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Answering the Dilemma: How To Upgrade Your Flashcard Skills Fast!

Today we are going to give everyone a preview of what is to come in our first exclusive “subscribers only” post! In our last post, The Avid Learner's Dilemma: Master New Material Or Review The Old?, we discussed a common time-management dilemma many students find themselves up against. As promised, we will be releasing an in-depth blog post shortly that will prepare you with many strategies to successfully beat this dilemma for good! This upcoming post will ONLY be available for our mailing list subscribers. If you’re interested in learning how to end the frustration of balancing your review of older material with mastering new material at the same time, all you have to do is join our mailing list and you’ll get access to it!

This preview is just a small part of what is to come, and will not cover the science and research behind why this works to any great depth. We can assure you that the exclusive post will cover this EXTENSIVELY! You’ll learn many new things about learning and memory, and will be given several effective strategies you can implement into your studying immediately to start getting better results! 

One of these strategies involves studying with Flashcards, and that's what we're going to be talking about today! You may be thinking something like flashcards? I started using flashcards back in the second grade, how can this help me? Did you know that the way you design your flashcards can significantly impacts their effectiveness? If you’re interested in learning some secrets, tips, tricks, and strategies for maximizing your flashcard effectiveness, please continue reading! Remember, what we're about to share with you is just ONE small aspect of a much larger post you’ll get shortly if you choose to subscribe!

How many times throughout your academic career have you heard someone recommend flashcards for studying? For most of you, I’m willing to bet you’ve heard this a lot! The truth is that flashcards can be very effective for studying at any level, be it junior high, high school or college! Regardless of where you’re at right now on your education journey, anyone looking for a great method to learn and retain lots of information quickly may find this helpful!

The first decision students face when it comes to making flashcards is whether to manually write them out by hand on index cards, or to make them digitally. Many studies have shown that writing facts down by hand helps us remember them better, so students who write out their cards will get the benefit of improved initial retention. The main drawback of writing them by hand is that it can sometimes take a very long time! For college students who often find themselves overloaded with seemingly endless amounts of info to learn, the digital option can seem highly appealing. 

When it comes to making the flashcards digitally, there are many different options. Programs like SuperMemo and Anki (Japanese for memory) are two of the most popular. SuperMemo is a computer program that uses an algorithm to approximate the optimum time intervals between study sessions for long-term retention. At the program’s launch back in 1987, SuperMemo used what's known as the SM-2 algorithm to approximate the intervals. Given that this was a long time ago, we should add that SuperMemo has since upgraded to the SM-17 algorithm. Anki is a newer spaced repetition flashcard system that's based on the same algorithm, but with slightly different features. While some students use these systems successfully, many say the major drawback is that they’re both somewhat complicated to learn how to use. As an alternative, we highly recommend Quizlet!

For those unfamiliar, Quizlet is a free online flashcard system. Making the switch from hand written cards to Quizlet cards is simple: you just need to type exactly what you would write on the index cards onto the front and the back of the Quizlet cards! If you were to just make this one switch alone, without even making any changes to how you write your flashcards, it could save you a lot of time! Although Quizlet is not as powerful as Anki or SuperMemo, it is much easier to use. Plus, with a little creativity, you can utilize many of the best features of Anki and SuperMemo within your Quizlet decks! Next, we will take a look at some tricks for designing your flashcards for maximum efficiency! Back in 1999, the creator of SuperMemo, Dr. Plotr Wozniak, wrote an article titled "Effective learning: Twenty rules of formatting knowledge". Many of the principles that Dr. Wozniak wrote about for Supermemo usage can be applied for optimizing your Quizlet decks!

The first trick we want to cover is minimizing the amount of info you put on each card. This is best illustrated with an example. Suppose Becky is a student in a biology class and writes the following down in her notes during a lecture: 

Blood contains red blood cells (aka erythrocytes, transport oxygen), white blood cells (aka leukocytes, immune response), platelets (blood clotting, involved in converting fibrinogen to fibrin), and plasma (liquid portion). In order to memorize this, she makes the following flashcard on Quizlet:

Keep in mind that this is just one card that covers only a tiny fraction of the total notes that Becky needs to memorize! The first time Becky cycles through her deck and gets to this card, she is able to recall recall the first two components of the blood, and she recalls the two facts associated with red blood cells, but can’t recall any of the other components, or their associated facts. After reviewing this card, Becky puts it in the bottom of the deck and works on some other cards. 

When she gets back to the card for the second time, she is able to recall the same info as she was the first time, and also remembers another fact associated with white blood cells, but she’s unable to recall the rest of the information! It’s certainly possible for Becky to memorize everything this way, but there’s a much better way to go about it! Becky would be much better off if she broke the information down into smaller, simpler chunks. To illustrate this, let’s focus on just her notes for the first component of blood:

Blood contains red blood cells (aka erythrocytes, transport oxygen).

