Use It or Lose It: Active Recall Helps You Study Better

boundless active recall

At Boundless we’re always striving to improve learning — and helping students retain important information more effectively is one of our goals. We use Boundless Learning Technology in all our premium textbooks to help students understand and remember concepts better, so they’re prepared for exams and lifelong learning. Active recall is a core component of our learning technology.


This is the first in a two part series about the science behind Boundless Learning Technology.


What is active recall?

One key aspect to our learning tech is active recall, the process by which knowledge is actively retrieved from memory by taking a quiz or test, rather than passively reviewed by reading over notes repeatedly. So, instead of students sitting down with a pile of notes trying to memorize facts for the next exam, active recall engages them in their readings with questions about what they just read.

The research behind the technique

Studies show students who study using active recall techniques typically perform 50% better than those who don’t.

Researchers asked college students to study a short science text using one of four study methods, then tested them a week later. Some students simply read the text over and over to commit the information to memory while others used a combination of reading and assessment. The most effective study method combined two study sessions with retrieval practice – tests that asked students to recall what they had read. Take a look at how the study methods compared:

Jeffrey Karpicke, the lead author of this study, told the New York Times, “I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge… I think that we’re tapping into something fundamental about how the mind works when we talk about retrieval.”

So do we. Boundless is tapping into this research to engage students in their studies.

Active recall in action

Most students try to memorize facts by repeatedly reading content. While simply collecting your lecture notes and reading them silently to yourself over and over is the easiest method of studying it’s also the least effective. Your mind wanders, BuzzFeed creeps in, and the information you thought you worked hard to memorize is actually retained at an abysmally low rate.

Instead of trying to memorize concepts simply by reading them over and over, Boundless users are prompted with a quiz as they finish reading a section. The quiz helps students cement the information they just read by forcing them to recall that information. If a student can successfully remember and answer a question, then it’s assumed she understands the information well. If not, it’s a good indication of where she should focus her efforts.

Students can retake these quizzes at any point, so when they’re getting ready for an exam they make for a perfect review. Plus, Boundless quizzes are available on any device, so students can study from their couch or their seat on the bus.

Give it a try!

Active recall is used throughout Boundless premium textbooks. Sign up for an account today to start learning more effectively.

Next up

Learn about how we integrate spaced repetition into Boundless Learning Technology.