How Active Recall Can Help You Study Smarter, Not Harder



Whether our students need extra help with standardized tests like the SAT/ACT or the AP exams or help getting ahead in challenging academic subjects like Honors Biology or AP Calculus, one thing is crucial to success: knowing how to study effectively. However, the private high school tutors at Thinque Prep find that even students at the high school level oftentimes misunderstand what it means to study in ways that are not only efficient but that make information stick. Today’s blog post defines active recall, a studying technique that has the power to change the way you learn and retain information.


To many students, “studying” means reading either material from a textbook or their own notes over and over again before a test. However, science shows that this is method of reviewing material is actually more time-consuming and less effective than the method we’ll be discussing today.


Rather than studying passively by going over information again and again and hoping it sticks, we encourage you to try active recall. Active recall means intentionally (actively) trying to remember (recall) the information you’re trying to learn. Active recall requires you to actually engage with the material and test your own memorization of terms and understanding of concepts.


So how does active recall actually work? Well, there are many ways to employ this powerful method. We’ll review just two techniques you can start using immediately.


You can call the first the “closed book” technique. First, read a short section of your textbook, then close it. Try your best to write down the main points and key concepts of that section in your own words. Then return to the book, see what you missed in your notes, and try again. Continue doing this until you’re satisfied with the level of accuracy with which you can recap the reading.


If you’re not trying to study using a traditional textbook (let’s say you’re studying for the SAT/ACT, for example), you can always replicate this technique using your own notes. If you’re trying to memorize all the grammar rules you’ll need to know for the English and Writing portions of the SAT and ACT, record all the rules you need to review in one place, then put them aside and try writing them down again and again until the list is complete and accurate.


The second technique can simply be called “teaching what you wish to learn.” You may have heard that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and that’s something the experts at Thinque Prep (most of whom are teachers at high schools and colleges) can confirm! Take the topic you’re studying and give a short lecture on it. You can deliver your lecture to a friend or family member, or even your pet or a potted plant. What matters is that you’re actively trying to remember the information and put it into your own words.


Let’s say you’re trying to review ahead of the AP US History Exam, and you’re not very confident in your knowledge of the differences between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Review the material, then pretend you’re an AP US teacher and you’re lecturing the class all about the topic. It doesn’t matter how polished your words are (or if your cat can walk away with a good impression of 18th-century American politics); it just matters that you try to deliver the information as clearly and accurately as possible. If there are dates and details you keep forgetting, just keep going back to the material then starting your lecture again.


We understand that transitioning away from the studying methods you’re used to and adopting new, more effective ones can be a challenging process. That’s why the tutors at Thinque Prep, who specialize in SAT/ACT and AP exam prep as well as any high school academic subject, are experts not only at helping students review material but at helping students develop the skills they need to review material effectively even when they’re not in a tutoring meeting.


If you’re interested the professional support you need to level up your study skills, the students Thinque Prep works with in their Lake Forest office tend to be from local areas like Aliso Viejo, Irvine, Mission Viejo, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Beach, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, and Trabuco Hills. However, if you’re located in another area of Orange County (or even out of state!), we’re happy to work with you virtually via Zoom as well - whatever’s most convenient for you! Give us a call, email, or text today to learn more about how the private SAT/ACT tutoring, AP exam tutoring, and private high school tutoring Thinque Prep has to offer can propel your child to academic success.


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