Recognition is not recall! They are two different processes. In an exam you have to recall information so when you are revising it is crucial that you practice recalling information. Many students resist active recall because it can feel like a high-risk stress-filled activity. The feeling of not knowing the answer or the feeling of not being able to find the right words but knowing that you are familiar with the concept is uncomfortable. It’s also frustrating and can be destructive to self-esteem. This is why so many students avoid it and prefer to do safe activities such as reading notes, copying or re-writing notes, highlighting or any other number of ways to spend time feeling busy with low stress. All of these activities build familiarity but not recall they are not an efficient way of getting the best grades possible.

Ways to reduce the stress of practicing recall:

1. Self-testing

Students can test themselves before involving other people. This allows mistakes to be made, time to be taken with no judgement or negative consequences. Flashcards are ideal for this since they allow rapid self-correction. Attempting questions in textbooks is great too as long as you have access to the correct answers. Questions in textbooks tend to be grouped into topics which is an ideal way to practice recall for only a small part of the course. Past exam questions are also good but require higher order thinking skills  so are good for people who can already recall a lot of the course content.

2. Small chunks

Don’t try and recall everything in the whole course! Especially when beginning revision, it is crucial to break each topic into a few key facts to recall. Frequent repetition is important in the beginning and as the long term memory builds up recall can be practiced less frequently. So, start small and build up the knowledge that can be rapidly recalled.

3. Success

Nobody likes the feeling of being wrong or not knowing so acknowledging success is crucial for maintaining motivation. By setting achievable goals and reflecting on progress learning moves forwards with less frustration. Also keep in mind that progress is not linear, there will be times of rapid progress and times when it feels like a struggle. If testing someone else with revision cards, ask them some that you know they know the answer to this will help them to keep motivated to work on the ones they find more challenging.