TL;DR: retrieving information from memory (such as by using flashcards or self-testing) is a much more effective review method than rereading or reviewing your notes or the original content.
By choosing to practice information retrieval rather than repetitive reading, you can enjoy the benefits of remembering much more information or getting a lot more time to your day. Or both. This amazing and effective technique can be employed for pretty much anything: language learning, history, computer programming, or geography. It can be used for faster skill acquisition in any domain. Research conducted by Jeffrey D. Karpicke at Purdue University found that the experiment "group that studied by practicing retrieval showed a 50% improvement in long-term retention scores" compared to the control group.
Retrieval, also referred to as recall, is the process of retrieving information from your memory. What is the capital of Australia? Take a moment to think about it and answer the question. If you’ve never learned what the capital is, that information is not present in your long term memory and you will of course need to learn it via reading or some other medium before you can actually recall it. If you’ve previously learned it, retrieving this information is activating the neural pathways in your brain and is strengthening your memory. When asked to recall it again, you will have an easier time retrieving the information quickly.
I could have simply reminded you that the capital of Australia is Canberra without making you think about it. But you would only have practiced reading then, and your neural pathways would not have been exercised in the same manner. Although still useful, research shows that reading the information rather than recalling it would have made you much less likely to remember it next time someone asks you.
Practicing information retrieval will yield much better results than simply re-reading the material you wish to remember. It can give you a competitive edge at work or help you ace an exam, as well as give you time back to your day. In future blog posts, we will talk about some specific examples of how you can incorporate information recall techniques in your day to day life.