12 Recall 🧠 Techniques

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How can teachers (and parents) help young people recall information for exams?

In this post, I am going to recommend 12 recall strategies a teacher (or parent) can use with their students.

Regular readers of this website will know that I have been writing about cognitive science for a number of years. Recently, this has evolved into a closer look into working memory. The reason for this is that I have read lots of research that shows a direct correlation between student outcomes and cognitive science methods.

1. Focus your attention

It is important for students to study in a distraction-free space at home. In this space, they should be able to focus their attention on the content, using study techniques learned in class.

Having a quiet place to study is not always possible for some. The local library, a local park, a friend’s house or as a last resort, a quiet moment in a busy household may be the only option. This is why schools continue to offer space at school for revision.

2. Elaborate

Students must repeat what they want to remember by encoding information in more detail. Repeat out loud what you want to remember. In addition to repeating out loud, a student should also repeat to themselves as they write.

3. Avoid cramming

Cramming is an ineffective way to learn material. When students cram (last minute), they try to learn too much information at one time. Cramming can lead to anxiety and can cause students to forget information. Try spacing instead …

4. Unfamiliar information

It is essential that students learn how to place important information into categories. By placing new and unfamiliar information with things they already know, they will learn how to categorise knowledge. Learning to work by grouping is a helpful strategy. Try the MARGE technique and read on below…

5. Organise

Using image or word association, students can help themselves remember the new information by organising information that already makes sense to them. The retrieval process will be easier if students remember to group concepts, rules, or facts into similar categories.

12 Recall Techniques

Varying the order helps to stop the student from becoming fixated on one particular concept.

6. Visualise

Students should help retrieve using lists, a mind map or a spider diagram. Try drawing sketchnotes

7. Mnemonics

This is a technique to help recall larger pieces of information. By using patterns of words, numbers or visual information, this ‘shortcut’ association helps retrieve more detailed information.

8. Read out loud

Did you know that reading out loud improves your memory of material? When you read out loud, this helps with retention and encoding …

9. Pay attention

It’s also worth noting that, in order to learn, you need to be attentive. Teachers spend hours in the classroom with students helping them to be attentive. Using explicit instructions, whatever method they use, they organise the class (or individual) into sequences where learning can happen. A short recap of cognitive load theory and working memory will help you understand how information can easily hinder the learning process.

10. Vary the routine

It is important that students vary their study routine: different locations, different times and using a different technique. It is also worth considering practising at the time that you will be tested = so that your memory functions are familiar with the time period being used for recall. Ideally, all schools ‘test’ students for the final exam, sitting them down in the school hall for the same period of time.

It’s probably worth considering what time of day you will be tested, and practice at that same time too!

11. Movement

If you stand up (or sit down) while reading this blog post, how does it change the dynamics of your brain?

Movement (or active learning) activates the neurons in your brain. While students can’t necessarily move around during a fixed lesson, there are things teachers can do to help break a long period of study into smaller chunks. For example, every 20 minutes, ‘stand up and shake things off…’

12. Sleep

Many studies have shown that sleep plays an important role in memory recall.

When students are tired, they are less likely to focus and learn. In class, whilst no teacher would want to encourage their students to fall asleep, very short periods of rest can help the learning process. For example, stop the lesson and introduce some breathing exercises. Practising different skills helps students to become more flexible in their thinking.

Doing any of these techniques over time (spaced practice), and revisiting the material helps to embed the learning.


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