The Power of Flashcards

Most of you have already started the semester, and with that (for better or worse) comes the thought of future exams. Even though you probably don’t like thinking about this, you have to start preparing for exams as soon as you can. Research shows that cramming at the last minute is a bad way to learn. Don’t do it! Sometimes you’ll even have multiple exams in a day or week, so cramming makes it so you might not have time to study for each one.

One or more of your exams is likely multiple-choice. I’d like to argue that one of the best ways to study for these is to make flashcards. Although you might think that flashcards are only for primary school children learning arithmetic, researchers (including me) have conducted studies showing that flashcards are extremely effective even for college students.

Here are some brief pointers on making and using flashcards. I think writing your own flashcards is best, but some students I’ve had swear by flashcards you can make online (by using Quizlet or other sites):

1) Make flashcards after class. Typically, everything in your notes should be on a card. That means for every lecture you will have a bunch of flashcards

2) Be brief (more like the exam questions and answers).

3) Pay attention as you write or type each flashcard in order to learn the information on it.

4) When you have your flashcards ready, shuffle the flashcards each time you study, because it’s rare to be tested on information in sequential order.

5) Now you are ready to test yourself on each card in the deck.

6) As you test yourself, sort each card by whether you know or don’t know the information on it.

7) Go back over the pile with the cards you don’t know.

8) Repeat all the steps above with each new lecture. Add new flashcards to your old flashcards, and test yourself as before.

Here’s a video link that should help:
Good luck! Do any of you already use flashcards? Have they helped you on exams?

3 thoughts on “The Power of Flashcards

  1. Hey, just stumbled upon your blog during a moment of weakness haha, typed “the power of flashcards” in google to give me motivation to go through my decks as i dread failure more than anything. :p

    To answer your questions, i’m currently using flash cards on an undergrad course in Science/Methodology, and indeed, these are really powerful. Plus, in the worst case scenario, even if you fail at memorizing some flashcards, you’d still have crammed through them a good amount of time, using spaced-repetition and actually giving a try to recall these : it’s more than enough to rock any exam (hopefully). My first exams are coming in 1 month though.

    I’d have one question though, how would you shorten such a flashcard ?

    Additional structural characteristics of proteins
    – Motifs :
    o common elements of secondary structure seen in many polypeptides
    o Useful in determining the function of unknown proteins
    – Domains
    o Functional units within a larger structure
    o Most proteins made of multiple domains that perform different parts of the protein’s function

    I did learn it, but it took me much effort on the first days of recall, and i wonder if there is a way to optimize my flashcards, cause the short cards are really so effortlessly memorized…! Big lists are actually okay using mnemonics though.

    Anyway, it’s great to see you sharing the tricks,


    • Ben–thanks for your comment and for reading my blog! My opinion with dealing with a flashcard situation like your is yo break the info into 2 cards (Motifs vs. Domains). I realize that it can disrupt the info about a single topic. However, I am a big believer in being relatively short on your cards. Take care!


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