Student perspective: Using active recall

Shraddha, the author of the blog postby Shraddha Sriraman, English and History student and Bristol Futures Advocate

In this post, I’ll share my experience of using active recall. See my previous post for “How to add active recall to your revision toolkit”

A Students Perspective


  • This method of learning has been hugely beneficial in spreading out my workload so I can work on topics bit by bit, instead of being faced with having to read an entire chapter all in one go (trust me – that is NOT fun)
  • I’ve been able to remember information for longer, so it hasn’t just been cramming for the exam and forgetting information as soon as its done!
  • It feels like an efficient way of learning, and I learn exactly what I need to know
  • I’ve found that I get less distracted, and hence procrastinate less, when I employ active recall techniques. Perhaps this is because I’m actively thinking about the task at hand, instead of passively learning information ( which can be boring!)


  • It does take quite a long time to make flashcards / questions for yourself! But I guess… no pain, no gain!
  • Sometimes when you repeat flashcards often, you can pre-empt the question and answer, leading to the same issues as passive learning

Making active recall work for you

  1. Basing your questions on the learning objectives

By basing your flashcards / test questions on your learning objectives, you know that the information you are retrieving is relevant and going to be beneficial come exam day!

  1. Knowing when you need to take a break

The annoying part of active recall learning is that it feels like hard work. Though the research shows the wracking your brain to retrieve information leads to stronger memory connections further down the line (Butler, A. C., 2010), making those connections in the first place is quite draining. Hence, its really important to ensure you space out your revision schedule to avoid burn out!

  1. Don’t get disheartened when you don’t know the answers

This one took me a while to figure out. When I used passive learning methods in the past, I’d learn all the information before tackling the question, so I’d vaguely know how I’d approach giving an answer. When I switched to active recall, I often had no idea how to go about answering the question in front of me which – though it forced me to step out of my comfort zone and apply my learning – was slightly disheartening. The key point to remember is that all of this is still revision and for your own learning. It really is okay to make mistakes at this stage- its just a new learning point!


Butler, A. C. (2010). Repeated testing produces superior transfer of learning relative to repeated studying. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36(5), 1118.

Have you tried active recall? What are the pros and cons for you? Add your comments to the discussion below.


Student perspective: How to add active recall to your revision toolkit

Shraddha, the author of the blog postby Shraddha Sriraman, English and History student and Bristol Futures Advocate

We all have a favourite method of learning information for an exam , be it reading through a textbook, making aesthetically pleasing notes, spider-diagrams, lists, mindmaps, or even desperately cramming last-minute for an exam (please don’t let this last one be your go-to!). However, moving to university, or getting adjusted with new exam formats trigger us to think about if we’re learning new content in the most effective manner.

Now, figuring out methods that work for each one of us is highly personal, and really depend on your needs as a learner. That being said, decades of research on valuable and diverse learning techniques could help us discover new methods of recalling information! The one discussed in this blog post is all about active recall as a useful method to add to your revision toolkit!

What is Active Recall?

Traditional methods of note taking, such as highlighting notes or watching videos, are based on the idea of placing information from the page into your brain. Active recall spins this on its head, and allows you to learn by retrieving information from your brain and applying it to the question. This is often done by testing yourself, be that via past papers, flashcards, or making your own questions to ‘force’ yourself to actively use information learnt, instead of learning passively.

Methods using Active Recall

  1. Flashcards

Flashcards are a helpful way of summarising notes, whilst testing yourself at the same time. I often have a question on one side, and the answer on the other to employ those helpful active recall skills! Sometimes, I also copy and paste lecture slides with key words blanked out, so I test my recall of key terms. These can be made by hand, or through the use of online applications : such as Anki, Quizlet and more (future blog post coming soon on these!)

  1. Closed Book -‘Blurting’

This is a traditional method of active recall where you shut a book and try and write down what you’ve learnt. Then, go back to the chapter in the book, or your lecture notes and fill in key points you’ve missed out in a different colour to see what you’ve forgotten. Over time, repeating this method leads to higher memory retention of key concepts! I loved this method when studying anatomy and found it easier to draw out a system and then check back at my notes to see what I had missed, instead of passively reading through.

  1. Past Paper Questions

Past paper questions are a fantastic method of actively applying what you’ve learnt!

  1. Make your own questions (based on learning objectives!)

Some courses don’t offer past paper questions, but its just as effective to make your own! This way, you’re pre-empting potential questions that could be asked in the future, as well as allowing to practice active recall.

  1. Teach someone else!

Teaching someone else about a new topic is a fantastic way of processing information and describing it in simple terms. This is a very useful technique and incorporates several levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (a schematic used to describe levels of understanding knowledge, see Figure 1) such as create, analyse and apply. You also don’t have to have another person to teach, a stuffed teddy bear, a plant pot or an imaginary person will do just fine!


