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Mr Chen's anecdotes.

Active Recall and Spaced Repetition

When looking for studying techniques, you may have come across the terms "active recall" or "spaced repetition".


These are two wildly popular study techniques, but do you know which may be more suitable for you?


What is Active Recall?

Active recall is a study technique that involves actively stimulating your memory while learning. Instead of a passive review, where you simply read or listen to information repeatedly, active recall requires you to actively retrieve information from your memory. This can involve techniques such as self-quizzing, flashcards, or summarising your study materials without looking at your notes or textbooks.



The process of actively recalling information strengthens memory retention by reinforcing neural pathways associated with that information. It is known to be more effective than passive methods as it engages your brain more fully and helps solidify your understanding of the material.


Plenty of studies have shown that students who used active recall did better during exams than those who used passive review when studying.


In short, you need to be actively engaged with your material to help you strengthen your memory. I recall (hah, see what I did there) trying to actively recall my biology materials even when I was in the shower.


Ah, such fond memories of trying to recall the topics on replication, transcription, and translation.

Active recall is powerful for various reasons.


As mentioned above, the neural pathways involved are enhanced. This greatly increases the chances of you being able to recall what you need during exams and assessments, even in the long run.


Active recall also helps you with looking out for knowledge gaps. While practising active recall, you may realise that you have missing information, or you may even feel like you're struggling to recall certain concepts. This allows you to quickly revisit these concepts.


Feel like a genius yet?

Active recall my not work for more complex concepts, and does not help you with applying the concepts in application questions. So while active recall is useful, you should only have it as just one of the many study methods that you use in your arsenal of study methods.


Consider doing Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition is a learning technique that involves reviewing information at increasing intervals over time. The intervals are spaced in a way that optimises memory retention, with the goal of reinforcing your materials just as you're about to forget it.


The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve


Based on the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve described by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in the late 19th century, we forget information rapidly at first. This rate of forgetting levels off over time.


Ebbinghaus conducted experiments on himself to measure how quickly he forgot lists of nonsense syllabus, and he found that forgetting occurs most rapidly immediately after learning, with a significant portion of the information being forgotten within the first hour. After this initial decline, the rate of forgetting slows down, and the curve becomes more gradual.


However, the curve never flattens completely, indicating that some forgetting continues to occur over time. The exact shape of the forgetting curve can vary depending on factors such as the difficulty of the material, the method of learning, and individual differences in memory.


The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve underscores the importance of study techniques like spaced repetition. We review information just as we are about to forget to counteract the effects of the forgetting curve.


Each time you review your materials, your brain absorbs and processes the information again.


Spaced repetition is extremely effective in helping you retain information for a longer period of time. It is way more efficient than mindless, endless cramming with no actual timelines in mind.



Now we put the together!


By employing both active recall and spaced repetition, you maximise your chances of retaining information over a longer period of time. Try actively recalling information at spaced intervals.

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