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Five minutes a day to exam success: with retrieval journaling

Five minutes a day to exam success: with retrieval journaling

With the first couple of weeks of the academic year under our belts, now is the perfect time to think about the study habits you can put into practice during the year to make sure your revision process is as painless as possible come the end of the year.

There’s one particular favourite I love sharing with students at this time of year: it’s called “retrieval journaling”, and its power lies in delivering a highly effective boost to learning every single school day. That means that you can start your end-of-year revision feeling far more familiar with your course than you would otherwise be.

And the best bit? It only takes five minutes a day!

How to use retrieval journaling

The retrieval journaling process is simple: spend 5 minutes every single school day reflecting on what you did in lessons that day. Try to recall what each lesson covered, and challenge yourself to remember anything you think would be particularly helpful to know for exams later in the year.

You’re not going to be able to regurgitate every detail of each lesson in the time available. And that’s OK: there’s plenty of benefit in simply trying to remember the main concepts you talked about, any major formulas, new words or important principles that were introduced.

Once you’ve done as much remembering as you can manage, then (and only then!) have a check back on your books to see whether you made any errors, and to correct any slips, perhaps in a different colour ink.

Why does retrieval journaling work so well?

It combines two of the most potent learning principles known to cognitive psychologists: “retrieval practice” and “spaced learning”.

Retrieval practice” means learning by practising remembering (or “retrieving”) what you know. Flashcards, self-testing and past paper questions all allow you to practise retrieval, as does a daily retrieval journaling habit. Each time you make a retrieval practice attempt, it solidifies that information in your memory, making it substantially easier to remember it next time round.

Spaced learning” simply means revisiting a topic multiple times, separated by time. Each time you revisit a subject, you forget it more slowly, and remember it for longer.

Retrieval journaling combines both of these principles in an easy-to-implement daily ritual.

Give it a try today

If you don’t believe 5 minutes a day can possibly be worth much in the grand scheme of things, over a 9-month school year, it adds up to 22.5 extra study hours, top-quality study hours at that, equivalent to at least 5-6 whole days’ revision for many students.

So see if this year you can hit revision season knowing most of your course instead of having forgotten most of it, by giving retrieval journaling a go!

William Wadsworth graduated from Cambridge University in England in 2012, with a First Class degree in Psychology and a passion for the science of truly effective learning. He founded the popular blog www.ExamStudyExpert.com and podcast of the same name (“Exam Study Expert”), is the author of the best-selling exam technique book, Outsmart Your Exams, and is in demand as a private exam success coach and academic mentor.

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