Effect of evocation on learning: what it is and how it works

We’ve all been students and we know how tedious it can be to have to study for an exam. It’s okay to feel lazy when you open the book and review the content that is going to come in, because we want to spend that time on more fun things.

Among the classic techniques that we have all used to memorize the program, we have to read and reread and occasionally do an overview and summary. We believe that the more we have seen it, the more we will keep it.

But what if, instead of reading and rereading, we practice remembering the content? After all, in classic exams, what they make us do is remember what we have learned, by exposing in writing.

Then let’s find out what is the effect of evocation on learning and why this technique may be the most useful when preparing for an exam.

    What is the effect of evocation on learning?

    There are all kinds of study techniques. There are students who almost obsessively write down every word the teacher says in class. Others prefer to take the book and underline it with markers of all colors, each for a different type of data.

    It is also common for students to make plans and post them on the pages to get a quick note on the topic of this lesson. However, the vast majority prefer to simply read the agenda, hoping that more readings will be kept in our memory.

    All of these practices involve varying degrees of effort. It is clear that making summaries and plans are more complex tasks than just reading and rereading over and over again. But what all these techniques have in common to review the given contentBut its memory, its evocation, cannot be practiced. When we read or plan, we look back at the program, but we don’t make the cognitive effort to bring to our consciousness what we are supposed to have learned, even though that is what we will have to do by day. even. of the exam.

    Evocation should be part of the study. Practicing around our awareness of what we have seen in class or read in books, we really prepare for exam day.. Traditional exams, that is, those in which we are presented with a statement in which we must state what we are asked to do, are actually evocation exercises rather than showing that we have acquired knowledge. We may have read the lesson over and over again, but it is no use to us if on exam day we were left blank and unable to retrieve this information.

    How do we learn?

    To say that we have learned the content of the class, the following three processes must have taken place:

    • Coding: get the information.
    • Storage: save the information.
    • Evocation: being able to recover it, with or without clues.

    The vast majority of student placements remain in the first two processes and, very partially, they can give rise to the third. When we are in class or read the topic for the first time, we do the first process, which is coding. Naturally, this process will be given in a better or worse way depending on different factors, such as our excitement (state of alert), the interesting thing that we find the lesson or if we already knew something related to what we let’s learn. At the moment .

    Then we did the second process, storage. We can do this storage very passively as we would when reading and replaying the program. We can also do this through overviews and summaries. It really isn’t entirely wrong to say that the more reads there are, the more likely it is that information will be stored, but it is not a guarantee that we will remember it. If we were to compare encoding and storage with the computer world, the first would involve creating a new document and the second would just be saving it in computer memory.

    The problem with most techniques, following the computer metaphor, is that they actually involve the creation of this mental document. and save it somewhere in our brain memory, but we don’t know where. We do not know which folder to look for this document in or whether this folder is in another folder. These techniques are used to create the documents, but not to chart the mental path that we must take to reach these documents. In short, learning would be to create the document, store it in a safe place, and know how to retrieve it when needed.

    With respect to this same comparison, we can emphasize that in many cases forgetting or feeling the same is not because the stored information is gone, but because we are not in able to recover them without clues. . When we are on a computer and do not know how to access a document, we search the programs and files search engine, trusting that we will put the keyword that gives it to us.

    However, our mind is different from a computer’s memory at this point. Watching or hearing a clue about the content we have reviewed can help us remember it, but this memory can be accidental.. We do not evoke it in itself, that is to say that we do not arrive at the whole document, but rather we remember certain ideas which have more or less marked us. However, in the exams we are not given too many clues and this is where we got stuck.

      Taking an exam is like riding a bike

      Most of us know how to ride a bicycle and more or less remember how we learned to ride. At first, we got into the wheeled vehicle to learn how to pedal. Then they took those little wheels away from us and with various attempts, fears, loss of balance and support from our parents or other close people, we were able to manage the bike. This is all, in essence, the experience we all had when we first drove through one of these dumps.

      Let’s say we know someone who tells us they didn’t learn this way. Unlike us, he says he spent several weeks studying the mechanism of the bicycle, seeing its blueprints, the mechanism of the wheels, watching other people ride, and that one day he sat on the bike. above the vehicle and suddenly it was already moving. with her. Listening to all of this we would think he was teasing us which is safest. How are you going to learn to ride a bike without having practiced?

      the same thing we can apply it to writing exams. Just as we won’t learn to ride a bike without trying it first, we won’t be able to exhibit everything we are supposed to have learned on exam day without having done it first. We must have taken some time in our study sessions to try and practice evocation, seeing that we remember without needing visual and auditory cues.

