Flash Cards, and How to Make Them

by Maud Millar on November 7, 2018

The process of making Flash Cards can be a short one or a long one. Now, generally I’m all about the short cut. As Bill Gates said “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” Full disclosure: I am that lazy person.

Flash Cards

But where Flash Cards are concerned, I’ve tried to take the short cut and let me tell you, it does not work. This pains me greatly to admit, because I love a short cut. Ask my students: I always begun every year by promising them I’d hack their GCSEs for them. And I did! I could always see a quicker and more efficient way to do things, which is part of the reason we started Study Rocket; to spread that message of clarity and simplicity to all the students in the UK, not just the ones in our classrooms.


Flash Cards are a different beast, though. The thing is that everyone thinks Flash Cards are a quick way to success; you just write the words on a page and test yourself on them until you know them, right? But the problem is that these people are seeing Flash Cards all wrong- Flash Cards aren’t a short cut, they’re the final stage of a long and diligent process.


You can’t just go on the internet and search “key words Romeo and Juliet” and copy those words onto Flash Cards and learn them. Well, I mean, you can, but it won’t really help. You may as well have spent that time browsing insta for all the good it’ll do you. The problem is that those words, in that scenario, don’t mean anything. They don’t spiral out into other words and connections; they’re not alive to you. They’re just words.


Flash Cards


So this is how you make flash cards:

1. Long Notes. Open your textbook or your exercise book. Look at a topic. This may be something 1.1 Cell Biology or it may be Jekyll and Hyde Historical Context. You see that topic, in its entirety? WRITE IT OUT AGAIN. I am not joking. Write it out. This is how you get all those concepts into your brain. Look, yes, it’s boring and yes, it’s time-consuming but it requires basically no thought. You are just transferring writing to another page. You are not memorising, or thinking, or even really actively understanding. You’re just copying. Beautifully and neatly, or messily and scrappily, doesn’t matter. Just copying.

I know, I know, you’re thinking “What’s the point? I’ve already got that information. I wrote it out in class.” WRONG. You wrote it out in class six months ago. Baby, it is gone. You need to start from scratch on that stuff. The process of writing it all out again acts like the fastest refresher course for the whole subject you could possibly find. Once you’ve written it out, I promise you’ll find yourself surprised by how much of it you already remember next time someone asks you a question about it in class or in conversation. It’s basically magic, but it works. I promise you. Just write it out.


2. Short notes. Now you take your long notes and WRITE THEM OUT AGAIN in bullet point form, leaving out all the waffle and nonsense and just focusing on the really important things. You should have about one A4 sheet per concept/lesson.


“But how will I know what the important things are?” Well, two ways. One, you’ve already written it out once, and you know what struck you that time, and what you’ve been using in class since during this process. You’re immersed in this all the time; you will have some idea of what needs to stick and what doesn’t. But if you’re really panicky, we do also have your back on that- Study Rocket exists to help you know what the important things are and to make sure you’re never revising anything that isn’t absolutely vital. So, if you need help, we can do that for you.


3. Flash cards. Now, and only now, do you make flash cards. It’s not Step One, as most people think it is. It’s Step Three. You transfer all of your Short Notes into Flash Cards of one side each. And I don’t mean one A4 sheet; you already had that. I mean one side of those teeny little flash cards you can buy, you know the cute ones that are pink and green and blue and often have ruled lines on them? Yeah, those ones. Teeny.


This is the pack of Flash Cards you bring around with you on the bus, on the way to exams, when you’re waiting to go it. It represents the sum of your revision, but it isn’t actually the sum of your revision. It’s a series of very short prompts which kick your brain to remember all of the things you learned in the earlier stage of the revision process. You’ll look at that teeny piece of paper and you’ll see so much more than what is written on it; you’ll see all of the other things you wrote out, which will weirdly come back to you as you stare at that teeny flash card. Seriously, try it, it’s trippy. Good luck!


We hope this helped- if you want more info on this topic of flash cards, we wrote another post about it here earlier in the week, and we also have a Youtube episode about it here and a podcast about it here. Have a listen and a read and decide if Flash Cards are actually for you; if not, you can always try audio learning or visual learning- more on that in future weeks!

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