By Leo Babauta

Today we’ll talk about the first of a handful of methods that make our learning more effective.

I’ve recorded a video that talks about the idea of “effective learning” and then explains a bit about our first effective learning methods — retrieval:

(You can watch the video above or download it here to watch on your device.)

So what is retrieval? It’s the act of trying to remember something you’ve learned (or perhaps you haven’t learned it yet) from your memory. This simple act is harder than just exposing yourself to the information (watching a video or reading, for example), but that difficulty is good when it comes to learning. It makes the learning more durable, more effective.

Some key ideas when it comes to retrieval:

  1. Quiz yourself. When you’re done reading material or watching a video, don’t just feel like you’ve learned something, because what you’ve learned is mostly temporary. Make yourself take a quiz on the topic, and you’ll retain it much better.
  2. Retrieval interrupts forgetting. Basically, right after you learn something, you start to forget it. But if you force yourself to try to retrieve it before you forget, you’ll forget less.
  3. Try quizzing before you study. This might seem weird, but if you quiz yourself before you learn something, you’ll learn it better when you are exposed to the material. This pre-quiz gives you an idea of what you don’t know, and when you read about that information, you say, “Aha! That’s one of the things I didn’t know.” For example, if I asked you, “What’s the capital of Montenegro?” and you don’t know the answer … when you finally hear the answer (“Podgorica”), you’ll remember it better than if I just told you, “The capital of Montenegro is Podgorica” straightaway.
  4. Flashcards are awesome. A great way to quiz yourself if you’re learning information (as opposed to a skill) is to use flashcards — either paper ones or computer flashcards. (Suggestions below!) This is a form of retrieval that works brilliantly, in my experience.
  5. Quiz regularly. Quizzing right after you learn something is great, but it’s really important to quiz yourself on a regular basis. If not every day, then at least once every few days. This forces you to bring it back before you forget.

OK, that’s great … but how do you apply this to what you’re learning?

Some ideas:

OK, you get the idea. For whatever you’re learning, find ways to force yourself to retrieve the knowledge or practice the skills, regularly — perhaps even every day.