How To Study For Final Exams Using Active Recall Techniques

Written By Smart Guides For Learning | June 2023

Active recall is a powerful learning technique that goes beyond passive studying. This technique involves actively retrieving information from memory, challenging yourself to recall concepts, facts, and ideas. Most students who recommend active recall are using this technique in their classes with heavy concepts since you need to memorize a lot.

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By understanding the benefits and strategies associated with active recall, you can improve your study sessions to be effective and efficient for learning.

Why do we need active recall for studying?

Active recall leverages the concepts you are studying by actively engaging the retrieval process, reinforcing neural connections, and overcoming the effects of forgetting essential information. When we actively retrieve information, our brains consolidate and strengthen memory pathways which strengthens the connections between concepts and promotes long-term retention.

In contrast to passive learning methods like re-reading or highlighting, active recall requires active effort. You need to put in effort to reinforce the information to your memory. That is what you call active learning. When you actively study, you develop a deeper understanding of the topic and have better knowledge organization of the concepts.

What are the active recall techniques I can use for studying?

There are several techniques that you can use to implement active recall in your study sessions. The most common study techniques within active recall is the use of flashcards and practice tests.


Flashcards provide for focused retrieval practice. Every time you try to recall the information, you are actively retrieving it.

How do you make and use flashcards to study effectively?

First, write or type questions on the front side and corresponding answers such as definitions, examples, or explanations on the other side. Write or type as many questions as needed.

As soon as you finish the questions, group each deck according to the topic, concept, or subject. Organizing your deck of flashcards will help your brain to focus on one subject.

Now, let’s review. Pick up each card and try to answer the question. Flip the card and check if your answer is correct. If your answer is correct, place the card on your right. If your answer is wrong, place the card on your left. This allows you to set aside more time to review the concepts you’re having trouble with.

Practice Tests

Retrieval practice is another valuable study technique within active recall. By quizzing or taking practice tests, you simulate real-world scenarios where you actively retrieve information from your memory. This practice strengthens memory consolidation and improves your ability to recall information when it matters most. And when I say “when it matters most”, it means examinations, assessments, quizzes, tests, and even case studies.

You can use many types of questions for retrieval practice however, it is best to practice answering open-ended questions. Open-ended questions allows you to answer based on your complete knowledge and understanding on the topic. These questions provide a more cognitive challenge that will require active learning.

How do you study effectively by taking practice tests?

First, prepare your practice questions ahead of time and compile them as a test. You can use questions from your past exams, questions from the reference book, and questions from the lecture. If you have enough time, you can create new questions from your lecture notes or review materials. You can ask another person such as a classmate or friend to make the questions for you.

Choose a place that is similar to your testing environment. It may not necessarily be a classroom but it should be a place that will help you focus. Your school library is a good place because seeing other students studying can motivate you to study as well.

Set a time for your practice test. Your time depends on the number of questions you have in the practice test. You can set 50 minutes to answer a 50-item test. However, if you want to give your brain a challenge, try to answer a 50-item in 30 minutes.

After finishing the practice test, carefully review your answers before you submit. You can invite a friend or a classmate who can check your answers. If not, you can check your test by yourself. 

Focus on the questions that you answered incorrectly and analyze if you really understood the question or the topic. If you think that you do not understand the topic completely, you need to focus more on that topic and set more time to study the concepts of that topic. Look for more helpful resources, review the information using flashcards, and test yourself again.

Active recall offers numerous advantages that contribute to enhanced learning outcomes for students. Here are the advantages of using active recall to study for exams.

Advantages of Using Active Recall

Improves long-term retention

By consistently retrieving information, you reinforce connections and strengthen memory pathways. This makes the information more accessible when needed and less likely to be forgotten.

Enhances comprehension and understanding

When you actively engage with information, you develop a deeper grasp of concepts, relationships, and applications. This promotes a more comprehensive understanding and enables critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Promotes application of knowledge

By actively retrieving information, you strengthen the ability to apply it to different contexts, facilitating better performance in exams, projects, and real-world situations.

Active Recall Tips

To make active recall even more effective for your study sessions, it is important that you break down the information into smaller concepts to help you focus your attention and facilitate easier retrieval. Breaking down information prevents overwhelming cognitive load that students are experiencing when they are cramming for exams. Smaller concepts also allow for targeted practice on specific areas that you need to study more.

Another important tip is to use concept mapping or mind mapping to provide you a visual representation of the relationships between concepts, ideas, and information. Mindmaps help you to recall and comprehend information using visual cues. If you learn best visually, create flashcards with creative images or drawings related to the concept. This will not only help you associate the image with the information but creating engaging images or drawings can also make learning fun!

Article Summary

Active recall is a game changer in the context of active learning. By actively engaging with information and challenging ourselves to retrieve knowledge, we can significantly improve our comprehension, retention, and application of the concepts we study. Consistency is key to optimize active recall. You should establish a dedicated study routine that includes active recall sessions as well as frequent practice and reinforcement of memory pathways.

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