How to Make Smart and Efficient Flashcards

16 September 2015

This one's for all the students out there! Throughout my academic career, I went through package after package of notecards. From the normal sized notecards, to the large and half-sized notecards, it seemed I always had a stack in my backpack for studying. I think flashcards are a great way to study any subject - if you're going to be tested on something, chances are there's a way to use flashcards to study for it!

Before you start making flashcards, here's what you need to figure out:
  • What am I being asked to do on this test? What information will be presented, and what information will I need to know in order to respond? For example, if you know you are going to be asked about the key themes in literary works, chances are you will provided the title, and you will have to respond with the themes.
  • The information that is being provided should be written on one side of the flashcard (I usually put in on the blank side), and what you will be expected to know should be written on the other side (the back). 
Below I've included pictures & explanations of the way I used flashcards for a few different subjects: Art History, French, Literature, and Sociology.

 For Art History flashcards, it's important to have an actual image on your card. Chances are, you will be provided an image, and you will be expected to provide a lot of information from just that image. That is why I have only the image on the front of the card, and everything I needed to know on the back: the artist, art movement/time period, date, and key themes and details. For the front of the card, you can use sketches or printed images, whichever is better for you. This format would also work well for any history course - just use an image or a name/event/concept on the front and details on the back.

 Flashcards are a great way to learn a language. For vocabulary, I recommend using the half-size notecards with your native language on one side and the language you're learning on the other. I would usually start studying by looking at the French term and try to guess the English term. Then, once I was more familiar with the terms, I would look at the English and try to quickly translate to French. I would often put 3-6 words on one card depending on the length/importance of each term.

I also used regular & large-sized notecards for conjugations, grammar rules, and basic concepts. I would use different colored pens to make certain words pop out and to differentiate between definitions & examples. These cards are not used so much for memorization, but for quick & organized access to important information.

In a literature class, you might be expected to write a short (or long) essay about a specific work, with only the title and a short excerpt provided. I used these cards to make sure I could identify the author, literary movement, and important themes when I was only provided the title. You also might be asked to write about a specific literary movement or theme in a literature class. I used these notecards when I knew I would be asked to compare/contrast two works in the same literary movement, and to be able to identify how each work was representative of that movement. Like the larger french flashcards, these are not so much for memorization as they are a summary of important information. 

For a sociology class (or other social studies courses), your knowledge of terminology is essential to sounding like you know what you're talking about. Often times, a teacher will look for a certain term in your answer, so vocabulary is very important. On these cards, I wrote the term/idea on one side and the details, definitions, and connected ideas on the other. You can use the cards in two ways: look at the definition and figure out the term, or look at the term and try to recall as much as you can about it.

 I know this post is quite wordy and has a lot of pictures, but hopefully it helps you in some way. When I was a student, I was always looking for ways to improve my study habits and find more efficient ways of studying!

Do you use flashcards to study? If so, share your tips & tricks in the comments!


How to Make Smart and Efficient Flashcards - Whatever Bright Things