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Recall Techniques

Active recall involves retrieving information through memory and testing yourself throughout your study sessions. On this page, you will find some quick tips for studying effectively by using active recall.

One of the best places to teach others is in a study group.

Study groups:

  • Help group members avoid procrastination.
  • Allow members to hold each other accountable.
  • Provide opportunities to teach and discuss information.
  • Serve as a strong support system.

The following are some strategies for developing effective study groups:

  • Study groups should be small. Try to keep groups to around three to six people.
  • Have clear guidelines for meetings. Decide where, when, and how long you will be meeting, and have meetings scheduled in advance.
  • Ideally, schedule sessions that are one to three hours in length or the meetings can become unproductive.
  • Have clear expectations for study sessions. Each member should share the same goals and priorities, the work should be divided fairly.
  • Schedule breaks in advance and follow the schedule to avoid getting burned out.
  • Take turns teaching the other group members about the study materials.

Using flashcards to test your knowledge can help you retrieve information and help you identify any weak spots you have with the material.

Create your own flashcards:

  • Use your notes and textbook to identify key concepts. 
    • On one side of the card, write the name of the concept.
    • On the back, write the definition.

Mix pictures and words:

  • Adding pictures to cards can make them more memorable.
  • It can be helpful to add a descriptive sentence alongside the picture to increase your ability to recall what you are studying.

For certain cards, use mnemonic devices to help create mental connections:

  • A mnemonic device is anything that helps you build an association between two pieces of information in your mind. Create your own mnemonics to help you build associations
  • Acronyms and rhymes are examples of mnemonics that help us remember information.

Write only one question/term per card:

  • Some concepts are complex and should be broken down into multiple questions and cards. By ensuring that your cards only contain a single question or fact, you won’t run into the mistake of only being able to recognize material, instead of recalling it.

Say your answers out loud when studying:

  • Say your answers out loud to another person and have them verify whether or not you are correct. Communicating our answers aloud helps us better understand the material.

Study the cards using both the front and back sides:

  • You build strong neural pathways by reviewing both sides, so you are able to recall all the information on the card.

Shuffle the cards:

  • Study the cards out of order. Shuffle them around. This helps mimic the conditions of the exam. 

Use flashcards with other methods:

  • Depending on what type of material you are studying, another method may be more effective.
  • Instead of using flashcards, you might want to:
    • Write an explanation in your own words.
    • Create a quiz.
    • Take a practice test written by someone else.
    • Work on practice problems.
    • Create mind maps or Venn diagrams.

Flashcards can promote memorization but may not help students fully understand the content. Learn about more active ways to use flashcards



Using premade practice tests

Taking practice tests is a good active studying technique, there are many places you can find practice tests, such as:

  • Websites and study apps, such as Quizlet.
  • The course textbook.
  • Textbook companion resources.
  • Asking a librarian if there is a collection of old exams you can study.
  • Asking a librarian if they can recommend different textbooks on the same subject to see if there are additional practice questions in another textbook.

Creating your own practice tests

It can be very helpful to create your own and share with your friends. When writing your own questions, it is important to find out the format your instructor is using for their test (i.e. essay, multiple-choice, short answer); then, write your practice tests in the format your instructor will use.

By using practice tests, you are increasing the likelihood that you will successfully remember relevant information during your next exam.

Getting ideas for questions

To decide what content to turn into practice questions, consider the following:

  • While you're taking notes mark the material that would make good test question. When going back through your notes turn that content into study questions.
  • Pay attention to the fundamental terms and key concepts, then determine the anecdotes, examples, and explanations that clarify meaning or tie related ideas and observations together.
  • Turn headings, subheadings, and key concepts in the textbook into questions.
  • Look for similarities and differences between concepts.

For some additional tips on how to create study questions from a textbook, check out Rachel Adragna’s article, Be Your Own Teacher: How to Study a Textbook.

Tips on taking practice tests

  • Don’t work backwards.
    • When taking a practice test, don’t look ahead for the answer. Instead, Ttry to take the quiz without checking your work. 
    • After you finish the test, grade yourself and see where you made mistakes. Use this to help you figure out where to prioritize your studying.
  • Time yourself.
    • Try to recreate the conditions of the test or exam. 
    • Find out roughly how long you will be given for each question and then set a time limit for your practice test. 
  • Avoid relying on your notes.
    • Try to simulate the test environment as much as possible. Do not use your notes while practicing and check the answers after.


Adragna, Rachel. (12 February 2016). Be Your Own Teacher: How to Study a Textbook. The Learning Scientists. Accessed at: 

Adragna, Rachel. (20 February 2016). Be Your Own Teacher: How to Study with Flashcards. The Learning Scientists. Accessed at: