Flashcards are the classic study tool in K-12 education. But did you know flashcards have been shown to be effective with college students as well? Flashcards support active recall by creating neural pathways, which make it easier to call up information at a future date. Flashcards aren’t just for rote memorization and can be used for more complex tasks if designed correctly. In two 2017 studies, college psychology students who were taught to create and use Flashcards-Plus (FP) scored significantly higher on exams than students who did not use the technique. The research findings suggest that this easily implemented learning strategy can help students “achieve deeper levels of processing, such as comprehension and application, in a self-directed manner, which benefits students’ performance” ( Senzaki et al., 2017, p. 253).
Flashcards-Plus expands the use of flashcards to help students understand and prepare for three types of multiple-choice questions commonly found on psychology tests: those that measure retention, comprehension, and application. Students begin by writing terms on one side of the note card and their “textbook” definitions on the other side. Next, students define the term in their own words. Finally, students “generate a realistic example of the key term from their own lives that will increase application” (Senzaki et al., 2017, p. 255). These three steps allow students to engage in three levels of practice retrieval—retention, comprehension, and application.
Many students find the process of creating flashcards by hand rewarding simply for the tactile experience. It also gives students a chance to step away from the computer and all its distractions. Students can be encouraged to add pictures to definitions since we tend to remember images and words better than words alone. There’s a concept called the picture superiority effect, which explains why pictures have advantages over words in regards to retrieval of stored memory.
Creating a set of flashcards will naturally engage students with the course content. See the example flashcard below, which details the formation of a waterfall for a geology course.
The student had to understand the process of waterfall formation and its terms to create the diagram. The resulting labeled image is a great study tool. Flashcards such as this are effective because they promote active recall in the brain, which is the process by which we retrieve a memory. Seeing a term, or a term and image, and then actively attempting to remember the meaning helps to move it from short-term to long-term memory.
There are also many free electronic tools available for making flashcards, which can be an option for some students. For example, Brainscape and Quizlet are free tools that are quite popular with college students. One of the advantages of electronic flashcards is that they can be shared with other students. Students can create quizzes for themselves and others and the technology keeps track of which questions the student has not mastered—the student will continue to get those questions until they demonstrate mastery. Students can review the flashcards on their phones whenever they have a few minutes such as waiting for their latte or waiting for a class to begin. Electronic flashcards are especially useful for foundational courses, where students need to learn a substantial amount of basic vocabulary and concepts.
For classes using iClicker Cloud with graded questions, students have study tools available. Students can create flashcards and practice quizzes using the poll questions from class, as long as the instructor shares the question screenshots with the class. This is an efficient way for students to review relevant content coming directly from the instructor. For more information about how your students can create flashcards from iClicker Cloud polls visit How to Use iClicker Cloud Study Tools.
Flashcards can be an effective study method— even for college students. Remind your students about using flashcards to study, and let them know there is science to support the benefits.
Herzing Staff. Do flashcards work for college students? Herzing University. https://www.herzing.edu/blog/do-flashcards-work-college-students
iClicker Cloud Study Tools. https://macmillan.force.com/iclicker/s/article/How-to-Use-iClicker-s-Student-Study-Tools
Senzaki, S., Hackathorn, J., Appleby, D. C., & Gurung, R. A. R. (2017). Reinventing Flashcards to Increase Student Learning. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 16(3), 353–368. https://doi.org/10.1177/1475725717719771