Active Retrieval

January 21, 2017

Active retrieval or  Active recall is very efficient and important in consolidating long-term memory. A study done by J.D. Karpicke and H.L. Roediger, III (2008) lent support to the idea that practicing information retrieval is integral to learning.

To study for a big test, many students reread their books and notes.  But even more effective would be to try to remember the material on their own. That’s retrieval practice. It is a kind of active learning that many students don’t make use of.

The key idea is that retrieval can turn passively-absorbed information into true understanding and knowledge. In other words, when students recall what they’ve learned, on a quiz or practice test with the book closed, it improves their knowledge. They’ll do better on a test a week later than the students who just reviewed the material (Karpicke, Roediger III, 2008).

Active recall  actively stimulate memory during the learning process. It contrasts with passive review, in which the learning material is processed passively  by watching or reading.

Don’t Reread

A central idea of Mr. McDaniel’s work, which appears in the April issue of Psychological Science and the January issue of Contemporary Educational Psychology, is that it is generally a mistake to read and reread a textbook passage. That strategy feels intuitively right to many students — but it’s much less effective than active recall, and it can give rise to a false sense of confidence.

“When you’ve got your chemis-try book in front of you, everything’s right there on the page, it’s all very familiar and fluent,” says Jeffrey D. Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychology at Purdue University and lead author of a paper in the May issue of Memory about students’ faulty intuitions about effective study habits.

“So you could say to yourself, ‘Yeah, I know this. Sure, this is all very familiar,’” Mr. Karpicke continues. “But of course, when you go in to take a classroom test, or in real life when you need to reconstruct your knowledge, the book’s not there. In our experiments, when students repeatedly read something, it falsely inflates their sense of their own learning.”

These findings about active recall are not new or faddish or parochial. The research has been deepened and systematized recently by scholars at the University of California at Los Angeles and Washington University in St. Louis (where Mr. Karpicke earned his doctorate in 2007). But the basic insight goes back decades. One of the new papers tips its hat to a recitation-based method known as “SQ3R,” which was popularized in Effective Study, a 1946 book by Francis P. Robinson.

So if this wisdom is so well-established — at least among psychologists — should colleges explicitly try to coax students to use these study techniques? In our interventions for our students we try to inculcate active retrieval as a habit.If you have any concerns or want to improve learning of your students,visit our website to learn more.