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Help your Student Ace Any Test with Active Recall

At the core of our work with students, we promote efficiency through simple, but effective tips to develop habits that lead to success. By evaluating study habits, productivity can soar to a new level.

Often students will proudly state how many times they have read a chapter or review sheet. When test results do not reflect the time spent studying, it can be a challenge to find the disconnection. Parents see their student putting effort and precious time into studying. Students are frustrated with all of their hard work going to waste. Teachers are worried they are not grasping the material.

Rereading the material or listening to the lecture again is a passive review. It is being present and hoping that something “sticks.” However, the most important aspect of studying is to reengage with the material, instead of recognizing the material. Students can reengage with material through active recall.

Using active recall is a top technique! Essentially active recall is testing yourself on the material in short bursts. Say the teacher provides a slideshow. Help your student practice active recall by asking questions about the slide, allowing time for answers to formulate, and working through the wrong answers. If your student can glance over to the screen to see the answers, the likelihood that he is tricking himself into thinking he “knows” the material is high.

Active recall can be used at all times. By trying to remember the information, new pathways are strengthened. Bursts of testing boosts memory and performance more than any other method of studying. Executive functioning skills are developed as we implement new practices and form new connections in our day to day.

The process is simple:

  1. Help your student become familiar with the material through reading, watching videos, notes, looking at charts, etc.
  2. Put all material away and have your student remember the information. Even if she gets stuck, do not provide hints!
  3. Have your student check for accuracy.
  4. Repeat during the first study session.
  5. Repeat a few days later.

Space it out

When the material is fresh on your student’s mind, have her try to recall key points and ideas through reviewing notes or other class materials provided. Keep reviewing until mastery is achieved. Let the brain rest and for a day or two. During the second study session, start with actively recalling the material from memory. If your student is stuck (3-5 minutes for younger students or 10-15 minutes for older students), then review the material before testing again.

Befriend homework

Homework assignments, tailored by the teacher to reinforce the key points from the lecture, can prepare students for tests, but it all comes down to mindset! Wisely using time spent on homework assignments saves time later. Perhaps, it will be inconvenient to not rush through the work, have the book open, or copy someone’s work, but this tip will save time later on.

Encourage students to treat homework assignments as if they were the test – no notes, search engines, or textbooks until the student has tried their best to answer the questions provided. It is safe to assume that teachers created the work for a reason! A slight struggle produces great results. Active recall solidifies the information into our memory. Help your student realize that a few extra minutes on homework or projects can reduce the amount of time they have to focus on the material later. If a student is able to answer successfully complete the homework, without relying on outside resources, they are likely prepared to be tested on the material.

Pose questions

When a question is presented, our brains search for an answer. Thought-provoking questions help us become solution-seeking mode. Question can be reflective in nature or set up in a more traditional format of a practice test.

Power of notecards

Notecards are a powerful tool that utilizes active recall, though they can be time consuming. To get the best use of notecards, be sure your student is not flying through the activity. We do not want to fall into the trap of being familiar with the topic but not really knowing the information! Notice questions that can be answered immediately, and notice the answers that are correct that takes a bit more time to formulate. If time is a factor, students can close their eyes to see if they can remember the information.

In summary, there are two forms of reviewing material: passive and active. By incorporating active recall methods, students are significantly more likely to retain information, save time, and ace the test! Sometimes, resistance to new methods can be a hinderance in moving forward. If you are hoping to discover the best support for your child, check out the e-book below.

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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