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DAT Strategy: Active Recall

DAT Strategy: Active Recall

Below we will review a popular DAT strategy called Active Recall.
Active recall is a powerful strategy we recommend using during your preparations.

The DAT (Dental Admission Test) is an important test for all dental school applicants and doing well on it is integral to receive an acceptance. The test is over five hours long and covers an immense variety of subjects from basic sciences such as biology and organic chemistry to non-sciences such as math and reading comprehension. We often hear students ask “How do you study for the DAT?” or “What is the best way to study?” Below, we will review one of the most important DAT study strategies that have helped many students score well on the DAT.

The “active recall” study method

Active recall will by far, be your most important study strategy and most of the following tips will depend on it. What is active recall you ask? Well, to answer this question, we will have to bore you a bit with a research study that was conducted nearly a decade and a half ago, but we promise that the information presented is immensely relevant to studying for the DAT, dental school, and even throughout life.

In 2006, Henry Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke conducted a research study on how testing yourself on information that you just learned affects your long-term information retention. They devised an experiment with two groups. Group 1 was to read an excerpt twice, while group 2 was only allowed to read the excerpt once, but was then immediately tasked to write down everything they just read. In other words, group 1 was study-study, while group 2 was study-test.

These two groups were further divided into subgroups based on the time they were required to take a final test. The testing times were 5 minutes, 2 days, and 1 week after their respective study-study or study-test sessions. The results of their performance are shown below.

As you can see, in the 5 minutes subgroup, Group 1, the study-study group, was able to slightly edge out group 2, the study-test group. However, the subgroup that was tested 2 days after showed different results. The study-study group did significantly worse than the study-test subgroup. The 1-week subgroup showed the same result as the 2-day subgroup.

Roediger and Karpicke concluded that “This outcome on the immediate tests in the present experiments reveals just how powerful the testing effect is: Despite the benefits of repeated study shortly after learning, repeated testing produces strong positive effects on a delayed test.” This study method of testing oneself after reading or learning the material eventually became to be known as active recall.

So what does this mean and why is this important? Well, as you can see from the results of the research study, how you study and what strategies you employ to study do affect testing performance. Roediger and Karpicke proved that you cannot just learn the material by reading or listening to it and that you must actively try and test yourself on the material you have learned. This active recall strategy has been proven to assist in long-term information retention for tests scheduled far in advance such as the DAT. Below are a few active recall strategies you can use to help you in your DAT prep.

Four Active Recall Strategies to Help You Score Higher

1. Complete practice questions and take practice tests.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I cannot tell you how many times a student has scored low because they spent time reading textbooks and reviewing notes, and doing little to no practice questions or tests.

As detailed above, simply knowing the information and rereading it is not enough. You should be testing yourself on your ability to recall information via answering practice problems. Practice tests are an even better method as it stimulates real testing environments. That said, we recommend using practice questions to solidify your understanding of a subject while using practice tests to monitor your progress.

2. Understand why an answer is incorrect.

While it is great to immediately understand why a certain answer choice is correct, our opinion is that you could go even further. To really solidify your understanding of the material, you should also review all of the answer choices and understand why they are incorrect. That way, you will be able to review a few different concepts from a single question.

3. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

If time allows, you should go over your practice questions again. If time is limited, mark the ones you get incorrect and go over them again another day. You will be surprised at how many times students get the same questions wrong, even after reviewing them. In order to really drill the concept in, periodically go over your practice questions and practice tests.

4. Use flashcards or Anki 

As a person who did not initially like using flashcards or Anki, I cannot deny that they are definitely one of the best ways to use active recall. While practice questions are better for practice, flashcards or Anki provide another way for you to use active recall and should be used for any concepts that are hard to understand. Try to complete flashcards or Anki on a schedule and just watch the magic happen. If you’re not familiar with Anki, check out our guide to using Anki for the DAT.

Final Thoughts
The DAT is an extremely difficult and grueling test, but the test can be beaten with a few simple study strategies. It is important not to make the mistake of thinking that reading is studying. It is one part of it, but it is not the end all be all to studying. If you use the above strategies, you will be one step closer to achieving a competitive score.

Written by Eddie Mo
NYU Dental Student

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