Want a Fun Way to Study? It’s in the (Flash) Cards!
I don't love studying. I hate studying. I like learning. Learning is beautiful. — Natalie Portman
Can studying really be fun? Are we kidding you? Most people don’t like to study, but it is necessary if you’re going to learn something new and retain it for the future. One technique that can be helpful is the use of flash cards.
What are Flash Cards?
Remember your teacher in elementary school holding up a card with a picture on one side and a word to go with the picture on the other side of the card? That’s a flash card.
Flash cards are fun and provide a study tool that combines note-taking with subject matter review.
When to Use Flash Cards
Flash cards are best used to quickly retain basic facts and definitions. As Thomas Frank of CollegeInfoGeek writes,
“Flash cards are very good at helping you drill relationships between two pieces of information – but that’s it. That makes them good for learning definitions, vocabulary words, etc. – but it makes them a particularly bad study tool for information that fits into a larger visual or organizational hierarchy.”
Let’s start with what flash cards are good for. They are ideal for committing to memory key terms in your course materials. Take studying business law for example. Look at these key terms:
- a posteriori (from later — an argument derived from subsequent event)
- actus reus (guilty act — part of what proves criminal liability along with mens rea)
- mens rea (guilty mind — one of the requirements for a crime to be committed, the other being actus reus, the guilty act).
These terms look like a collection of typos until you park each of them on their own separate card with an accompanying image on the reverse side of the card to boost your retention of the meaning of the word.
How to Create Flash Cards
To make flash cards work for you, here are some different strategies:
- For many subject matter areas, there are flash card apps, programs, and websites where you can create and download your own custom flash cards. You can also purchase sets of preprinted cards for many subject matter areas but this will not challenge you creatively.
- Use your imagination - Thomas Frank advocates crafting your own with index cards, pens, and your own pictorial imagination. Frank believes this is the best way to immediately engage your brain in the learning process, “Doing so creates strong neural pathways, which enable you to easily retrieve what you’ve learned at a later date.”
- You can also use Microsoft PowerPoint to create flash cards.
When you create flash cards, create them incrementally as you proceed through your coursework. Trying to create them from notes later on chews up extra time and becomes needlessly tedious.
How to Use Flash Cards
Thomas Frank has a number of suggestions for getting the most out of your flash cards. Among his suggestions:
- Use mnemonic devices (such as, acronyms or rhymes) to create mental connections.
- Speak aloud while using your cards.
- Study in both directions by alternating the side of the card you first view.
- Write one question per card in order to grasp one concept at a time.
Here are some additional suggestions:
- Let time pass between the creation of the cards and using them to study, in order to let your brain rest.
- Use small index cards that will fit in a pocket or purse so you can take advantage of micro-moments (such as, standing in line at the bank) to study.
- Use short study periods, take frequent breaks.
- Use different colored index cards for different topics.
- Enlist a family member to work with you once you feel you know the material well, because this will simulate the stress of actual test taking.
- Divide the cards into separate stacks as you study, so that you’re not reviewing material you’ve already committed to memory. You may find you have three stacks: correct, incorrect, and iffy (meaning you almost got it, but not quite).
- Create a new card that ‘speaks to you’ better in the event that a card feels “iffy” because changing the card will give your brain a reenergizing do-over.
Flash Cards are Fun
Give flash cards a try. For many topics they’re just the ticket, and they’re a creative outlet as well. They’re a great excuse to have some fun mixing serious subjects with a little arts and crafts.
What do you think?
- Do you already use flash cards?
- Do you feel flash cards can be a useful study tool?
- Do you use another study tool you prefer?