Since I am studying to renew my technical certifications and my wife is back in school, I thought I’d share with you my successful flashcard study technique. Arguably, for many people, myself included, flashcards are one of the best ways to learn and study. They are fast, portable, and if made properly help you learn difficult subjects almost automatically.
If the flashcards are made properly, you will be surprised by the difference in how quickly you’ll learn. Since you can carry them anywhere in a purse or back pocket, you can study anywhere – on the train, in traffic, in the bathroom… You can whip out your flashcards for a 2 minute study or a 20 minute study. This means you don’t have to make time to study.
Although you might think making flashcards is simple. I know, “everyone knows how to make flashcards Brad!” Hold on a minute. I was a technical trainer once. I thought everyone knew how to make flashcards too. However, after looking at some of my student’s homemade flashcards, I found very few students who did it right.
Unfortunately, the cards some students made were not efficient. They had put too much work into each card. They had put too much information on each card. Others made cards with information they already knew and didn’t make cards including information they didn’t, so they wasted a lot of time and energy making them at all. If they aren’t made just so, flashcards become a headache to make and use – but if they are made correctly, watch out! You will be shocked how you learn stuff
without even trying.
So here’s my recipe for effective flashcards you can use for optimal learning…
1. Each card should only have 1 question and 1 answer – You aren’t copying down information verbatim when you make a flashcard. It should be quick (i.e. “Flash” card) not a synopsis or a bibliography. So 1 question and 1 answer.
- Right way: A flashcard that has “Who was the main actor in Mission Impossible” – answer on other side: Tom Cruise.
- Wrong way: Who was the main actor, supporting actor, key grip and set designer for the movie Mission Impossible? Answer: Who the hell knows?
- Notice how intimidating the second card is.
2. When studying or in class if there is a subject you don’t know make a flashcard. This is very important. Some students skip over complex subjects and think “I’ll just study that later.” Make sure you do study that later by making a flashcard really fast. Like I said above since each card has only one question and one answer it’s easy. You don’t have to put off the complex stuff anymore. Tip: If you are in training and have a question, write down
the question, then ask the instructor. Write down his or her answer on the back..instant flashcard.
3. Keep your flashcards in your pocket or purse at all times. Since flashcard study is so fast and efficient, you can study at any time. Study while waiting in line at the bank. Study while waiting for someone to arrive at lunch. Heck, I’ve studied while riding elevators.
4. Set a goal to review each flashcard in your pack 3 times per day. Do you remember when I said you’ll learn some stuff automatically? I can’t quite explain why, but if you simply read through each card 3 times a day you will be amazed at what you pick up. Maybe it’s like how Tony Robbins says “repetition is the mother of skill.” Topics you formerly thought “I’ll never get this”, will begin to make sense very quickly.
5. Set aside the cards you know ONLY after you can answer them correctly after a night of sleep. Let me put this another way. If you work through your cards 3 times today and on the third try you answer a card correctly, do not set that card aside yet. Wait until the next day’s first rotation. If you get it right again the next day, then you can discard it – you’ve learned that topic.
If on the second day you get it wrong again, sorry, you have to wait another day to answer that one correctly. This ensures you aren’t accidentally answering cards correctly or guessing at the right answers.
All in all, flashcards are a great way to learn on both the front end and the back end. On the front end, you are acknowledging the stuff you don’t know and creating questions for subjects you don’t understand. By turning a difficult topic into a question you have to THINK as you write it. Sometimes you’ll even feel your braincells working overtime while creating these question and answer cards. On the back end, the quick speed of reading through your daily stack makes learning a breeze.
Throw in the automatic learning results you get from the repetition and you’ll have a new way of mastering difficult subjects that cannot be beat.