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Introduction

When studying, students have to explore various methods to find what works for them and which techniques are suitable for certain types of information. 

Flashcards are notecards which typically contain information on both sides of the card. One side usually has a keyword, concept or fact and on the other side is an explanation or definition of the word on the other side. It’s a simple and straightforward study material.

In this article, we will talk about using flashcards—one of the most popular study tools.

Flashcards for Children

We first get introduced to flashcards as young children trying to learn the letters of the alphabet and matching them with pictures (e.g. “A“ for apple”, “B” for ball, “C” for cat). Teachers use flashcards often because it’s a good tool for teaching and memorizing.

As students advance to another grade level, using flashcards becomes less frequent because by then they would have memorized all letters and letter blends in phonics class.

Many researchers suggest that using flashcards is beneficial for older students. It’s all a matter of exploring the many ways to use them. In the following sections, we will discuss some tips and suggestions for you.

Flashcards for Older Students

Although most study tools are usually used for test preparation, you can use flashcards to assess your knowledge and mastery of concepts. Flashcards are popular because it promotes active recall, where students test their ability to remember information without context clues.

Some examples:

1. For memorization – on one side of a flashcard, write down a key word and at the back, write the definition. Do this for all they keywords in the lesson or topic that you are studying for. To use, shuffle the flashcards and pick one. Once you see the keyword, try to guess what it means. Reward yourself for getting correct answers.

2. Connect Concepts – create two stacks of flashcards: one for key concepts and the other for instructions. It would help to assign a color for each stack. For stack #1, write all the key concepts and terms that you need to remember. For stack #2, write instructions (e.g. define, give an example, explain this concept to your 8 year-old sister). To use, shuffle each stack separately, pick one card from each stack and answer.

This can be done whether you are alone or with a friend—better if with at least one other friend because you can correct each other if needed. Correcting each other and discussing answers will help deepen your understanding of the topic.

There are websites and apps that make digital flashcards. You can sign up and create sets for various topics and subjects. The best thing about online flashcards is that it’s a paperless option.

There is no need buy materials only to have them gather dust once you’re done with them. In these websites, you might even be allowed to access online flashcard that have been created by other members.

You can be creative with flashcards. Do not feel as if you only need to use keywords an definitions—feel free to incorporate illustrations. Customize your flashcards based on your learning style.

Benefits of using Flashcards

The use of flashcards facilitates the learning process if it’s done well. Of course, students can use them to help them memorize words, terms, and facts. This can be useful for subjects like science and history because there are a lot of words, dates and names to remember.

Flashcards are a versatile study tool that can be used individually or by a group. Flashcards are not just for young kids or for rote memorization. Upping your flashcard game can add value to your studies.

Quiz yourself and your friends to check if you know all that you need to know about a certain topic. Turn it into a game to make things more fun. Taking turns asking and answering questions is a good way to learn through repetition. 

Using flashcards is a great way to test what you’ve learned and how much you know. With the use of flashcards, you can catch the topics you need to revisit or review, and identify the topics that you’re still not too familiar with. It is also a good complement to your favorite study method.

After consuming information from books and readings, you can condense everything into these flashcards and use it as a tool for review. 

Related reading: How to Motivate Yourself to Study – 10 Science Backed Tips

Flashcards and Active Recall

Active recall is described as a process of actively stimulating your memory to retrieve information.

Picture this: a student is finally able to read through chapters of a psychology textbook to prepare for an exam. She has highlighted the important parts, took organized notes, and now proceeds to make flashcards to prepare for a review session. The student writes important names and dates on one side and has the definitions on the other side of each card.

The student shuffles the stack, picks one to test herself. Each time a student picks a card with a keyword, she takes a few seconds to guess the meaning before flipping the card to find the right answer.

The process of recalling the information (before checking the back of the card) is active recall. In those few minutes, the brain is actively going through the stored information in one’s brain.

Compared to highlighting and notetaking, active recall is thought to be better because it engages the brain in the way that reading doesn’t. Reading and re-reading books, taking notes certainly have their place when it comes to studying, however, it’s not enough.

This is a passive form of learning. You are simply processing the information that is in front of you—it doesn’t work the brain the way active recall does. Active recall forces a student to actually go back to all the stored information in their brain. There is a lot of inner active work happening in those few seconds of trying to retrieve information from the brain.

Active recall also strengthens the long term memory because it stores information in an organized way, and the more we use active recall, the better we get at it. Training the brain to use active recall lessens the likelihood of blanking out during an exam.

Quizzing yourself during review sessions is a rehearsal for the actual exam. Once the brain gets used to the process of actively retrieving information, the brain will automatically go into “active recall” mode once you encounter test questions.

A Great Way to Teach Yourself

Flashcards can enhance a student’s study time by providing an opportunity not just to pick up on information from books and lectures—it can be a good chance to teach themselves and their peers. It’s an opportunity to move beyond reading books and taking notes. By using flashcards, students are able to explore a different learning style, which can then help them remember the material better.

Many students and teachers make the mistake of using flashcards only for memorization. However, there is a lot of room for creativity and innovation. Flashcards can liven up individual and group study sessions because then each person is able to engage with the topics on a different level.

Tips on How to Use Flashcards Effectively

  • Avoid using too many words and loading a flashcard with too much information.
  • Think outside the box: what can you do with a small piece of notecard or paper? Aside from the ideas suggested above, you can also use these cards to make diagrams and concept maps. Write a keyword per piece of card, then post them on a wall and draw lines between concepts. Once you’re done, you can take them down and use the flashcards in the usual way.
  • Use drawings. If you learn better through photos, you can draw on these cards instead of using long sentences and phrases

Final Thoughts

Flashcards remain to be a popular and relevant study tool. Whether you’re student or a professional who is looking to learn new things, flashcards are useful when you’re trying to memorize and understand a certain topic.

For most people, reading, highlighting and notetaking is not enough to master the subjects they need to learn. For this, flashcards are a great tool to facilitate and enhance a student’s learning experience.  

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Patricia Alfonso

Patricia Alfonso is an educator and researcher who earned her master's degree in guidance and counseling from Ateneo de Manila. She specializes in developing school counseling programs for schools.

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