‘Free recall’ works better than studying
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‘Free recall’ works better than studying

Here’s one study technique that can help trainees improve their recall. Ask them to write down everything they remember about your last session.

It’s called free recall, and researchers say it’s one of the most effective ways to improve retention in the long-term. Most recently, researchers broke down college science students into four groups:

  • One group studied as usual
  • A second group conducted four consecutive study sessions.
  • A third group did “elaborative studying” – mapping out concepts while reviewing a text.
  • A fourth were asked to write down everything they remembered from the text in a “free recall” exercise.

Result: Free recall did twice as well as ordinary studying, about 20% better than repeated study, and about 25% better than elaborative studying.

There was only one area where the other three groups did better: self-confidence. All three groups predicted they’d do better on the final exam than they actually did.

The “free recallers,” by contrast, exceeded their own expectations.

Conclusion: Researchers say the “retrieval practice” of free recall was crucial to building memories, and helps keep self-appraisals of learning realistic.

Source: Karpicke, J., et al.,“Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying.” Science 331, p. 772, February 2011.

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