Flash Cards: A Good Study Strategy?

Credit: iStock.com/kf4851
Credit: iStock.com/kf4851
I used to question my students’ use of flash cards. Yes, I could see their value in language learning, but in a beginning communication course? In developmental English? My concerns did rest on a bit of academic elitism. I thought college students should be using more sophisticated learning strategies. Some recent reading has changed my mind. Oh, flash cards are still misused. If a word is on one side and the definition on the other, and the student thinks about the definition, checks the back, and moves onto the next card—that process doesn’t do much for learning or retention.

To continue reading, you must be a Teaching Professor Subscriber. Please log in or sign up for full access.

Related Articles

Love ’em or hate ’em, student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are here to stay. Parts <a href="https://www.teachingprofessor.com/free-article/its-time-to-discuss-student-evaluations-bias-with-our-students-seriously/" target="_blank"...

Since January, I have led multiple faculty development sessions on generative AI for faculty at my university. Attitudes...
Does your class end with a bang or a whimper? Many of us spend a lot of time crafting...

Faculty have recently been bombarded with a dizzying array of apps, platforms, and other widgets that...

The rapid rise of livestream content development and consumption has been nothing short of remarkable. According to Ceci...

Feedback on performance has proven to be one of the most important influences on learning, but students consistently...

I used to question my students’ use of flash cards. Yes, I could see their value in language learning, but in a beginning communication course? In developmental English? My concerns did rest on a bit of academic elitism. I thought college students should be using more sophisticated learning strategies. Some recent reading has changed my mind. Oh, flash cards are still misused. If a word is on one side and the definition on the other, and the student thinks about the definition, checks the back, and moves onto the next card—that process doesn’t do much for learning or retention.

For Those Who Teach from Maryellen Weimer

We should be concerned because students—anywhere from 40 to 70 percent, depending on the survey—say they do use flash cards to study. And from my reading I’ve learned that a rigorous and complex use of flash cards does promote learning. As a form of self-testing they can effectively prepare students for exams and aid their retention of material after the exam. Here’s a quick rundown of the features of flash cards associated with positive learning outcomes.

I was wrong. It’s how students use flash cards that determines their impact. Flash cards can be a powerful self-testing strategy, significantly more effective than the students’ favorite study strategies. On the night before the exam, 68.8 percent of the students Wissman et al. surveyed reported that they’d restudy their notes, 36.4 percent that they’d review the text, and 38.4 percent that they’d use flash cards (assume some are using more than one strategy). But then how often do faculty recommend studying by self-testing with flash cards? The students surveyed said 22.5 percent of their faculty did so. If flash cards motivate students to study, then perhaps more of us should be helping students use them effectively.  

References

Kornell, N. (2009). Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23(9), 1297–1317. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1537

Rawson, K. A., & Dunlosky, J. (2011). Optimizing schedules of retrieval practice for durable and efficient learning: How much is enough? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 140(3), 283–302. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023956

Wissman, K. T., Rawson, K. A., & Pyc, M. A. (2012). How and when do student use flashcards? Memory, 20(6), 568–579. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658211.2012.687052