Fact Checked

What is a Recall Test?

Maggie J. Hall
Maggie J. Hall

A recall test is frequently used in cognitive psychology as a means of gauging memory. Clinicians frequently use a cued recall test, a free recall test, or serial recall test to evaluate various aspects of short-term memory — a person's ability to retrieve information recently learned. Through years of developing and using such tests, scientists have a better understanding of how the brain learns, stores, and retrieves information.

Cued recall, also known as stimulus/response, involves memorizing a sequence of information, using any method desired. After 15 to 30 minutes, researchers ask subjects to recall a specific bit of information or all of the information in proper order, once given a specific retrieval clue. The clue might be divulging half of a paired sequence, or a picture, word or clue associated with a particular piece of information. This type of recall test not only shows how the brain uses association for encoding memories, but also how it makes logical inferences when the clue is based on a general interpretation of the information.

It's typically difficult for people with cognitive impairment to absorb new information.
It's typically difficult for people with cognitive impairment to absorb new information.

Free recall is a test of memory in which subjects are asked to memorize a short sequence of pictures, numbers, or words during a specific length of time. Following another predetermined length of time, the subjects then relay the information in any sequence. This recall test reveals how individuals use particular types of encoding to memorize groups of information. People might group similar pieces of data together or remember information using mnemonic methods. Researchers also learned that people usually remember the beginning and the ending of sequences more readily, which is referred to as primary and recency memory.

Serial recall generally tests a person's ability to remember information in a precise order or to remember circumstances as they occurred within a time frame. Researchers believe this type of learning and memory reflects the human ability to create and use language along with the ability to remember past events in chronological order. Populations in any given culture learn the word sequences that form sentence structure, which provides a means of communication. Remembering life events or the particular steps required to accomplish a task generally requires serial learning and memory.

Cognitive psychology researchers use recall tests to show how many factors affect learning and memory. For example, the more attention a person gives to the encoding or memorization process of learning new information, the greater the amount of information learned and accurately remembered. Motivation is also a strong learning and memory recall factor. Whether it is a tangible reward or a general fear of defeat, persons using some type of self-motivation generally produce a higher level of performance. Researchers have also discovered that using the same environment, or state of being, to recall information as was used to initially learn the information, typically enables people to retrieve information more effectively.

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Discussion Comments


This kind of recall testing reminds me of the alphabet game we played as kids. Although it is probably not an official word recall memory test, it sounds very similar.

We would go around the circle with each person coming up with a word for each letter of the alphabet. When it was your turn you had to go through the whole list before you, and then add your letter.

Even though this was played in fun, there are many things about this type of memory game that challenges your thinking.


A recall test is similar to the memory game I play with my grandson. Even at a young age, it is good for them to begin using their cognitive skills. Even though this game is played with pictures, a word recall test would serve a similar purpose.

Anytime you are concentrating on structure or a sequence of events, you are exercising your brain. When someone is concentrating very hard, you can see on their face how hard their brain is working to retrieve and remember.

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    • It's typically difficult for people with cognitive impairment to absorb new information.
      By: Fotoluminate LLC
      It's typically difficult for people with cognitive impairment to absorb new information.