Note: This study skills series details how to study smarter, not harder, to help students succeed in their academics. All information in this series draws upon principles from psychological research on learning and memory.
Flashcards were probably one of the first study skills you ever used. They’re relatively easy to make and easy to study from. But many students don’t use flashcards to their full potential. In this article, we’ll talk about ways to use flashcards more effectively to optimize your study time.
When a student uses flashcards properly, they naturally employ the self-testing technique:
Flashcards work best when the questions and answers are self-created. To do this, write questions that you came up with and write the answers in your own words. Don’t simply copy questions and answers from your book.
If you have a study guide with written questions, then at least write the answers to those questions in your own words on your flashcards. However, to make your set of flashcards more effective, consider adding self-created questions.
Tips for Success
Write free-response questions instead of questions that elicit multiple choice or true-false answers.
Why It Works
Students encode the information through the very process of making flashcards. Students further encode that information when they come up with answers to their questions. Also, research shows that the most powerful type of learning occurs when students retrieve information from their memory.
When used properly, students use flashcards to self-test. Self-testing and spaced practice are the two most effective study skills. But they’re not the only study skills, and should still be used with other techniques:
Keep up with our weekly Building Strong Study Skills series to learn the most effective study strategies and succeed in your academics. Schedule a session with one of our expert tutors today to receive all the information and guidance you need to gain a deeper understanding of your academics and perform better on your tests! Building effective study habits takes time, so the sooner you get help, the better prepared you will be by the time finals roll around.
Terry, W.S. (2018). Learning and Memory: Basic Principles, Processes, and Procedures, Fifth Edition. New York, Routledge, a Taylor and Francis Group. ISBN 978-1-13-864591-2.
Rhodes, M.G., Cleary, A.M. and DeLosh, E.L. (2020). A Guide to Effective Studying and Learning: Practical Strategies from the Science of Learning. New York, Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-021447-0 (pbk).
Drew is Hodis Learning & Music’s Founder and President. He has been tutoring and teaching music for more than 10 years. Drew earned his B.A. in Psychology from the University of Southern California and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Adelphi University.