let’s raise that GPA!

3 Study Techniques to Add to Your Routine

1. Flashcards

No surprises here! This is the most common way that people implement active recall methods in their study techniques.

It captures the essence of active recall – put something on one side of the card and ask your brain to conjure up the answer (that’s hidden on the other side!)

You can do this in a magnitude of ways – buy a set of empty flashcards from the local store and handwrite out the things you need to study.

Alternatively, you can use apps like Anki or what I use, Quizlet to create digital flashcards that you can study at anytime (like on the bus, or during your work break!)

It’s really easy and simple to get set up. Typically, my flashcards involve a word or phrase to define, or a phrase that encourages the recall of a list of information, like: “Checklist of Data Cleaning.”

With Quizlet especially, you have a few different ways you can interact and use your flashcards.

You can simply study them (see one side, and recall what’s on the other before flipping it over) but you can also use other functions like ‘match’, ‘test’ or ‘write’.

Match is exactly how it sounds – match the definition/phrase to its’ content. For Write, you write out the complementary side, and for test, you get to engage in a multiple choice quiz.

quizlet app flashcards for study with active recall

Have a look at other apps I use as a student here.

2. Create Your Own Questions

Flashcards aren’t anything new or revolutionary but a study technique that may be new news to you is writing out your own short answer or multiple choice questions!

For me, I like to do the first reading of a chapter or lecture, and make my own summary notes.

Using summary notes (or on your initial reading of the topic), you can create a list of questions relating to the content.

This is a really simply way to practice active recall, but requires slightly different preparation to get set up.

Then, whenever you need to do a study session, you can open up your document of questions and practice recalling that information.

Remember that even getting the answer wrong and then checking your answer allows for improvement in your later ability to recall the necessary information.

And, when exam time comes around, you won’t need to pester your lecturer for a bunch of sample questions. You’ve got a whole lot prepared.

You can even share them around with your friends to get a taste of different types of questions – as you all may have prepared slightly different versions.

Here’s an example of how I have prepared questions for a particular topic (on Notion, of course!).

a list of student prepared questions to study with active recall

3. Cheat Sheet & Look, Cover, “Write”, Check

Something that I particularly enjoy doing for exams, is making sure that have instant access to a magnitude of content from the topic at once.

In this case, I like to write out ‘cheat sheets’ containing all information covered across the semester for each of my courses.

It’s nice and tiny to easily fit across two double-sided pages (usually, depending on how much content you are forced to memorise during your semester!)

For this course, I highlighted key words to know the definition of (pink), used green to highlight therapeutic techniques used, separated by weekly topics (purple). Anything that is news to me when I write it on the sheet (something I hadn’t remembered from previous classes) I highlight in yellow, to signify to myself that it is something I need to remember.

Then, I use these cheat sheets to practice active recall of a whole heap of information!

I use these two pieces of A4 paper for a ‘Look, Cover, “Write”, Check’ procedure. Just like in primary school spelling, where you look at a word, cover it up, write it again, and then check it.

I locate a random highlighted section, cover it with my hand, then repeat aloud anything I can remember about that definition/phrase/topic.

This works for content heavy courses, where you need to rote learn a whole heap of things. However, I have also used it for courses where students need to write essays, creating a mind map of the topics/things I need to know, before using the Look, Cover, “Write”, Check procedure.

a cheat sheet to use for look, cover, write, check to study with active recall

And that’s it!

Hopefully this gives you a few new study techniques that aren’t just re-reading your notes.

If you need a reminder again: here are the reasons why you should study with active recall. You are wasting your time if you think highlighting will get you the grades you want.

Happy Studying!

Check out my latest blog posts here.

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What is active recall? Breaking down the neuroscience of the famous study tip.

There is no doubt if you have ever Googled “best study techniques”, you will have been bombarded by people talking about active recall

But what does active recall actually mean? What is the testing effect? And how will it make you better at remembering stuff?

Today, let’s talk about the neuroscience of active recall.

What is active recall and the testing effect?

It is highly likely that someone on the internet (probably Ali Abdahl) has already told you to use active recall to enhance your exam grades.

Active recall is a process of learning.

Often, students like to re-read course materials, highlight or summarise class notes when preparing for exams.

However, none of these are truly effective ways to get material into your brain.

Active recall means asking yourself questions, testing yourself and prompting you to think about the concepts on your own.

Testing yourself encourages your brain to recall information from the dark corners of your mind.