Triangle diagram with words in ascending order: remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate, create
Figure 1. Blooms taxonomy. Armstrong, P. (2010)


References and Helpful Articles on Active Recall

Armstrong, P. (2010). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved [18.10.2022] from

Brainscape “What is Active Recall? How to use it to ace your exams”

Osmosis Blog “Active Recall: The Most Effective High-Yield Learning Technique”

Student Advocate tips for… revision and exams


Desks and chairs in a large exam hall
Photo by Akshay Chauhan on Unsplash

Our Bristol Futures Student Advocates come from every faculty in the university, and are here to support you to grow your skills and become an even better student.

In this post, Martina and Joanne share their top tips for revising well and acing your exams …

Use your ILOs

Martina, 2nd year Biochemistry with Medical Biochemistry student

Look at the intended learning outcomes (ILOs) both for the whole module and also for each lecture to make sure you’ve covered everything. If you like to rewrite your notes when revising you could try to break them down by learning outcome and if the ILOs aren’t provided you can try coming up with them yourself!

Make a plan

Joanne, 2nd year History student

When going into essay exams, make a time/word count plan beforehand and make sure you stick to it. Although you won’t know the topic beforehand, having a general plan of attack and overall structure can help a lot to stay on track!


Check out the Study Skills Blackboard page for more tips on Revision techniques.



Student Advocate tips for… staying motivated


Two students running with trees in the background

Our Bristol Futures Student Advocates come from every faculty in the university, and are here to support you to grow your skills and become an even better student.

In this post, Martina and Anaya share their top tips for staying motivated…

Speak positively 

Martina, 2nd year Biochemistry with Medical Biochemistry

My top tips are:
– Doing my best to find the topics I’m studying interesting (even if they aren’t my favourite or I don’t really like them)
– Keeping a positive mindset but most importantly speaking positively (avoid saying something is boring, a drag etc…) this makes it less hard to complete tasks (words have a huge impact on our mood/mind without us even realising!)
– Thinking of the bigger picture and working towards future plans!

Stay organised

Anaya, 2nd year Law student

My top tip is to create a study timetable and daily to-do lists. If you’re anything like me, being organised keeps you motivated and not overwhelmed.

– I usually create a weekly planner and colour code any commitments I have for the upcoming week (lectures, revision, free time etc.) It is essential to be realistic with your time and the amount of work you need to complete. Always allocate time for rest, so you do not become burned out.
– As exams are approaching, my planner outlines what topics I will be reviewing on particular days (and for how long), as well as when my courseworks are due and what days I plan to complete them. Again this is colour coded, which helps me better visualise what I need to do, and makes the process slightly more enjoyable.
– I also create daily to-do lists because I enjoy crossing off a task once completed. Therefore, I am motivated to work on the tasks during the day so that I can look at my completed list with pride at the end of the day.

Creating manageable tasks and taking reasonable breaks throughout the day will help you stay motivated and productive without it all being too overwhelming.


Bristol Futures Student Advocates run peer support sessions for students in their faculty. Check out the Study Skills Blackboard page to see what’s coming up.



How I make notes: A law student’s guide to making revision notes

Photo of Tala, the author of the blog postby Tala Youhana, Law student and Bristol Futures Advocate

If you’re a law student, you’re probably familiar with the ‘IRAC’ method, which is traditionally used to solve legal problem questions, so you’re probably wondering why I’m mentioning it in a post about making revision notes. Surprisingly, IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) can provide a very effective guide beyond the remits we’re familiar with, and this post will seek to walk you through the process of using IRAC to make your revision notes.

Firstly, it’s important to emphasize the individualised nature of making notes, whereby there is no single right or wrong approach, so this post should only be used as a guide to help you find a unique approach which works well for you.

 I- Identify the issues

This is where you ask yourself what has worked well for you in the past and what hasn’t. In this stage, keeping an open mind is essential, and can be your most powerful tool. For instance, do you have a preference between digital and hand-written notes? If so, have you tested out both before coming to your conclusion? You may ask yourself questions like, which is easier to refer to when writing essays, which is easier to store, how easy is it to find what you’re looking for, would a hybrid approach be more effective, etc. Seek to identify obstacles you experienced in previous revision sessions and intervene with an effective solution. For me, I used to have difficulty with revisiting incomplete work, so I created a checklist before each lesson in my notes detailing all the work that I need to get done, so that when I was revising, I could immediately find incomplete work which needed revisiting.

R- Make the rules

Law students are expected to navigate numerous types of sources including cases, statutes, lectures, textbooks and articles, so finding a consistent technique that simplifies this is important. For instance, I generally colour code my notes following the same rules in every module: making case names purple, statutes pink, and articles emboldened, to distinguish them. For digital notes, also aim to familiarise yourself with keyboard functions such as “ctrl + f” to help you locate keywords when browsing a long document. Furthermore, incorporating a system of subheadings can be really effective for revision.

