Self-testing is a technique that can improve your recall and Qur’ān memorisation retention. We use tests to show us how much we know but when done regularly they can actually help improve long-term memory.
In this article, I will share what self-testing is in the context of Qur’ān memorization (Hifz) and what an effective method of self-testing can be.
What is self-testing in Qur’ān memorisation (Hifz)?
Self-testing is a learning technique that involves recalling as much of the Qur’ān as you can to answer questions or practice recall (randomly)—without looking at the Mus’haf. Another word for it is retrieval practice.
So usually the process of testing how well you know something usually looks like this:
You will study for a certain period and then have a test.
At other times, it can also look like this:
So if you’re memorising the Qur’ān, this is what you might come to expect. You will memorise, and then test yourself, rinse and repeat. This works and is a tiny form of self-testing.
But there is another way. It’s what psychologists call the Testing Effect:
This is what self-testing is. You will memorise your portion very well, keep your revision schedule going but put in place regular methods of testing yourself.
Why is self-testing important in Qur’ān memorisation (Hifz)?
It’s not only important for memorising the Qur’ān, it’s a great way to learn anything. Researchers have devoted decades to studying how to study. The journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest published a review article looking at ten different study techniques. These included highlighting, rereading, taking practice tests, writing summaries, explaining the content to yourself or another person and using mnemonic devices. They drew on the results of nearly 400 prior studies.
Only two techniques got the top rating: practice testing and “distributed practice,” which means scheduling study activities over a period of time — the opposite of cramming.
This distributed practice is the same as memorising and revising bit by bit across a day, across a week, across a month or spaced repetition etc.
Practice testing can take many forms: flashcards, answering questions at the end of a textbook chapter, and tackling review quizzes online. Practice tests are especially effective when they require “free recall” of learned content, as opposed to what researchers call “recognition tasks” such as true-or-false questions or multiple-choice. And that’s regardless of which format the final exam will follow.
Testing yourself works because you have to make the effort to pull information from your memory — something we don’t do when we merely review our notes or reread the textbook. This is why self-testing is important. It improves memory. In fact, combining self-testing with distributed practice is especially powerful. Research reveals that learners who practice repeated self-testing perform up to 50% better than those who review or re-read alone.
Even better is to get some sleep between your study sessions. Memory consolidation is known to occur during sleep. A 2016 study by Toppino and several colleagues in France has shown that if you interpose sleep between two study sessions, you’ll remember more — and in a much more lasting way — than if you study for the same amount of time without a sleep break. In addition, when you come back and review material after sleeping, you’ll master it more quickly. In Toppino’s study, which involved learning Swahili words, the longer students slept, the faster they mastered the vocabulary words in their post-sleep study session and the better they remembered them one week later.
How can you apply self-testing to your Qur’ān memorisation (Hifz)?
There are six effective methods of self-testing.
Method 1: Reciting to a teacher and/or a Hifz Buddy
This should be the first point of call for anyone that is doing Hifz alone. If you can get a buddy or a teacher, you can begin to regularly test yourself with the help of the teacher or buddy. Say, you’re memorising throughout the week and you meet a teacher or buddy once a week. Recite everything you learnt to them and also get tested randomly.
The reason this is a method is that it incorporates immediate feedback. When you make mistakes and someone else points them out to you often leads to better recall. In 2014, a study with Carola Wiklund-Hörnqvist got 83 students in an undergraduate psychology course to study a series of psychological concepts for four minutes. Half of the students in the experiment continued to study the facts while each one was presented on a computer screen for 15 seconds. The other half of the class took six tests in which they had to come up with the concept described on the screen.
At the end of the learning period, all 83 participants took a test in which they were given a fact and asked to type in the corresponding concept. The same test was given 18 days later and again 5 weeks later. Participants who had been tested outperformed the other students on all three tests.
Why? Immediate feedback.
But how does it apply if you’re memorising alone without a teacher? I recommend that if you forget something or make a mistake, look at the Mus’haf immediately (feedback). Then don’t look back again and repeat that word or āyah a number of times.
Method 2: Using flashcards
Flashcards can be used to make self-testing. It’s ideal to use for remembering words or sections that you keep forgetting or are making mistakes on. You can use flashcards also as a means of purely testing yourself. Come up with questions that you can write on one side and then the answer on the other. You can then use them to test yourself periodically.
Method 3: Free recall
Free recall is to randomly test yourself by reciting from somewhere randomly without looking. Even better is doing so through writing. You can start to freely write whatever you memorised and try to recall it on paper. This will be difficult. You won’t remember as much as you want and you may find it difficult to write from memory, but forcing yourself to try makes that portion easier to recall later.
Method 4: Questions and cumulative quizzing
This is my favourite. This is where you get tested randomly through questions on whatever you have memorised. The more you do this, the better your recall will get, especially with the immediate feedback.
Cumulative quizzing is a bit different. In this technique, you review your memorisation through quizzes about what you’ve learned. When you are memorising a page, grab a paper or notebook and write down questions on one side and answers on the other side. You can also do this with flashcards. Over time, you can add to the number of questions and answers you have (hence why it is called cumulative). This develops a valuable self-testing resource that you can use throughout time. I recommend that these questions are not only based on what the words are but also on what the āyah means. This creates associations that lead to better recall.
Method 5: Personal challenges
This is also a favourite. This is an upgrade to the previous method by creating “challenges” to solve. A long list of challenges gives you methods for later practice and study because resolving the challenges strengthens your retrieval capacity. Examples of challenges would be:
- taking part in competitions
- test yourself reciting from memory while on a walk
- test yourself reciting from memory while playing with a ball
- test yourself reciting from memory while cooking
- test yourself reciting from memory while reciting in salāh
- test yourself in an environment where there’s a lot going on
Method 6: Blind retrieval and mind mapping
When you’re self-testing, don’t allow yourself to search for hints on what you’re memorising. This reduces your reliance on looking things up, and helps develop your mental reference book. This is what blind retrieval is or active recall. An interesting way of doing this is also to create blind mind maps of the surah or āyāt. Whenever you finish memorising go back to the blind mind map and fill it in.
Top tips for effective self-testing in Qur’ān memorisation (Hifz)
After learning the basic ways of self-testing, we can now look a bit more at the details.
Attitude determines your altitude
Always have a positive attitude towards your memorisation and review. Develop a sense of looking at everything as a learning process, a means to an end. Develop curiosity. This will allow you to learn better and deal with mistakes better.
Quality questions make you better
Asking good questions is something that I put my students through. I’ll give you a framework to use in terms of questions.
What comes next?
- Recite from here [start of an āyah] and continue
- Recite from here [middle or towards the ānd of an ayah] and continue
- Recite [last āyah of a page] and continue
- Recite [last āyah of a sūrah] and continue
Where is this?
- Recite an āyah and ask what sūrah it’s in
- Recite an āyah and ask what juz’ it’s in
- Recite an āyah and ask what page it’s on
- Recite [last āyah of a sūrah] and ask what sūrah it is
- Recite [last first or last āyah of a page] and ask what sūrah it is
- “Name the surah that all have an āyah that begins with [xyz] in juz’ ‘amma, and recite them”
- “Name the surah that begins with [xyz] and start reciting it”
- “Recite the repeated verses in surah [xyz]”
These are things to help you get started and build upon. Do let me know if you’re doing anything.
May Allāh grant ease.- Like and share!