And essentially, this process of testing allows you to practice exactly what you need to do in an exam, recall information.

Compare to other study methods…

Studies have shown time and time again that active recall leads to better learning and retention of information compared to any other study technique.

This review by Roediger and Butler, shows how researchers since 1909 have shown that active recall out-performs all other study methods.

Even Artistotle mentioned that “Exercise in repeatedly recalling a thing strengthens the memory.”

Six classic studies by Gates, Jones, Spitzer, Tulvig, Glover and Carrier and Pashler demonstrate how students (from school-aged to college) are able to perform better, recall more information and forget less by intermittent re-testing before a final exam.

They concluded that active recall provides a much better basis for remembering information than other forms of passive studying.

More recently, Wilkland-Hornqvist and researchers examined 83 undergraduate students in a cognitive psychology class.

The students were split into two groups: one that re-read the cognitive psychology information after initial learning, and a second group that was tested on the material six different times (with feedback).

After this, a final test showed that students who were previously tested on the material scored significantly better than those who simply re-read the information.

On top of this, the researchers found that a person’s general working memory ability (how well you can hold information in your mind short-term) didn’t change the beneficial effects of active recall during study.

This study by Karpicke & Blunt examined students’ learning across three different study methods: re-reading, concept mapping and retrieval.

While those who produced concept maps did perform better than those who simply re-read their notes, students who used active recall methods performed up to 50% better in the final test! (Time to throw away your mind maps).

This study by Karpicke & Roediger showed that you can even get these benefits by testing yourself only on things you couldn’t initially recall correctly.

They taught college students lists of foreign word pairs.

Different groups participated in different re-test conditions. Some were re-tested on all word-pairs, whereas other students had words dropped from their subsequent practice tests when they were correctly recalled.

Interestingly, there wasn’t any difference between the different conditions.

Repeated studying of material didn’t improve performance later on.

So how does it work?

In 2015, Broek and other researchers reviewed studies of active recall to uncover how the testing effect actually helps to improve memory.

They found that active recall is thought to improve learning through several different mechanisms.

Firstly, testing yourself and retrieving information is thought to change semantic networks in your brain (connections between meaningful stored information).

By activating these pathways when testing yourself, you are strengthening their connections by creating additional associations (as you are re-thinking of this information in a new context).

On top of this, testing yourself can also promote more streamlined thinking.

Practicing to answer a certain question with a specific target response, allows other irrelevant information to be set aside (that time you talked with your class mate about how it would be funny if ethanol was created when we did anaerobic exercise? Gone! You don’t need that information for the exam).

Further, instead of the textbook or class notes ‘cueing’ your remembering of the content, you are practicing using the question as a cue for your brain to remember the information.

Exactly what you need to do in an exam!

Overall, it seems that active recall helps to strengthen memory representations (and get rid of irrelevant stuff!).

How to Use Active Recall: What you Should Do

Think about it, at the end of the day, you are studying for an exam. You are studying to retrieve answers from your brain when you are presented with a question.

You are not studying to retrieve answers from your brain while reading class notes.

Stop re-reading your notes. Get rid of your mind maps.

Start actually studying for an exam!

Roediger and Butler (2011) have some suggestions on how to implement these methods.

Feedback enhances the testing effect

While you can still gain benefits from simply attempting to retrieve the information, feedback can further improve performance! Knowing what is right and wrong can help you to correct your responses or maintain ones that are already right.

Slowly increase time-lengths between testing.

Testing yourself every 30 minutes everyday will not necessarily improve the amount of exam information you retain.

The best way to use the testing effect is to first, check something is correctly ‘encoded’ (memorised) by testing yourself shortly after initial learning.

This might be a quiz after reading a textbook chapter.

Then, give yourself another test the next day.

After that, test again in another 3 days.

Studies show that consistent, shorter intervals between testing don’t actually further improve test performance. You can slowly give yourself longer and longer intervals between testing, and you will still see the benefits.

Lastly, as suggested by Karpicke & Roediger

Don’t waste your time testing information you’ve already recalled correctly.

Once you know it, you know it.

Don’t waste your time on already learned content. Focus on testing yourself on things you don’t know.

Time to be smart with your study session!

Check out exactly how I use actually use active recall when I study

click here for 3 study techniques to use active recall

Work smarter not harder.

While active recall may help improve the benefits you get from a study session, this is just one thing you can do to help increase your exam scores.

Check out my thoughts on what is actually the best studying technique here (you won’t believe what it is).

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