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Improve Your Grades Easily Using Spaced Repetition and Active Recall

Student Life

February 21, 2022

You've got a big exam in a couple of days and you can't stay awake to review another set of notes or read another textbook chapter. You slowly feel yourself losing your alertness and wish you could remember the material you learned in school more easily. What if there were a way to achieve that?

What if you knew that you are already doing a lot of the things involved with some of the best study and memory methods out there? Would you like to improve your grades quickly and easily with just a simple change in your study methods? Those Straight A's are closer now than ever, because in this article, we'll look at two of the most effective memory and study strategies available: Active Recall and Spaced Repetition.

Active Recall

Active recall is commonly referred to as one of the most effective study methods and is especially useful for connecting and memorizing concepts and ideas. In fact, in a 2008 study by Purdue University and Washington University in St. Louis, the participants who used active recall remembered 80% of the terms they were given as opposed to 34% in the group who did not study using active recall.

However, this amazing memory strategy is simply the process of forcing your brain to remember information on the spot. This means that rather than going back and rereading the material another time or writing the important information on your hand throughout the week before the big test (we've all been there), you are remembering the information yourself! You are testing yourself and checking to see if your answer is right afterward.

It is best to still come up with an answer when you are testing yourself, even if you know it's not right, and tell yourself: "That was a good try, but now I know what the right answer is." In terms of studying, there are several simple ways you can do this. Say, for example, that you've just heard a lecture about the American Revolution and took notes. To perform active recall and improve your chances of retaining the information once you begin your studying, start by closing your textbook and putting away any notes that you have on the material. Then, if there are practice questions that your teacher assigned for homework, try to complete those as best you can without using your notes or textbook.

That's already doing active recall! This is forcing your brain to go back and recall the information you already know about the topic! Of course, there are several other ways that you can do active recall, and you can try a variety of different methods of doing so for different subjects or for different points in time (we will discuss this shortly). Here are 5 other ways that you can do active recall to improve your studying:

1. Quizlet Flashcards

Going into Quizlet and finding a deck of digital flashcards related to the topic you are studying is a great method of active recall! Quizlet is completely free to use: all you need to do is sign up with a Google account and you will have access to all kinds of flashcards that teachers and students make and post! In this, you can take your studying on the go as long as you have your phone.

This type of studying will help your brain recall the information for itself rather than looking at a multiple-choice question with a list of possible correct answers to choose from: extra helpful for the big test. Quizlet also has different games (also for free) within it that will test your memory using active recall, such as activities where you need to write the answer to the question you are shown or even a quick practice test! The tools for active recall are truly limitless with Quizlet!

2. Anki Flashcards

Anki is very similar to Quizlet in that it allows you to study with digital flashcards for free (on Androids and web browsers). However, this is more geared toward the user creating their own online flashcards as opposed to the community sharing flashcards seen on Quizlet. If you like to make your own study tools, Anki is probably right for you! Since these are flashcards, it will put your memory of your vocabulary words or facts to the test and allow your brain to pull back and retrieve the information. You can also take this deck of flashcards anywhere with you and test yourself on the ride home, during lunch, or between classes if need be!

3. Ask Yourself to Explain a Concept or Vocabulary Word

Going back and thinking to yourself about the content you learned in class can be a very effective method of active recall. You can mentally ask yourself questions such as: "What is Darwin's theory of evolution?" or "Explain the process of Photosynthesis" and then answer them in your head one by one. You can also do this on paper of course, similar to creating your own practice quiz for yourself!

You can take a piece of paper and write down some questions about the topic you are studying, answering each one in writing as you go along without using your study materials. Either way you choose, this is still pulling back in your memory and helping you get more acquainted with the material, helping to strengthen your overall memory and your knowledge of what you're studying at the same time!

4. Find a Practice Quiz Online

Finding a practice quiz on the internet for the subject you are studying can be a very effective way to recall information on your own! Quizziz is a very fun and free tool to find such practice: this is a platform similar to Quizlet in that teachers and students create practice quizzes on various topics and post them so that they are available for any student to use. All you need for Quizziz is a Google account as well!

However, it is also very possible to find online quizzes for the material you are trying to study without using Quizziz every time. Doing a simple internet search for the name of your textbook and the chapter or section you are studying can lead you to some new resources! If you have the type of lecture notes where there are blanks to fill in as the teacher is lecturing, even obtaining a blank copy of the notes (without the blanks filled in) can be a great form of a practice quiz where you can test your memory and knowledge. There are truly many directions you can take this!

5. Try Explaining the Content to Someone else

You've probably heard before that teaching the material you are trying to remember to somebody else is a very effective way to memorize and retain information. This is because it is another activity in which your brain traces back in memory on its own to retrieve the information and solve the problem for itself rather than looking back in your textbook or notes! This doesn't have to be formal, either: you could simply hand a friend or sibling your notes and ask them to test you on a specific part of them.

Then, you can try to recite to them as much of the information as you can and they can fill you in on anything you may have forgotten or mixed up once you're done trying to explain the information on your own. This is also good practice of how to explain the concept if you're taking a written free-response exam especially: if you can explain it verbally to a friend, you can definitely explain it in writing during the exam!

As you can see, the commonality between all of these methods of active recall is that they cause the brain to search for the information on its own, helping to exercise and strengthen the memory while retaining information. You will probably come up with several similar methods on your own, too!

Spaced repetition

Now, you might be thinking: that all sounds great, but is there a certain way I need to apply this? Yes, there is the way to maximize how effective studying with active recall can be. However, it is also super simple to apply to your study routine: this is called spaced repetition.

This means that you are doing active recall after certain increments of time within one expanse of time. You could be doing it after specific intervals within the span of an hour, day, or week: it all really depends on how much time you have before the big test!

For example, you could review your notes or the textbook and then complete a deck of flashcards on Quizlet. Then after 30 minutes, you might do a Quizziz on the topic to reinforce your memory. Half an hour after that, you could pull up a blank copy of your fill-in lecture notes or make blanks in the notes you took from scratch and try to fill them in.

You can see how you are simply applying active recall, but on a schedule. This helps to combat the forgetting curve, which illustrates how we retain the majority of the information we learn right after we learn it, but as time goes on, we forget more and more of it. In fact, a 2015 study proved that we forget about 65% of the information we learn only one hour after learning it! Every bit of improved memory and information retention we can get is precious!

All in all, simply forcing your brain to pull back into the memory bank and retrieve information for itself is especially helpful for memorizing and retaining information for studying. However, to maximize effectiveness, a helpful tip is to make sure to space out when you do these recall activities based on intervals of time. Hopefully this article helped you get some new ideas for studying! Good luck on cutting down your study time while still maintaining or improving those hard-earned grades!

Canon Pham
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Writer since Jan, 2022 · 2 published articles

Canon Pham is an IB Diploma Candidate and high school Senior from California who is passionate about using her voice to raise awareness of important issues and build community among like-minded people. After her first semester of Junior year, she started an online publication called the IB Student Chronicle to help provide more information about the IB experience for prospective and first-year IB Diploma Candidates. Canon enjoys spending time with her two younger siblings, her adorable puppy dog, and her incredible group of friends.