The ‘High Utility’ Technique for Studying for the BOC Exam: Active Recall

What else should athletic training students do if rereading, underlining, and summarizing aren’t effective methods for studying? I’ve found active recall and spaced repetition to be the most effective methods for making your studies more efficient, effective, and rewarding. Let’s dive in!

Active Recall Theory and Evidence

Often, we think learning is testing yourself after you’ve learned everything. Anything else seems counterintuitive, right? This couldn’t be further from the truth!

During your BOC exam study time, you test yourself to retrieve information from memory. By retrieving information and data from our brains, we not only improve our ability to retain it but also our brain’s ability to make connections between different concepts.

Researchers in 2013 analyzed hundreds of studies about effective study techniques and concluded that testing, or active recall, has high utility and can be implemented effectively with little training.

“On the basis of the evidence…we rate practice testing as having high utility. Testing effects have been demonstrated across an impressive range of practice-test formats, kinds of material, learner ages, outcome measures, and retention intervals. Thus, practice testing has broad applicability”.

In another study, the researchers divided students into four groups and had them learn the same material before testing them on it. For each group, there were different instructions and parameters.

  • The first group would only read the material once.
  • The second group would read it four times.
  • The third group read the material, then made a mind map.
  • In the fourth group, they read it once and then tried to recall what they remembered.

The active recall group significantly outperformed the other groups on both verbatim and inference tests.

It’s more effective to take a test once than to reread a chapter four times. I’m sure we’ve all used rereading at some point, but testing yourself once could drastically improve your study skills. This is such a simple technique, but it has such obvious, substantial benefits that we should be using it!

Active recall is harder and more mentally taxing than rereading, so maybe that’s why we don’t like it. But studying for the BOC exam (or any athletic training exam!) should be cognitively challenging! It’s useful to think about this in terms of going to the gym – if you’re lifting weights that are light, you’re not going to make much progress but if you’re lifting weights that test your strength, you’re more likely to develop muscle faster. It’s the same with developing the ‘muscle’ of your brain – the harder we have to work to retrieve information, the more effective our brains will become in storing and recalling that information in the future.

Active Recall Strategies

How can we apply active recall to our own studies? What are the most effective strategies? First of all, almost anything that requires us to use brain power or cognitive effort is beneficial. Below are three approaches that utilize active recall.

Closed Book

Making notes while your book is closed can be particularly helpful if you can’t quite break your note-taking habit. Don’t just copy from the textbook, instead learn about the topic and explain it in your own words without holding the book. When you’ve written down everything you remember, open the book and add what you missed.

It might sound simplistic, and in many ways, it is! I found it especially effective when I was preparing for the BOC exam. When my book was closed, I drew spider diagrams of each plan to help me remember facts about certain topics. After I drew out everything from memory, I’d go back to my textbook and fill in whatever was missing.

Instead of making notes, ask questions

Even though note-taking isn’t an effective study technique, it still feels intuitively productive to write things down, right? Instead of completely stopping taking notes, I chose to write questions for myself instead.

This strategy is similar to Cornell Note-Taking, where you write questions based on the material in the syllabus. The idea is that instead of passively rereading or highlighting the information, we’re forced to actively engage in cognitive effort to recall the information to answer the questions, which strengthens connections between information in our brains and helps us recall the information on exams.

Writing questions forces you to think, and the more brain power it takes to recall something, the more mentally exhausting your studies are, and the more you get out of studying.

ATStudy Buddy

ATStudy Buddy has dozens of online flashcards and games which you can use to test yourself in practice sessions. These materials use active recall and spaced repetition and will help you progress through your BOC exam study sessions.

ATStudy Buddy is particularly useful for two key reasons:

  • Firstly, memorizing particular facts – for example, as an athletic training student it could be useful for you to remember medical shorthand – learning the shorthand and what each one means
  • Secondly, you can use it to help memorize very specific topics, such as the cranial nerves

Want to try out ATStudy Buddy? Sign up for a 2-week limited FREE trial! 

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