Active recall is the process of recalling facts from memory. A single test after reading some text produces better learning than re-reading the text or reviewing any notes. It turns out that re-reading text over and over again is in fact a very poor and ineffective way to study.
So how do you use active recall? Before opening any books or materials, start your study session by recalling everything you know about the topic, then check whether you were correct. Next, spend time studying the material. At the end of the study session test yourself. Finally, leave a gap before re-testing yourself again. The gap needs to be long enough (maybe several days), so that you actually forget information that didn’t make it into long term memory.
To be most effective repeat the active recall again and again in spaced out sessions. Not only is it an essential way to build strong long term memories but it also highlights exactly what you don’t know so you can focus on those areas of weakness.
Active recall is hard and feels less productive than re-reading, but the effort produces longer lasting learning and stronger long term memories.
Lack of sleep impairs reasoning, problem solving and attention to detail. Not only does a good nights sleep address these problems but it is an important part of remembering information too.
In one study 2 groups of students were given a list of unrelated paired words to remember such as “elephant/glass” and “star/ladder”. One group was given the list in the morning and tested 12 hours later in the evening. The other group was given the list in the evening and tested 12 hours later in the morning after sleep. An increase in 20.6% in memory was found in the group that had slept. It seems that declarative memory (that’s remembering facts and information), improves if you sleep on it.
And one study showed that napping for 45-60 minutes after memorising word pairs could significantly improve memory.
Research also tells us that it is probably best to sleep about 3 hours after learning for the best rewards. So if you are learning during the day, try and take a nap or recap a few hours before bed to reap the rewards of sleep consolidated memory.
Synapses are the connections between the neurons in your brain. Chemical and electrical signals pass across the synapses from cell to cell and the stronger the messages between your neurons, the stronger and more permanent your memories will be. Whilst repeating an action tends to make the signal between the cells stronger, stress can weaken your brains ability to retain information.
It turns out that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Exercising can mean that you retain information even under stressful conditions. As little as a 10-minute walk may be enough to increase the way your brain communicates between its regions and to enhance your ability to learn and remember. Exercise can also stimulate the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells and the growth of new blood vessels in the brain.
So when you are studying or preparing for an exam, make sure you plan regular exercise into your schedule.
Choline is a chemical plays a key role in memory, learning and our ability to think. It is used to make the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine, which helps brain cells communicate with each other, keeps memories intact and is responsible for memory recall. Acetylcholine is involved in several stages of memory, especially the encoding of new memories and learning. It’s also involved in sustaining attention and helping us focus. Your body is able to synthesise small amounts of choline in your liver but most comes from your diet.
Choline is found in a wide variety of foods including eggs, milk products, beef liver, cod, and chicken. There are vegan and vegetarian-friendly sources including quinoa, cauliflower, tofu, broccoli, spinach, and almonds.
The recommended daily allowance of Choline is 425mg per day for women and 550mg per day for men. 2 egg yolks will contain about 300mg of choline. Keeping up your choline intake should boost your ability to learn and store new memories.