The simplest way to make a great flashcard out of this is to use the underscore key to “blank out” parts of the notes. To do this, simply hold down the shift button and press the key highlighted in red immediately to the left of the plus/equals sign key, shown on the keyboard below. Depending on the type of computer you’re using, you may or may not need to press enter after.

The basic principle here is very similar to what SuperMemo and Anki users call making a “cloze deletion.” Here’s an example of some of the Quizlet cards she could create using this method:

Another very simple way Becky could make excellent flashcards is to take each bit of information and turn it into a separate question. For example:
The advantage of this method over the first is that there is less information on the cards, making it even faster for Becky to review them. The third method involves making true/false statements, just like this:
Please note how Becky included a brief explanation in the first true/false section. Another awesome perk to using Quizlet is that you can put a virtually unlimited amount of information on the card! To be clear, when Becky studies this card, she only has to answer true or false. She doesn’t need to recite the explanation; she merely included it for reference. The fourth and final method that we’re going to cover here may require a little more creativity for some, but it can be devastatingly effective when it’s done well! This method is what we call the multiple choice method. It basically involves picking part of the information that you’d like to learn, and then making up "bogus" answer choices. Here’s an example of one way Becky could do this:

Again, when Becky reviews this card, she only has to pick answer choice B, she doesn’t have to recite the explanation; it’s only there incase she wants to reference it (but it wouldn’t hurt to read it quickly each time she checks the answer!). We’ve just shown how Becky can design flashcards for the first part of her notes using the 4 different methods we’ve outlined here. As a summary, here are the four methods: 

1. Single missing keyword cards
2. Single question cards
3. True/false cards
4. Multiple choice cards

In practice, Becky would finish making cards out of the rest of this section of the notes, and would then repeat the process for the rest of her notes from this lecture. Her goal would be to cover everything important using at least 2 - 3 different methods. She would then shuffle the deck completely, so that the questions would be fed to her in random order.

Here's how you can start applying this advice now:

After a lecture, go somewhere quiet as soon as possible to review your notes. Slowly, go back through your notes and make sure you understand everything completely. Use your textbook, lecture slides, and other resources as necessary to clarify anything you missed or didn't fully understand. It’s also a great idea to go see your professor or TA for more clarification if needed. Only, and I repeat, ONLY once you believe you have a solid grasp on the material are you ready to start making the flashcards! This brings us to some very important points:

This method doesn’t typically work well for the following:
1. Gaining deeper understanding and insight into the material
2. Seeing the “bigger picture”
3. Problem solving

These three objectives require a much different approach, which we will also teach you...

...but not in this post!

This method usually works well for the following:
1. Memorizing lots of new information (after you’ve done the work to fully understand the material)
2. Long-term retention of facts

Note that I say usually here simply because we all have different learning styles and come from different educational backgrounds, and there is thus no guarantee ANY study method will work for everyone! That being said, here are some of the reasons why this method is highly effective and works very well the majority of the time it’s applied correctly:

1. It involves the student reviewing the material as soon as possible after the lecture. This serves multiple purposes. Have you ever been reviewing your notes the night before a big exam only to realize there’s a good handful of things you don’t know? If you have, you probably learned that it doesn’t feel good! Filling in knowledge gaps as soon as possible after class is CRITICAL for high-level academic success! Also, reviewing material shortly after lectures boosts retention because it helps facilitate the transfer of material from short-term memory to long-term memory (much more on this to come!)

2. Creating the flashcards is an active studying process, in contrast to a passive studying process. It’s an active process because the student makes critical decisions about what information they cover in their flashcards, and how to format the information. Compare designing flashcards to rereading lecture notes multiple times. Rereading notes is an example of a passive studying process. Generally speaking, active studying processes promote faster learning and longer retention than passive studying processes (much more to come on this as well!)

3. After the cards are made, study sessions are then conducted based on regular intervals to optimize retention. The science behind this come mostly from the spacing effect. Understanding the spacing effect is a major cornerstone of this study strategy! Regardless of whether or not you even incorporate the suggested flashcard strategies into your studying, application of the spacing effect can literally sky rocket your progress! If you're using a system like SuperMemo or Anki, the program will determine the intervals for you! If you're not, then the knowledge will really come in handy! We're not going to get into specifics here, but we will in the future!

Please know that we're just starting to scratch the surface...

...there is MUCH more to come in the subscribers only post that will be available shortly! 

Now that you've finished reading this post, what are your thoughts? Do you agree with this advice? Do you disagree? Let us know either below in the comment section or via email! Please also let us know if you found anything particularly difficult to understand, so that we can do as good of a job as possible with the exclusive post!

Coming Up:
  • A closer look at learning and memory
  • A closer look at active vs passive study methods
  • A closer look at the spacing effect
  • More strategies for handling the dilemma besides flashcards
  • A few surprises!

Enjoy this post? Find it helpful? Don't miss out on our upcoming subscribers only post that expands extensively on what we introduced here!

This post first appeared on Test Prep Champions, please read the originial post: here

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Answering the Dilemma: How To Upgrade Your Flashcard Skills Fast!


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