5 Ways to Study Effectively with Flashcards

With the recent release of the cut-off points for schools under the new PSLE assessment, the news has left many parents concerned about how well their child’s revision may be going. Students may also have their own worries on making it into their secondary school of choice.

However, it’s still too early to say for certain how your child will perform. For now, parents should focus on what they are able to currently do, which is to help and assess their child’s current levels of understanding of their learning materials. Although the common advice is to start exam revisions early, it’s more important to ensure that your child’s revision is done effectively.

For many, a major hurdle in studying lies in retaining and remembering the information that they have learnt. This is especially so for the heavier topics like Science and Maths, which require specific keywords or concepts to be understood and referenced quickly during exams. Students who try to cram a few days before their exam may find that while they can recall some information, they may get stuck on others. In fact, studies have shown that we can only remember 5 to 7 pieces of new information at a time.

If you are looking for a way to help your child with more consistent revision and information recall, you can look into the good old technique of using flashcards. Today, we’ll be going over the benefits of flashcards and how you can make your child’s revision more effective with these tips:

1. Review key concepts with flashcards

A core part of exam revision is trying to condense everything that was learnt in class over the course of the year. For many, a lot of this time is spent summarising key information and dredging up exam tips across worksheets, and often writing it out by hand. However, this is also a passive memorisation technique, which means that not all information written will be recalled.

When you use flashcards, you can take your child’s exam revision to the next level. Flashcards help you to condense these key ideas further into testing material that can be revisited and revised quickly over a longer period of time, without making the revision process feel too stale.

2. One key idea per flashcard

It can be tempting to fill up a whole flashcard with a summary of a key concept, just to feel like you are getting your money’s worth. However, if the key concept requires more than 2 to 3 sentences to explain, it’s better to split it over a few cards and write questions that test each part of the concept.

This is so that during revision, you get to test your child’s memory more thoroughly to ensure they understand, rather than simply memorise, what they are reading.

3. Decorate the flashcards for better recall

The common saying goes that a picture speaks a thousand words, and the same goes for flashcards! When we are reading or listening to a text, we are only able to recall 10% of the information after 3 days. However, when that text has pictures, our recall of it over the same period of time goes up to 65%! This is known as the Picture Superiority Effect.

For some concepts that are harder to grasp, adding self-drawn pictures to the cards can aid in memory retention. They don’t need to be very detailed pictures either. As long as they can trigger your brain’s memory of the key concept that’s being tested, even stick figures and coloured shapes can work.

4. Group flashcards into bigger themes

Take your child’s revision one step further by getting them to group their flashcards into bigger themes. While it can be easy to test their recall in terms of topics, it can be difficult for certain key ideas that feel like they don’t match the others.

Using the flashcards, ask your child to try constructing a bigger mind map of what they have learnt. Your brain’s memory improves when you are able to see the connections between ideas and understand how they are organised. Instead of seeing each individual topic in its own enclosed bubble, have a discussion of each one with your child, and connect them to other topics for better understanding and memory retention overall.

5. Revisit and retest on older cards

Flashcards work on the concept of spaced repetition, which is to test yourself on the given information multiple times at given intervals. This ensures that your brain is able to effectively recall more information over time, instead of retaining it all at once.

Once you do one review session with your flashcards, split them into 3 different piles: one for “easily recalled”, one for “recalled with some difficulty” and one for “unable to be recalled”. From there, your child can know which concepts they need more help with first.

Revisit the cards in the later 2 piles after a week or two of revision, and test your child’s recall again. For the cards in the “easily recalled” section, look into revisiting them every 3 to 4 weeks to ensure that your child still remembers the information.

It’s important to note that flashcards are simply one way of revising the material that is learnt in class. Consistent and constant practice, such as through practice papers, is still needed for subjects like Mathematics and in composition and comprehension for languages.

Think of your brain as a muscle, and flashcards as one way of training it. While flashcards can help your child to remember new words and concepts, utilising the information that has been learnt will be better than memorising in the long run.

More importantly, the greatest benefit of flashcards is to help your child slowly build confidence in their knowledge of their studies. While it’s hard to completely avoid the last-minute revision when the exams roll around, you can reduce some of your child’s anxiety, and reassure them that they’ll get through their exams just fine.