What Is Active Recall and Passive Recall? | Iris Reading
What Is Active Recall and Passive Recall?

What Is Active Recall and Passive Recall?

What Is Active Recall and Passive Recall?

Active recall and passive recall are learning strategies that can help retain information. The former refers to techniques that retrieve information from your brain, while the latter refers to the techniques that take in information from learning materials. 

Although both are good techniques for learning and memory, active recall is a more effective way of restoring information in long-term memory compared to passive recall. 

Exploring the differences between active and passive recall can make you evaluate the effectiveness of your learning methods. Whether you are a student, a professional, or someone who wants to improve your memory, this article is for you. 

Tag along with us as we thoroughly present active recall, passive recall, the application of active recall, and different active recall strategies. 

What is active recall?

Also known as active retrieval or practice testing, active recall is a study method that involves active retrieving of information and repeated testing to enhance retention, memory, and comprehension. It is usually used in self-studies strategies, such as flashcards and self-made questions. 

With active recall, you do not only read the learning materials but create questionnaires based on the subject. You revise and repeatedly test yourself about the topic. This strategy allows you to actively force your brain to remember the information you read and lets you identify topics or areas that you don’t understand and that need additional attention. 

Several studies have shown that active recall is a highly effective method of studying that greatly improves academic test performance. For instance, a 2013 study on improving students’ learning techniques showed that practice testing is a high utility learning technique because it boosts the performance of students of different ages and across many criterion tasks. 

This 2010 experimental study and other 2017 meta-analysis studies on practice tests found that practice and repeated testing are more beneficial to students because they produce superior retention and transfer of knowledge than repeated studying. 

Although active recall is proven to be effective in learning and memory, it does require effort to use this learning strategy. There are different techniques for active learning that we will venture into later.

What is passive recall?

A passive recall is a popular learning technique that involves passively reviewing the learning materials. It is done by reading, watching, listening, highlighting, and summarizing notes. 

The technique is pretty easy to do, making it a popular and common study method. Its specific methods, such as reading and highlighting, make us feel productive. It also gives us false confidence whenever we recognize the topics we studied. 

However, simply recognizing and recalling information are two different words. Recognizing is being familiar with the topic, while recalling means remembering the information about the particular topic. 

Various studies consistently found that passive recall is ineffective, time-consuming, and does less to improve memory retention and academic performance.

A 2013 study on effective learning techniques found that summarization, keyword mnemonic, summarization, imagery use, and rereading are low utility study methods. This means that, although these techniques are helpful to students, their benefits are limited. 

Imagery use and summarization for text learning are not the applicable techniques for all tasks or learning materials. Likewise, keyword mnemonic is suitable only for a few learning materials and only helpful for short retention intervals. Rereading and highlighting are the most common techniques, but the study showed these do not consistently improve academic performance. 

While it is easy to apply passive recall strategies, it is not as effective as you think. If you want to recall information and enhance long-term memory, it is highly recommended. 

How to use active recall to learn quicker?

You can use active recall to learn quickly by familiarizing yourself with the topic, forcing yourself to remember without looking at the learning material, checking the accuracy of your recalled information, and reviewing regularly. 

Familiarizing with the topic you want to learn is the first step to active learning. You can read and comprehend the learning material, watch videos about it, or listen to audiobooks to learn about the information. 

After familiarizing yourself, put away the learning material and force yourself to remember the information from what you just read, watched, or listened to. You can do this by drawing, reciting, explaining it in your own words, or answering practice tests. This might be a struggle, but don’t peek at the learning material if you forgot the information. 

Then, do fact-checking to see how accurate you have recalled the information. You can read the learning material again to check what parts you missed and did not understand. 

Repeat the remembering and fact-checking steps until you are confident that you have learned the topic well. 

Lastly, review regularly. Review every few days and do space repetition to help retain the information. In case you forget, look the information up again. 

Active recall techniques

Here are the different active recall techniques you can utilize for enhanced memory:

1. Practice Test

A practice test is the best way to actively recall information. It assesses your learning by actively remembering information and applying and using your knowledge. 

Generating your questions to test yourself is also an effective way to remember, retain, and comprehend the topics you are learning. 

2. Flashcards

Flashcards are questions written in the front part of the paper and answers are written in the back part. You can try answering the questions based on your memory, flip the back part to check the answers, and score yourself. You can score yourself and repeat it every few days to track your progress. 

It is a fun active learning technique you can use by yourself or with your friends. 

3. Note-taking

Taking down notes by simply copying every word in a book or uttered by a teacher is not effective. 

You have to write notes on what you can remember and write it in your own words. You can also organize the information by putting headings and subheadings. Summarizing the information in your own words and checking the accuracy afterward is another way to take notes. 

All these can help actively engage your brain as you study. 

4. Feynman Technique

Feynman Technique is a method for learning and internalizing topics invented by the Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman. This technique is a simple process that involves studying the material, teaching the topic, filling the gaps of what you missed, and simplifying the content of the topic. 

This technique tests your understanding of the topic by encouraging you to use simple, clear, and concise words in explaining the topic. 


There are many ways to study and learn new things. However, not all guarantee that what you learn can be stored in your long-term memory. 

We have discussed the difference between active and passive recall. We also presented different strategies in active recall to help you retain information and improve your memory. 

If these strategies don’t work well for you, don’t worry. There are other techniques you can try. You can also enroll in an online memory course, such as the Iris Reading Maximizing Memory course, to thoroughly guide you in enhancing your memory.  

Enroll in the Maximizing Memory course now!

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