Handwritten notes using colour coding and a checklist of outcomes
Some of the rules in action – Notes on law, equity and trusts of land

A- Apply the rules

Once you have found the technique which works for you, your next hurdle would be to stay consistent in applying it, as this will remove the burden of you having to remember each modification you made over time, unless you feel that your previous approach is no longer working for you.

 C- Conclude

Finally, if you have spare time, formulate summaries for each section of your work or leave some room for this, to make it easier for your future self to remember the key elements in each section.

This was a whistle-stop tour to making revision notes for law, and now the rest is over to you to find what works best for you. Good luck!

Meet the Advocates in the Health Sciences team

Emma, the author of the blog postby Emma Ford, Bristol Futures Advocate

I am very excited to introduce you to your new Health Science Bristol Futures Student Advocates! We are a small group of six, very friendly, current University of Bristol students. This year we hope to share our years of experience with you. You can participate by signing up for our workshops, attending our peer support sessions, and reading our blog. So, watch this space!


Carys James

  • Year and course: Veterinary Science – 4th year
  • Fun fact: I have a pet African pygmy hedgehog
  • Study tip: Make sure you go back over lectures throughout the whole course of the year instead of leaving it until a few weeks before exams to cover all of the content. This will keep your memory refreshed and improve it long term.

Sina Gilannejad

  • Year and course: Dentistry – 5th year
  • Fun fact: In first year I featured in the dental school’s YouTube video “a day in the life of a Bristol dental student” and now 33,000 have seen my terrible haircut at the time…
  • Study tip: Ask for help and advice from the older years! They’ve been in your position, got the grades to prove it and can give you pointers on how to pass with flying colours!

Molly Jackson

  • Year and course: 2nd year PhD student – translational health sciences
  • Fun fact: I sold a necklace to the comedian Jon Richardson when I had a job at a jewellery shop.
  • Study tip: Split down your revision into 5 steps to help manage your workload: record, reduce, recite, reflect, and review!

Chelsie Bailey

  • Year and course: final year vet.
  • Fun fact: I have a first degree in animal behaviour and welfare from Bristol.
  • Study tip: Study over longer period (e.g., months) instead of cramming lots into a few weeks to allow my very dyslexic brain to have time to process it and understand.

Jess Mounty

  • Year and course: 4th year Veterinary Science
  • Fun fact: Before starting at Bristol, I studied Zoology at UCL
  • Study tip: I have found it helpful to treat University like a full-time job, sticking to 9am-5pm working hours

Emma Ford

  • Year and course: 4th year veterinary science
  • Fun fact: No one can ever guess where I am from because my accent is quite uncharacteristic from growing up in international schools.
  • Study tip: Make your own questions when going over your notes! It helps your brain work, and the better you get at it, the more your questions will start to resemble the ones you could get on your exams! It’s especially helpful if you can get other students involved so you make a database of questions! It’s a great resource to build over the course of the year so when you get to exams you have a lot of questions to practice!


You can find current drop-in times & locations for Health Science students on our Peer Support page on Blackboard.





Student Advocate tips for… making the most of lectures

Students in a banked lecture theatre

Our Bristol Futures Student Advocates come from every faculty in the university, and are here to support you to grow your skills and become an even better student.

We asked them to share their top tips for making the most of lectures. Here’s what they said…

Don’t copy everything!

If you just copy what the lecturer wrote down, you are not going to absorb and digest what the lecturer’s main point is. Even worse, you wouldn’t know if the lecturer makes a mistake. Instead, pay full attention to listening to what the lecturer is saying first. After a few sentences, think about what is the main point conveyed in what is written down on the board (or presented on the slide). And then, use your own words to jot down any key points. If you can’t catch them, need not to worry! Simply watch the recorded lecture later and pause as you go. If the lecture is not recorded, it would be nice if you can email the lecturer asking for clarification on such topics. They would be happy to help!

You will be panicked by the fact that while everyone in the hall is ferociously writing, while you are sitting there, only listening. But remember, you are also paying your full attention to the lecture, and you have done nothing less than your classmates did! Ryan, 2nd year Mathematics

Use questions for learning

As you watch the lecture clearly flag any concepts/areas that you don’t fully understand and formulate (and write down) specific questions that you think could get you the answers you need.

This habit helps provide structure and direction to your reflection/revision process after the lecture, as you know exactly what you need to follow up on talking to the lecturer or extra research/reading. I have found this makes my learning more efficient (by saving you from repeatedly covering content you know/understand in order to locate what you are less clear on) and more effective (as your learning becomes targeted to any weak points).  Emily, 3rd year Biomedical Sciences


Bristol Futures Student Advocates run peer support sessions for students in their faculty. Check out the Study Skills Blackboard page to see what’s coming up.