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Herzing Staff

Do Flashcards Work for College Students?

Finding an effective study method that works for you can be essential for success throughout your educational pathway.

Do you have a big exam coming up or need to figure out a way to memorize important facts from your classes during the school year? Finding an effective study method that works for you can be essential for success throughout your educational pathway.

Have you ever considered flashcards? They might have been one of the first study methods introduced to you in elementary school, but don’t laugh — there is science behind this common study technique! 

Here’s more information about the science behind flashcards and why they might be an ideal option in college:

The Effectiveness of Flashcards

Flashcards are effective because they promote active recall in your brain, which is the process by which we retrieve a memory. Seeing a term and then actively attempting to remember the meaning helps to move it from short-term to long-term memory. 

You’re also unconsciously engaging your metacognition, or awareness of one’s own thinking when using flashcards. This occurs when you decide if you’ll need to review more, or if the terms are committed to memory based on how confident you felt in your answer. Spaced repetition, a memorization technique, also comes into play when you repeat more challenging flashcards and set aside ones you feel you’ve learned. Self-awareness plays a key role in the effectiveness of flashcards.

Researchers have found favorable results when comparing the test grades of students who used flashcards as a study method to those who didn’t. One study looked at 470 students in an Intro to Psychology college course. Over 70% of the class used flashcards to study, and they performed significantly better on exams than those who didn’t. Another reason to test out flashcards for your next exam!

How can you make your own flashcards? 

Making your own flashcards can help commit the material you need to learn to memory. Some tips:

  • Handwrite them! Writing information by hand is proven to help with retention.
  • Keep it simple by limiting each card to one term or question. Break complex material into multiple flashcards.
  • Adding pictures to your flashcards can be very helpful to differentiate between cards. 

Is there a wrong way to learn with flashcards?

More than 50% of college students say they use flashcards as a study tool. That doesn’t mean they’re all using them effectively though! Here are a few common mistakes to avoid: 

  • Try not to memorize the exact wording of your answer. Using flashcards to test yourself out loud will help you to define terms in your own words.
  • Flashcards aren’t the best study method for every subject. Fact-based content like dates or terms are ideal for flashcards. More complex material may be better suited with another method.
  • Don’t procrastinate! Creating flashcards the night before a big test may not be that helpful. Starting early takes the pressure off and gives you more time to truly understand and digest the material.

What other study methods work? 

If flashcards aren’t your thing, test out these other studying methods that are backed by research as well: 

  • The Feynman Technique: This method involves studying a concept and then attempting to teach it to someone unfamiliar with it. Explaining the concept to someone else helps to solidify your understanding and commit it to memory.
  • Mnemonic devices: This is a learning technique that aids in remembering the material. Acronyms are a great example – remember Roy G. Biv for the colors of the rainbow?
  • The Pomodoro study method: You’ll repeat studying for 25 to 35 minutes and 5 to 10-minute breaks with this method. The shorter periods of studying can boost your motivation and focus. 

When studying, what works for one person may not work for another. Keep trying different study methods until you find the one that helps your learning. Study hard and go ace that test!

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