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Flashcards: What they are and how to study them

Updated 5 October 2018

Until the day that students can take study notes into exams, the need to memorise facts is never going to go away - sorry, not sorry!  If you hear someone tell you that you shouldn't 'memorise stuff like some robot', beware - it's a stitch-up!   You can understand a subject perfectly, but no matter how amazeballs your brain is, there will be gaps in your recall that will cost you big marks in the exam if you didn't make a concerted effort to memorise the facts properly.  In fact, the act of active recall itself is a skill that should be encouraged and developed.  

Enter self-testing and flashcards!


Don't get us wrong - we believe that the subject needs to be learnt and understood before memorising the facts, but we believe that that is the step preceding memorisation.  Memorising facts is the icing on the cake, you might get away without it (depending on how good a chef you are) but don't expect awesomeness!  Self-testing is the superior way to memorise facts and flashcards are a brilliant tool to memorise facts.  No brainer!


Check out this study on the effectiveness of self-testing versus other study methods.  Self-testing and distributed practise ranked the highest out of all study methods.


What's so special about our flashcards then? 


Well for one - our decks are very comprehensive - we cover a lot, if not all, of the subject material available. 


Secondly, our flashcards encourage speed-studying.  Like speed-reading, speed-studying lets you take in vast amounts of information quickly and the brain gets better and better at it the more you do it.  So how does that work?  Our flashcards ask loaded questions.  That's more than one fact or answer per question.  The brain is a machine, memorising multiple facts is something it does so well. 


Thirdly, and this one is kinda special, our flashcards have short descriptions, examples and images where appropriate.  These are memory-joggers and can serve as explanations where the subject matter is not known previously.  No need to stop everything and look something up - just keep going - stay in the zone - slay!


Other Stuff to Read 'n Stuff

So how do you study with flashcards?


It's easy as once you know.  Here's a simplified version, but before you start, it's important to set the tone.


Get comfortable,  Make yourself some coffee or whatever drink you like.  Don't get snacks.  If you can't do it in exams, don't do it while you're studying for them.  Leave all your distractions behind - no phone or computer - nothing.  Give yourself completely over to the study experience.  Don't even have music.  Music sets up camp in your brain and starts tapping its foot and singing the words and feeling the emotions of the song.  Studying can't compete with that - just when you're on a roll recalling stuff, along comes that beat, that drop, that chorus.  And the more you love music, the more you'll be distracted by it.  Anyway, why would you want to ruin good music by studying to it?  Good luck conjuring up great memories later in life when you hear that song!  Don't panic - it's just for a little while.     


On to the studying part.  Before testing, read the whole deck, make sure you understand the concepts and try to commit them to memory.  Do this a couple of times.  Don't worry about how much you can remember at this stage, you're just priming your mind and immersing yourself in the details, absorbing what you can bit by bit.   When you think you're ready to start self-testing then start.  If you're not quite ready but you're bored of reading the cards, then also start.  Let's go!


Here's how...


That's it in a nutshell.  Start the whole cycle again every study session, to make sure you don't forget the ones you got right before.   The cards in Pile 2 should be carried around with you to study whenever go.  Even if it's a couple.  If you have 10 minutes you can memorise a flashcard or two.  ​

If you only read one thing on this page, this is it.    


When it comes to actually recalling the facts, it is important to be patient with your brain.  Don't give up too easily.  Sit there for a while and let it come to you.  Most people think they can't memorise stuff because things don't pop into their brain the instant they want it.  That rarely happens unless you've memorised those facts and recalled them many times before.  The trick is to get that recall-time down through practise.  It's exactly the same as training for a race and improving your race time every time you train.  You WILL get better, you WILL get faster - have faith in your brain.  The first couple of rounds will be tough but then, as if by magic, you will be a machine.



There are more complex ways to study flashcards.  Spaced repetition using the Leitner System is common and you can find hundreds of instructables and videos on the net.  Go ahead, explore and find what works for you.


Studying with mates is also a great way to memorise stuff with flashcards too.  You'll be surprised how much information you can retain like this.  Although there is a friend involved, the competitive nature and pressure of someone waiting for an answer is powerful.  And their instinctive nature to prompt you and maybe give a clue (especially in the beginning) really helps.  With flashcards, you can even get your parents to help.  All they have to do is read and check your answers, so it's no big effort on their part.  Perhaps the best thing about studying with someone is that time flies, you have a laugh here and there, maybe a bit of banter but you're engaged in studying and that's what's important.


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