      Classic reviews are a good tool to see how much content we can conjure up. with them the encoding is not simply evaluated, i.e. having obtained the information, nor the storageIn other words, having it somewhere in our memory, but also the evocation. If we only wanted to assess the first two processes, it would be enough to use test type exams, the wording and one of the alternative answers would be put literally as they came out in the book.

      To evoke better than to read

      The reason why few students practice evocation is because they have a bad idea of ​​what learning is. It’s common for students of all ages to believe that learning simply means passively absorbing content, expecting them to magically vomit on the exam. As we mentioned, they think that the more readings or diagrams they do, the more they will have internalized the content and in turn, they will be able to bring it back more easily, which is not really the case.

      During the last decades, we have studied to what extent the practice of evocation allows to better assimilate a content, that is to say to learn it. Practicing evocation improves our ability to retrieve it and therefore improves the way we have demonstrated that we know it. We saw that if after a classic study session (reading the content or attention in class) we test our memory instead of rereading the content, we get better results on the day of the exam.

      Advanced without knowing it

      as we have mentioned, there are few students who practice evocation intentionally. However, although they are still in the minority, many are those who practice it, although spontaneously and without realizing how much it reinforces their learning. They do this as a strategy to make sure they know it and thus gain some composure. They do not know that in the iron they are training for the day of the exam and also find out which contents are the weakest so that they can pay more attention to them.

      The reason most people don’t practice evocation when studying is related to our motivations and self-esteem, although in the long run it pays off very well. We do not practice evocation because in doing so we end up with a sense of frustration by finding out how much we don’t know yet, although ironically that’s a big plus in our study, as it allows us to avoid wasting time looking at things we already know and focusing on which we don’t know yet.

      It is because of this feeling of frustration that average students prefer to reread the lesson. In addition to the little cognitive effort involved in this task as we visualize content that we have already encoded and somehow stored in our minds, there is a sense of familiarity. As we read we recognize what we have already seen and we have the false feeling that we have learned it, Giving us a sense of calm in thinking that we are fully assimilating the content, which is rarely true.

      This feeling of familiarity can be seen in students who have just completed an exam. When they give birth, they leave the classroom and start talking to each other about what happened in a somewhat sadomasochistic act. It is not uncommon to see a classmate being surprised when another says what he should have taken the exam, worriedly saying “What if I knew!”. What just happened was that he recognized what his partner was talking about, but at the time of the exam he couldn’t bring it up. It was somewhere dark in his mind, but he couldn’t reach it.


      There are many study techniques used in classrooms today. Each of them involves investing different cognitive efforts, time and resources. However, the effect of evocation on learning is the most beneficial of all, as it is about practicing the same thing that will be done on the day of the exam, i.e. remembering without visual or auditory cues of the content. sheet of paper.

      Reading, rereading, making plans, summaries, underlining and the like can be useful, but they do not give us the certainty that what we see when we do the review will be able to evoke on the day of the exam. This is why the evocation it must be a technique that is always present in our study sessions, as it allows us to complete the whole learning process: Encoding, storage, evocation. Also, it allows us to see what we haven’t learned yet, because if we don’t know how to remember now, we won’t know how to remember exam day.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Björk, RA (1994). Considerations on memory and metamemory in the formation of human beings. In: J. Metcalfe and A. Shimamura (Eds.), Metacognition: Knowing how to know. Cambridge: MIT Press, pages 185-206.
      • Karpicke, J., and Roediger, H. (2008). The critical importance of recovery for learning. Science, 319, 966-968.
      • Karpicke et al. (2009). Metacognitive strategies in student learning: do students practice recovery when studying on their own? Brief, 17 (4), 471-479.
      • Karpicke, J. (2012). Recovery-Based Learning: Active recovery promotes meaningful learning. Current Orientations in Psychological Sciences, 21 (3) 157-163.
      • Rowland, California (2014). The effect of evidence versus study on retention: a meta-analytical review of the effect of evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 140, 1432-63.
      • Ruiz-Martin, H. (2020) How do we learn? A scientific approach to learning and teaching. Spain, Graó.

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