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The Power Of Active Recall: The Study Method You Didn’t Know You Needed

The Power of Active Recall: The Study Method You Didn’t Know You Needed

My name is Tia Sacks, and I am unfortunately a member of the bad test-taker club. Thanks to the MIT program, I have grown accustomed to taking exams in the form of long answers and essays. As a result, traditional memorization-based exams for my electives became extremely daunting. I lack the motivation to remember information for subjects I do not necessarily care about, resulting in my poor test performance and plummeted grades. Last semester I experienced this head-on. Writing out both handwritten and typed notes for my midterm did not do the trick and I lacked the confidence I needed to succeed. Upon receiving my disappointing yet anticipated grade, I turned to Google to find some solutions for my poor studying tactics.

I came across a man named Ali Abdaal, who claimed that his incredibly high ranking at Cambridge medical school was made possible by specific study methods, including active recall. This principle essentially makes you study through writing repeated practise tests, allowing you to train your mind to retrieve information. Looking back at my twelfth-grade year in high school, I did something similar in my experience doing the ACT (American College Test) twice. The first time around, I took handwritten notes on all the key areas they tested on which was highly time-consuming and ineffective, resulting in my poor score. For my second run, I divided up each section of the test based on subjects, read the notes briefly, and took repeated practise tests. While grading these tests, I noticed that the more I did them, the higher my score would go. There really is something to be said about practising taking the test itself to help your brain retrieve information and making it stick.

Therefore, I decided to try this method once more in a hopeful attempt to redeem my average in this elective. I began by putting all of my notes into a single document and replacing the bullet points with numbers to create a list. I then deleted keywords in the sentences and replaced them with blank spaces, to create a fill-in-blank test. As I was highlighting the keywords and replacing them with blank underlines, I noticed that I was subconsciously memorizing each sentence. After printing out the test and finishing it several times, I was astonished by how much information I had memorized in such a short amount of time. I finished my exam with a 30% grade increase from the midterm.

The fill in the blank format is only one of many methods to use active recall. You can also convert your notes to be formed into a series of questions that you have to practise answering. You can review your notes, put them away, and jot down everything you remember on a piece of paper and repeat the process until you have memorized all the material. This makes for a highly efficient study session and an immense confidence boost for going into your next exam. For more information on active recall, check out Ali Abdaal’s blog post linked here:

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