Active Recall and Spaced Repetition - The Key to Acing Exams

September 6, 2021

When teachers present lessons in the classroom, most students can understand them in the moment. The challenge begins when students leave the classroom, go about the rest of the day, and then go home. Teachers cannot ensure that students remember everything that they’ve learned.

It’s fun and easy to learn things for the first time. Remembering lessons, applying them to daily life, and eventually sitting for exams and getting tested on the things you’ve learned is the greater challenge.

Rereading, summarising, and highlighting passages from books and notes have been proven to be ineffective study techniques. Instead, education experts and researchers are encouraging active recall and spaced repetition.

What Is Active Recall?

Active recall is an efficient learning strategy wherein you retrieve information from memory by testing yourself during the review process. Recalling information makes it easy to retain it, and it allows you to build connections between different concepts.

This is a direct contrast to passive review. Instead of rereading passages from a textbook, you should answer questions based on what you’ve just read. Through active recall, you are putting in the effort to recall what you learned through every stage of the review process. Testing yourself after reading every chapter or segment of a textbook is much more effective than re-reading it two or three times.

Applying Active Recall in Tutoring

Active recall is a more complex and time-consuming study technique, but it has been successful for students of all ages. During chemistry or math tutoring, you can construct a simple set of 3 or 5 questions they need to answer before you can move on from a particular topic. You should check their answers and give feedback before moving forward.

While testing will exercise a student’s active recall, it’s crucial that you keep these small tests as low-stakes as possible. The short test is meant to help them learn and not make them afraid or embarrassed of low scores.

What Is Spaced Repetition?

Spaced repetition is a teaching and study technique wherein the subject matter review is spread out over time. This strategy actively combats the human brain’s forgetting curve—the exponential rate at which a person forgets new ideas and concepts.

Through spaced repetition, you can distribute a student’s active recall. Instead of cramming all practice and review in a single day, spacing them out in smaller chunks over four or five days is a much more effective way for them to review. The more you space out your recall, the harder your brain has to work to retrieve information, and the more information you can retain.

Applying Spaced Repetition in Tutoring

There is great value in repeating and spacing out active recall over multiple tutoring sessions. New topics should be reviewed for at least 15 to 20 minutes each time. Combining active recall with spaced repetition is best—this means a short quiz after every subject review.

Obviously, these methods are quite unorthodox, and they take a lot of effort. However, years of research have shown that they help students retain information and perform well on exams.


Active recall and spaced repetition are two review and study methods that have been proven to be much more effective passive review techniques such as rereading and highlighting passages in books. Consistent quizzing and spreading out review sessions over several days will help ensure that your student retains all pertinent information and ace their exams.

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