top of page

Supercharge Your Revision: Active Techniques for Long-Term Knowledge Retention

With that end of topic test looming, effective revision strategies are crucial for etching key concepts into your long-term memory. Many students stick to passive techniques like re-reading notes or textbooks, however educational research demonstrates that active learning approaches stimulate deeper mental processing and forge stronger memory traces. Here’s a detailed guide to active versus passive techniques:

Why does passive revision fall short?

Girl reading textbook to revise is an example of passive revision.

Re-reading notes is a common revision technique and seems an easy strategy, but simply reading through material again qualifies as passive learning. Without actively retrieving or applying concepts, most information will be rapidly forgotten.

Highlighting or underlining parts of notes does involve some mental effort, but it still encourages passive reading rather than deeper engagement. Key concepts are not put to use just by selecting them.

Re-watching lectures and playing old lesson videos or presentations in the background can provide useful overviews, but the limitation with just listening passively is that it does not force active thinking or participation both of which will boost retention.

These are all examples of common revision techniques and they all fall into the category of passive revision. The core limitation of these passive strategies is that they fail to force your brain to fully reprocess and reconstruct knowledge and make meaningful connections between concepts. But don’t despair – there are better techniques to be using for your revision and I have outlined some of these below.

Active techniques to supercharge your memory:

Creating flashcards for key facts, definitions, examples and formulas requires selectively identifying critical information which is a much better process than simply highlighting relevant facts. Using these to actively recall information cements memory traces; test yourself repeatedly.

Student using active revision techniques to revise.

Applying knowledge to answer exam-style questions engages deeper mental processing to draw out key concepts, retrieve information, explain it and then check your understanding. If you get stuck or don’t understand then review the topic in your textbook and attempt the summary questions before you retry the exam question. Try to avoid getting discouraged when you come across a question that you can’t do. Instead think yourself lucky that you’ve identified an area to improve on before the real exam.

Try making a mind map. Transforming content into visual diagrams forces you to analyse relationships between concepts and how they interconnect. This visual-spatial processing benefits the retention of information.

Try teaching concepts! Explaining ideas aloud or to others utilises many active learning processes like finding creative analogies and examples. Why not try to teach your parents or friends!

When revising make sure you’re always mixing up practice questions on different topics. This will strengthen your ability to distinguish concepts and identify connections between them.

These are all active strategies which force the mental effort - retrieving, explaining, connecting - necessary to convert knowledge into durable long-term memories to power you through exams. Avoid passive re-reading and instead regularly test yourself and apply your knowledge.

Why not try: Cornell notes

‘Cornell notes’ is a note-taking system that also facilitates active learning during revision. Reviewing Cornell notes requires condensing concepts in your own words in the cue questions column, and in doing so strengthens retention. Lay it out like the diagram below.

Cornell notes is an example of an active revision technique.

Make your main notes from lesson notes, revision guides and textbooks before developing cue questions from these. Covering over the notes column and quizzing yourself from just the cue questions provides active recall practice, while writing the cue questions helps to summarise the key takeaways after reviewing the core concepts.

Active techniques force deeper mental processing to extract, apply and connect knowledge to embed learning for the long-term. Replace your passive re-reading with regular practice testing and explaining concepts in your own words to maximise exam success.

18 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page