Retrieval Practice – A Learning Strategy to Become a Better Learner

Retrieval practice  - a learning strategy to become a better learner and get higher grades

A few days ago, after watching a chef demonstrate how to make cookies on a cooking show, I ran to the kitchen thinking that I could follow the same recipe from memory.  When I was about to start, my mind went blank and I realised that I did not remember the steps of the recipe.

The same applies for studying- we might spend long hours reading and re-reading our textbook and taking notes in preparation for our exams, only to receive results we’re not happy with. So, what’s the solution?

Before we get to that, let’s first try to understand why I thought I would be able to bake the cookies after watching the show, and was surprised when I was put to the test? 

The problem: Passive Learning 

Passive learning, which is learning through only receiving information, creates the illusion that you mastered a piece of information, when in reality, you haven’t. So, watching the chef bake those cookies isn’t the same as doing it myself. Just like reading information doesn’t necessarily prepare you to recall information for a test. The problem doesn’t lie in only storing the information, but rather in pulling that information out of our mind. After all, that’s what tests are designed to do.

And now, the solution: Retrieval Practice

To understand if you’ve truly mastered a topic, you must be able to actively remember it from memory. Therefore, we should add active learning strategies into our studying routine like: 

Solving assessments and quizzes

Making flashcards covering a certain topic

Brain dump; writing down all the information you know about a specific topic and find out how much you know and discover any gaps

Feynman Method; the best way to learn something is to teach it. So try teaching the topic you’re studying to someone or to an imaginary audience

Drawing mind maps to link ideas and concepts

Remember to mix up the various learning methods when studying. Studying using different methods stimulates different parts of the brain, which in turn increases your ability to understand and retain information…and will make you feel less bored when studying! 

What active recall methods do you use when studying? Share in the comments below! 


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