The Reason for Flashcards

What better way to kick off a blog with than writing about what you will, from now on, spend a good part of your time writing about? If you’ve come to this blog you probably came with the hope of finding advice, guidance or maybe just a few useful tips. I can give you that. But what I can also give to you is a reason, an answer to that big ‘WHY?’ that still seems to surround flashcards.Why would anyone devote an entire website to them? Why are they an effective study tool? And lastly but most importantly: Why, oh why, would anyone ever even use them?

Of all the established study methods out there, flashcards still seem to be among the most controversial. Fans highly praise the high level of retention they promote, while their opponents damn them as just another form of mindless cramming. So this is a flashcard manifesto, intended to give you my thoughts on the subject. There is no question that flashcards as a study tool need defending from those nay-sayers and critics. But this is not supposed to be a ‘defense’ against the critics. This post shall convey to you the awesomeness of the flashcard and its use to every single learner out there.

It all begins with a very simple question, that has a complex answer: How to study efficiently? You can take a more passive approach: Read through the material repeatedly, hope for it to stick. Some of it will. Much won’t. Because no matter how well developed your memory may be, it is likely not photographic. You remember some of what you read; if there was enough context to remember it by you may even remember most of it. This works for such areas as the social sciences, literature, etc. As soon as we encounter a more fact-oriented field of study though it becomes harder to retain all the necessary information.

Why is it so hard to retain facts? And how do we retain them? As you may have wisely concluded from the purpose of this manifesto, my answer to that question is: with flashcards. Their structure is simple: Question on one side, answer on the other. You quiz yourself, name the answer and, depending on your level of confidence, move on or return to the item in question at a later point. The concept is equally as simple: Repetition. And this right there is the key to remembering what we need to know. Repetition, as we all know, is the mother of all learning. Facts may be a tedious and menial part of the vast knowledge we (have to) acquire over the course of our lives, but they are necessary.

Repeating things over and over may not be the most appealing concept. Which is why flashcards come in so handy for repetitive studying: They lend themselves to brief study sessions anywhere at any time. Poring over your books and material for hours on end may seem like the only way (or the last chance) to review the study material. But at some point you begin to loose focus and that is when you will stop retaining information.

Ideally, you should study in short sessions and take frequent breaks. Flashcards are perfect for that. Waiting in line, riding the train, waiting for that friend who always seems to be running late… Usually these are lost pockets of time. But you can easily fill them by quickly reviewing a few key concepts of your study material. And in the day and age of universal tablets and smartphones, there are no excuses for people who don’t want to carry flashcards around with them. Get an app, get on your phone, study.

And lastly, for all of those who think that, along with school and university, they left behind their days of studying: You are never too old to learn something new. Acquiring a foreign language, brushing up on trivia; there’s always something left to study – with flashcards!

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