People ask a lot about Flash Cards- how to make them, how to use them, whether or not they’re effective. The question of their effectiveness is really the one that answers the other two, so that’s what we’re going to be talking about first.
Are Flash Cards Effective?
Flash Cards can be brilliant, but they can’t be the only way you study. The real benefit of using flash cards is the process of creating flash cards, and you can’t just skip straight to the end of the process and just make them. The reason they work well when they do is that they are a distillation of the entire process of studying, a little reminder to jog your memory at the last moment when you’re pretty much ready. As this poston Quora says: “The process of making helps slightly more than the using of flash cards. The tendency is to become lazy with a flash card as the card itself often holds the answer that I am asking my mind to commit energy into recalling what it already knows is easily available on the card… Making a card takes a lot more energy and concentration than using the card.”So what is that process?
The Process of making Flash Cards
The process of making Flash Cards has three distinct steps which you need to follow if you want to make your Flash Cards effective.
1. Long Notes.
This is the bit most people want to skip, but it’s the bit which makes your studying effective. It’s a long and time-consuming procedure, but you need to think of it like building the foundations of your house; without this step, you’re building on sand and it’ll all fall apart come the end of the process. This is why, at Study Rocket, we always start with long-form content, which you can distil into your Long Notes using our Note Taking tool.
Here, what you need to do is get your long-form content in whichever way school has delivered it to you. This may be your textbook, this may be your exercise book, this may be online revision content. You need to write this out again, really without very much skipping. I know this sounds long, but the process of actually writing those words onto paper or onto a computer with your own eyes and your own hands is absolutely vital for recall. You’ll find once you’ve done this, and you go on to the later stages, that you’ll already know quite a lot of it; it’ll feel like a familiar book or film or song that you kind of know the words to already.
2. Short Notes
The next stage is to take those long notes and make them short. Not Flash Card length- stop trying to rush to the end!! These Short Notes now need to be one A4 page per topic. They were probably a couple of sides before, now they need to be one. As you read your Long Notes to rewrite the important bits into Short Notes, you’ll find they’re very familiar already. This means you’ll be able to see quite clearly where you’ve just waffled and where you’ve actually got an important fact or quote, and just take those bits. It often helps to put them into bullet point form here, because then you’ll only write what really matters. On Study Rocket, you’d take your Long Notes documents and highlight and rewrite them into Short Notes again using the note-taking tool.
3. Flash Cards
Now, and only now, can you turn your Short Notes into Flash Cards. Looking over those bullet points, you need to pick the most important few to take up one side and one side only of a Flash Card. This could be a mini mind-map, or a few short bullet points, or just a list of the keywords.
I find the last one really effective, because I know that if I’m studying Jekyll and Hyde and I have a note saying “Presbyterianism”, my brain will go to the Short Form bullet point of “Presbyterianism- religion of RL Stevenson’s nanny- predetermination- reputation.”
It’ll then go from there to the Long Form note of “Presbyterianism was the religion of Stevenson’s nanny, who raised him, and it had a big effect on the writer as a young man. It promotes the idea of “predetermination”, that every person on earth is born already determined to go to Heaven or to Hell and there’s nothing they can do about that. Even more to the point, no person knows if they are predetermined for Heaven or Hell, so Presbyterians could only get a sense of their destiny through constantly doing good and moral things to convince them and others around them that they were the “good” ones. This is why Utterson and Jekyll are so obsessed with reputation and being seen to be good.”
Why it works
I promise you, if you do all the steps right, your mind will literally jump from Flashcard to Short Note to Long Note; because you’ve written it out three times by this point, your mind won’t be able to help adding more and more information to your keyword. It’s the same reason we can get so easily distracted; the brain get a stimulus and starts leaping off into more and more things. If that stimulus is the name of your best friend, not so helpful for study- all you’ll get is information about your best friend’s family and their recent breakup and what they said to you yesterday etc etc etc. If your brain gets Presbyterianism, and you actually know more stuff about it, your brain will helpfully “distract you” by going off on a tangent about that. But that’s exactly what you want in this situation!
So, on exam day, or the night before, you won’t need to have all your exercise books and textbooks spilling out of your bag. What you’ll have on the walk in to school, or while you’re standing in the corridor waiting to be registered, is just a set of cards which mean a lot more to you than what is just written on them. You’ll be holding a whole textbook in your hands, except it’ll just be a series of key words which your brain, because of the process you’ve gone through, can spin out into sentences and sentences of text.
What we do at Study Rocket
This is a process we build into Study Rocket because we believe in it; we don’t give you the Flash Cards like some apps do, we let you make them so you go through the whole process of creation and you have all the mental links and pathways already in your brain by the time you come to study. The final stage of making flash cards on Study Rocket is highlighting, or “starring”, the most important content. This will automatically import to a downloadable PDF of all of those “starred” words or sentences on one page. Then, you can just print them out the night before and use them for that final stage of recall!
So come on over and give us a go; we give you long-form content to read and absorb, the ability to make both long notes and short notes, and finally the ability to star your key bits and turn them into your own personal Flash Cards. Our mission is to make the process of revision clear and easy for all of you, so you feel relaxed and confident. If you’re in need of any more tips to help you stay cool, calm and in control of your revision, try this post on reducing exam stress. Hopefully this will all help!