Active Learning: The Ultimate Study Hack to Boost Your Exam Scores!


Studying can be a daunting task, especially when you’re trying to balance schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and a social life. In last month’s blog post I shared my go-to test-taking strategies. This month I want to share my top study hack: using active learning strategies to improve your understanding and retention of information.

What are Active Learning Strategies?

When most people think of studying, they think of reading over their notes, highlighting key information, or using cue cards. These types of study strategies are passive – like sitting on the couch watching cooking shows on Netflix. Active study strategies are much better for retaining and understanding the information you’re trying to study because you’re actively participating in your learning – like learning and preparing a new recipe in the kitchen. Active studying and passive studying are two different ways of studying, and it’s important to understand the difference between them in order to improve your overall studying efficacy.

Examples of Active Study Strategies

Explain the material to someone else

When you can explain the information to someone else, it means that you truly understand it. This is especially effective when you explain it to someone who doesn’t have prior knowledge of the topic. Try teaching a friend, sibling, or parent how to complete a practice question but insist that they follow only your steps. Are they able to do it without making any assumptions or using any prior knowledge? It’s a good way to assess your own understanding of the material and identify any gaps in your knowledge. By explaining the material to others, you’re testing yourself, and this in turn helps you understand and retain the information better.

Create your own study notes

Creating your own study notes is more effective than using notes you found online or got from a friend. This is because the process of creating the notes reinforces your understanding of the material more thoroughly than simply reading them. By summarizing and organizing the information in your own words, you actively engage with the material and make it more meaningful to you. You can also tailor the notes to your own learning style, making them more effective for you as a passive learning strategy later on. It’s a good idea to try creating your own notes the next time you study, and see how it improves your understanding and retention.

Do lots of practice problems

This one is obvious. One of the best ways to test your understanding of a subject is by doing practice questions. Instructional materials like textbooks, videos, and lectures are important for learning the fundamentals of a topic, but practice questions help you apply that knowledge and identify any gaps in your understanding. You can easily identify your strengths and weaknesses and get a better understanding of what to expect on a test or exam. By actively engaging with the material through practice questions, you reinforce your learning and develop critical thinking skills. 

Create and complete self-tests

Self-testing is similar to doing practice questions, but it’s a bit more structured. It’s an effective way to evaluate your knowledge of a subject as a whole and to identify areas where you need to improve and focus your studying. To create a self-test, you can use flashcards, quizzes, or even just write out a list of questions. 

One way to make self-testing more efficient is by selecting questions from old tests or quizzes. This way you focus on specific areas that you need to improve on, rather than reviewing the entire test or quiz. It’s a more time-efficient way of reviewing the material and allows you to focus on the areas where you need the most practice.

Reorganize information

Reorganizing information is an easy and effective way to make the material more meaningful to you. This can include things like creating charts, diagrams, or even just rewriting information in your own words. You can also identify patterns and connections between different concepts, which can help you understand the material better. For example, creating a mind map of the different concepts covered in a unit can help you see how they relate to each other which makes it easier to remember the information and recall it when needed. And of course, by presenting the information in a different format, you’re engaging with it in a new way, which helps reinforce your understanding and retention of it.

Rewrite old tests

When it comes to math, there are a few specific study strategies that I find to be particularly effective. One of these is re-writing copies of old tests or quizzes. Simply pull out all you tests and quizzes from the semester and make blank copies or put sticky notes over the answers. Spend a day or two rewriting the tests and you’ll notice that some questions came back to you quickly while others were a challenge. Make note of the challenging ones and find more practice problems in the textbook or your review pack that are similar.

Not only is this an accurate review of the content for the semester but you’re also practising for the style of questions your teacher will likely ask on the exam. This can help you become more familiar with the format and structure of the exam, thus reducing anxiety and making you feel more comfortable and confident during the exam.


Other active learning strategies include participating in group discussions, creating mind maps, and using flashcards with self-testing. Granted, these strategies may take more time and effort than passive studying, but the benefits are worth 100% it. While actively engaging with your learning you retain information for longer periods of time and improve your overall understanding of a subject. So next time you’re studying, try incorporating some of these active learning strategies into your routine and see how it improves your exam scores! 

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