Use it or Lose It: Active Recall (for wine and spirits students)

We all know it: in order to acquire or maintain a skill, you must practice.

Do you want to improve your tennis game? Practice your backhand!

Do you want to improve your weightlifting ability? Work out with weights!

But what if you goal is to improve your knowledge? Perhaps you want to improve your ability to help your customers navigate your 100-item bourbon list. Or, maybe your goal is to pass a wine or spirits certification exam.

In all these instances, the answer is the same: use it or lose it.

However, in the context of studying (particularly for an exam), students often use passive study methods. These include re-reading the text, re-reading notes, watching videos over and over, or floating a highlighter over a book. These strategies are b-t-n (better than nothing), but for most people, they are not  the most effective. The main issue with these techniques is that they improve your ability to recognize the material—your brain tells you “oh yeah, I remember that!” and you think you know the material. It might even lead you to experience the illusion of mastery (ouch).

Recall, on the other hand, is retrieving content from your memory—and using a study method called active recall is the “use it or lose it” of improving your knowledge.  In a nutshell: you actively try to recollect what you are learning. No peaking, no lists, no notes—close your eyes and flex your brain.

Active recall is one of the most efficient ways to increase your knowledge. But you don’t have to take my word for it: according to Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt, as reported in February 11, 2011 edition of Science Magazine, “Every time a memory is retrieved, that memory becomes more accessible in the future. Perhaps most surprisingly, practicing retrieval has been shown to produce more learning than engaging in other effective encoding techniques.”

Here are some specific ways to engage in active recall in the context of the study of wine and spirits:

  • Draw maps from memory
  • Use flashcards: Like many educators, I have a love-hate relationship with flashcards. I hate it when students over-rely on them, or try to use them in place of  a more appropriate method of building background knowledge and context. I also acknowledge that they can be described as promoting “rote memorization” of “random factoids.” However, in order to understand complicated material, we must first have knowledge of certain details (factoids if you must)—so flashcards have their place.
  • Write up a list of questions and quiz yourself: Here’s an example: Bubbly Professor – Active Recall – sample questions
  • Re-write your notes using “blanks” in the place of important facts, then fill in the blanks from memory.
  • Use the Cornell method of note taking (particularly the “review” step): Click here for more information (directly from Cornell).
  • Stand and deliver—re-read your notes or a page in your textbook, then paraphrase it out loud. This is fun to do in a small group, but there’s nothing wrong with talking to yourself—just go for it.
  • Rephrase it: Read three paragraphs or sections in your textbook. Starting with the first one, write a summary of each, re-stating the information “in your own words” rather than quoting the source material.

The more often you engage in active recall, the better your results will be. There’s even a scientific plan—known as spaced repetition—for when and how often you should actively recall information in order to really learn it (more on that later.)

In conclusion: we all focus on getting information into our brains. Turns out, it is just as important to pull information out. Or, put another way: re-membering beats re-reading

Use it or lose it.

References/for more information:

Click here to read more of our posts on study techniques.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

 

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

3 Responses to Use it or Lose It: Active Recall (for wine and spirits students)

  1. Johna Clark says:

    This is great stuff
    Thanks

  2. Pingback: Go Around Again! | The Bubbly Professor

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