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Study Skills:Recall vs Recognition

May 16, 2012

In his book “Your Memory: How it Works and How to Improve it” ,  Kenneth Higbee talks about recognition vs.  recall learning. Recognition learning is when the goal is to recognize information, such as in a multiple choice test. Recall learning is when you recall information, such as in a simple question or essay format.

Most of our students prepare for assessments by engaging in re-reading; an approach that is extremely boring in nature, has been proven to have very short retention, and is counterproductive when used for recall types of assignments. This is where they will read the same material repeatedly until they the zone out, usually by the second reading.

The most practical strategy for engaging in recall learning is to develop a  question/answer format. Some of the strategies that our students have developed to facilitate recall through a question/answer format are:

  • Converting outlines into questions.
  • Use of flash cards.
  • When they are given a study guide they make two copies. They complete one copy and they use the other as a giant flash card.
  • They will list the vocabulary words in one side of the paper, draw a vertical line next to the list, and write the definition on the other side of the line. They then fold it along the line and knock off the ones they know.
  • As they read, they will take their notes in question format.

A huge benefit from using question and answer formats  is Improved focus. When students engage in the above strategies they immediately separate what they know from what they don’t, thus allowing them to spend their energy in a more productive and stimulating manner.

Summarily, if your primary way of preparing for an exam is by repeatedly reading your notes and books until death from boredom sets in, you are probably preparing for recognition types of assignments and will be working at at a very low level of efficiency.

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