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How to be Successful without Really Trying - Study Strategies - Part 4: Active Recall

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

By: Mason Weupe

Now to the juicy stuff. These next two installments will teach you techniques that may help you become a top student studying half as much as everyone else. I do not promise miracles, nor am I saying there will be no work involved, but if you are efficient with your studying, you will be surprised at how much you can learn with less time and effort. Before I continue, I must say everyone is unique and these techniques may not fully resonate with you. Like with any advice, take in what you think will work for you and seek information from multiple resources. I used a conglomerate of techniques from advice I have received from many mentors and peers over the years, so take as much as you want from these techniques and make them your own!

So, what are these techniques so graciously bestowed upon us from the heavens? Active Recall and Spaced Repetition. We will go over spaced repetition next time, for now, we define active recall as learning by retrieving information rather than mindlessly recording it. By mindlessly recording I mean reading a book and taking notes, then rewriting those notes. This way of studying does not so much test your understanding of the material as much as it tests can you memorize what you wrote down. This is key because you are much more likely to remember and answer any question your teacher throws at you, even curveballs, if you are studying in a way that forces you to truly understand the material. Simply regurgitating information may get you C’s but here at Personalized Prep, we want to help you get into your dream school and help you succeed throughout the entirety of your academic journey, rather than simply passing. Some ways we can practice Active Recall is by recording notes as questions or mini-essays. Most of the time, the material will require you to create a note that facilitates active recall. The two ways you can utilize this are either by one, creating a small essay explaining a topic, or two, creating a short answer question. These two modems of answering a question allow you to enable active recall when reviewing. You simply try to answer the question without any outside help, to the best of your ability. If you do not answer the question completely correctly, find the gaps in your knowledge and look to fill them with outside resources.

For Example:

Example 1:

  • Biochemistry Chapter 6: DNA and Biotechnology: DNA Replication [Essay] DNA is unwound by helicases and protected by binding proteins and topoisomerases. A replisome and DNA Pols use an RNA-primer to begin replication on the leading strand and many primers on the lagging strand (Okazaki fragments). RNases remove primers and a DNA Pol replaces them with DNA. Ligases fuse strands together.

  • Biology Chapter 6: The Respiratory System: How does breathing work? [Question]

    • Inhalation Muscles relax, lungs expand, volume increases, pressure decreases from atmospheric 760mmhg to "negative" pressure 757mmhg. Air is drawn into the lungs and pressure raises to "positive" 763mmhg.

    • Exhalation The excess pressure and muscle contraction force air out of the lungs returning pressure to normal

Example 2:

  • Chapter 1: Atomic Structure - Quantum Mechanical Model Numbers

    • Concept Checks

      • Atomic mass vs. Weight P + N vs. Weighted average of isotopes

  • Quantum Number Periodic Table

    • Practice Question

      • Remove 2 electrons from [Cu]4s23d10.

Here you can see the advantage of writing your notes in a slightly different way. You are, in a sense, creating practice problems while you are recording notes. You are effectively passing through the material multiple times in one action. Herein lies another big concept of studying: efficiency. Through just recording notes, you are also putting the information into tiers, interpreting the information in order to write a question, answering that study question, and checking to see if your answer encompasses all of the information you need in order to learn exactly what you need to succeed in your class. In one session, you have done five times the amount of work as someone else who only wrote down notes. Along with this strategy, any picture diagrams, spider web diagrams, and tables and charts you create will be more effective than using the information from the book. You will remember the information you create in your own language much easier than information simply regurgitated from a book or presentation. There are more strategies to this technique so make sure to look up some YouTube videos to learn more about Active Recall!

Come back next Sunday and we will go over Spaced Repetition and another one of my favorite techniques!

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