To explain what psychologists mean when they discuss the difference between recognition and recall, think of seeing a family friend you haven’t seen for years. You are likely to know immediately if you have seen her before, but you may not being able to remember her name. If you are then told her name, it may suddenly appear very familiar to you. “Of course!” You might say to yourself.
Recognition involves a ‘prompt’ - a cue or reminder - to access knowledge that your brain has stored. In this case, the person’s face, and then later their name.
Recall is when you access knowledge without a prompt or reminder, like when you are trying to remember someone’s name.
Exams test your ability to ‘recall’ information you have learned in lessons. This becomes obvious when you think about how ludicrous it would be for the questions to have ‘helpful reminders’ in them, to jog your memory!
When most people revise for exams, they are using a lot of what we are referring to here as ‘recognition’. Reading over your notes, summarising the information in front of you, talking with a friend about lesson content - all of these involve recognition of the material.
We all know the feeling of not being able to remember the answer to a question you have been asked in class, and any teacher will tell you how often pupils say, when the answer is revealed, “Oh yeah, I knew that, sir!”. Well you didn’t know it before you saw the answer did you! That’s the difference between recall and recognition