Flash cards are a powerful tool to help you memorize things such as vocabulary, mathematical formulas, history facts, and spelling. Here are some strategies to help you get the most from your flash cards.
Use flashcards in several different colors. Use each color as a cue to help recall something about the fact on that flash card. For example, if you are using the flash cards to memorize vocabulary words, use a different color for words that have different connotations. Positive words–such as benign, sagacious, and staunch–could go on green or blue 3×5 cards. Negative words–such as mendacious ,stultify, and malevolent–might go on red or yellow 3×5 cards. Neutral words–like rebuttal, soporific, and nominal–could go on white or tan cards. The particular colors you use don’t really matter as long as you are consistent.
Illustrate and embellish the cards. Use different color markers. Draw pictures on the card or even cut them out of a magazine and paste them on the card. The more you work at making the card distinctive, the easier it will be to recall.
Carry the cards around with you and review them whenever you have a chance; at the stoplight, before class, in the line at the grocery store or the bank, on long trips, or walking across campus. Make reviewing the cards a daily habit just like brushing your teeth or taking a shower.
Don’t put too much on any one card. The biggest mistake people make is putting too much information on a single flash card. One card equals one fact.
Put the word to be learned on one side of the card and a short two or three word definition on the other side. On a history fact card, for example, you might have “George Washington” on the first side of the card and “first U.S. president” on the other side. You should NOT have “George Washington,” on one side of the card and “first U.S. president, from Virginia, general in revolutionary war,” on the second side of the card.
Change the order of the cards frequently. If the cards always come in the same order, you will start to memorize the order of the answers. It will be much more difficult later to try and recall the facts in a different order.
Flip the cards over from time to time. If you always review the flash card by seeing “Austin” on one side and recalling “Capitol of Texas,” on the other side, then that’s how you will recall it. When asked, “What’s the capitol of Texas?” you won’t be able to recall it as well, because that isn’t how you studied it.
Make the flash cards as you learn. Carry around a stack of blank 3×5 cards. As you come across a piece of information you want to memorize, make a flash card and add it to your daily stack. Caution: don’t try and take notes from a class lecture on flash cards, since the connections between ideas are often just as important as any one fact. Take notes and then–immediately after class–decide what key facts should be committed to memory. Put each of those facts on a flash card.
Don’t mix your subjects, since you tend to recall things in context. If you mix up your math flash cards with your history flash cards, it will be much more difficult to recall the history by itself (on a history test, for example), because you learned the two subjects together.
Flash Card Stacks
Separate your cards into stacks that get reviewed at different intervals. You should have an initial stack that gets your attention several times a day. Each time you instantly and correctly recall a card, make a small check mark on it. When the card has two check marks, move it to the next stack.
The next stack is only reviewed every three days; Wednesdays and Saturdays, for example. When cards in that stack can be perfectly recalled, move them to a stack you only review once per week, say every Sunday.
After that, move cards to a once-every-three-weeks stack, which you will probably need to schedule on your calendar. You can then add a nine-week stack, a six-month stack, a one-year stack, etc.
Everyone’s brain is different, so you’ll have to find the intervals that work best for you. Your goal is to review each card as little as possible while still getting excellent recall.
Let’s say you are looking over that once-a-week stack on Sunday and there are two cards that you’ve spent five minutes on, trying to remember them, but it just isn’t coming to you. Move those two cards back to the stack you carry around with you, and send it through the system again. Don’t move a card to the next stack until your recall is instantaneous and perfect; for example, you see the Spanish word, la vaca on one side, and you immediately think cow.
Hint: If you can’t immediately recall the word, don’t cheat and look at the other side! Struggle with it and rack your brain to recall it, even if it takes four or five minutes. When you finally do recall it, the memory will be much stronger!
© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.