Flashcards are the most effective way for remembering lots of information. That’s why it’s important to use them when studying for your exams. They’re great for things like key terms, studies and theories. You could use digital apps like Quizlet or make hard copies. If hard copy, you could use the Leitner System or the Three Pile System.
How good are flashcards? After 20 years I can still tell you that poignant means “painfully touching.” I remember this from Mrs Bachiachi’s 12th Grade English class when I was studying for the SATs back in 2002. Every Friday we’d have a vocab test and I’d get >90% because I’d use flashcards to study.
Which one is better? This blog reviews the research on print vs. digital flashcards.
But there’s a problem: I memorised the definition “painfully touching” without ever really comprehending the meaning of the word “poignant.” I didn’t actually know what it meant and I couldn’t use it in a sentence. It never became part of my vocabulary until I fully understood it later in life. This is why it’s important you’re not just memorising content for the exams, but you’re making sure you comprehend it as well.
There’s no point remembering that neuroplasticity means “the brain’s ability to change as a result of experience” or that resilience is “positive adaptation despite adversity” unless you fully comprehend these meanings. One way of testing your comprehension is to try to explain it to someone else. Try explaining the meaning of key terms, studies and theories to someone who has never heard them before. You’ll find yourself having to give examples, metaphors and paraphrase your definitions. Practice on a friend, sibling or family member. If they can understand it, chances are you do, too.
Should you make your own or use existing flashcards? The answer is the same as if digital is better than print: it depends on which one will get you actually using them. If you’re motivated to make your own, I’d recommend this. However, if you know you just don’t have the time, energy, or motivation, you’re better to use existing sets.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.