Better Studying through Science: Making Flashcards More Effective

If your child is in middle school or high school, there’s a good chance they use flash cards to study for tests. Flash cards are a useful tool for reviewing material because it allows students to repeatedly go over individual concepts until they attain mastery.

Most students follow the same general method of using flashcards – they quiz themselves, put aside the cards which they answered correctly, and re-quiz the rest until they know them. With every round of re-quizzing, more cards are eliminated, and when the student can correctly answer the last remaining cards, the study session ends.

According to psychologists Jeffrey Karpicke and Henry Roediger, however, there are serious flaws in this method. Their research, published in Science, found that students who gradually dropped cards from the rotation were less likely to remember the information from all of the cards. Specifically, they forgot some of the information from cards which had been dropped early on in the studying process. Students who included all flash cards in every study cycle, on the other hand, remembered almost 50% more of the total material compared to students who dropped cards.

As end-of-semester exams loom on the horizon, this information will be a great asset to your child. By making a very slight alteration to their study method, your child could attain a significantly higher score.

(For more details about Karpicke and Roediger’s study and its implications, check out this article on BBC Future.)