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Brain "Dumps" - Not a Dirty Word

Any time that we attempt to recall from memory particular ideas, dates, concepts, and other information, we are 'laying down' the neural pathways necessary to make long term memories and make it easier to remember. By moving important information to long term memory we free up our working memory to engage in thoughtful activities like reasoning, critical thinking, and creative thinking. One uniquely worded method that many learning specialists, including teachers, recommend to learn material is the brain dump. As a teacher, I often used brain dumps in the classroom to 1) have students practice remembering information that we had recently (or not so recently) learned, and 2) as a method to check for learning and understanding.

A brain dump, in its simplest form, is the act of recalling, usually in written form, everything one knows about a topic or an answer to a question. It can also involve using methods such as a mind map to collect thoughts and ideas. What's most important is that this recall of information should be done without looking up information. So in order to practice this method it is recommended that cell phones, computers, notes and textbooks be set aside and take pen or pencil and a blank piece of paper, or notebook or journal, and write down everything you can remember about the topic. Only after you have exhausted all that you can remember is it a good idea to now check your thoughts against your notes. This method of studying should be a consistent practice.

The brain dump as an exercise of studying is actually a well researched method of free recall. Ultimately it is another example of the practice of retrieval learning, an often referenced learning technique in this blog and a fundamental component of the learning modules we produce. The act of practicing free recall of information positively impacts future recall of information (Arnold & McDermott, 2013) and helps to enhance how the brain organizes this information (Zaromb & Roediger III, 2010).

Other research suggests that the very process of writing your thoughts down improves memory. For instance, recent research by Miura & Matsuo (2021) found that participants that wrote information down outperformed other participants in a future recall test.

Learners should take time each day to practice brain dumps or some type of recall exercises. It is particularly valuable to recall new information at the end of the day same day it was taught and then recall this information periodically over time. Again, this is retrieval learning.

As mentioned above, our learning modules activate retrieval learning including free recall. We build in one or two free recall questions in most of our practice tests, and each learning module includes an entire section of free recall that we entitled Total Recall. One of the great advantages of our learning modules is that the learner can check their answer against an accurate answer and learn additional, connected information. Out Total Recall practices also provide hyperlinks to other practice tests that the learner can perform and review in order to fill in gaps.

Go here for an example of a Biology 20 Total Recall practice.

Go here to learn more about the science of learning behind our online learning modules.

And go here to shop our learning modules.


Ahmar, D. S., Ramlawaty, Masri, M., Ahmar, A. S. (2017). Relationship Between

Prior Knowledge and Creative Thinking Ability. Chemistry. Educational Process: International Journal, 6(3), 18-25.

Arnold K.M. & McDermott K.B. (2013). Free recall enhances subsequent learning. Psychon Bull Rev., 20(3), 507-13.

Miura, H., & Matsuo, K. (2021). Does writing enhance recall and memory consolidation? Revealing the factor of effectiveness of the self-administered interview. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 35(5), 1338-1343.

Zaromb, F.M. & Roediger III, H. l. (2010). The testing effect in free recall is associated with enhanced organizational processes. Memory & Cognition, 38(8), 995-1008.

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