Test success is all in the cards

Kayleigh Evans

Flash cards proven to help with memory

The essence of a good flash card is not how well it is written, but how well students use the flash card for effective memorization and learning.

Katherine Rawson, a cognitive psychologist at Kent State, has been conducting a study on how students learn, and how students’ studying can be supported more effectively through study strategies.

Rawson said studies show flash cards help with memory, if they are used correctly.

Yet, Rawson said, research shows students do not use flash cards properly.

“Surprisingly, students are not flipping the flash cards over to check if their answer is correct,” she said. “(Students are) just looking at the term and saying ‘Oh, yeah, that looks familiar to me’ or ‘Yes, I know this one’ versus really engaging in the key term for memorization.”

One of the biggest mistakes or limitations students have is going through the flash cards one time and putting the cards they believe they know to the side, she said.

Instead, Rawson gave effective ways to improve memorization.

“Don’t stop studying that item just because you got it right that one time,” Rawson said. “Keep practicing the term until you have recalled it at least three times. This will improve your memory later.”

The studies have shown this method could help students remember not just one week later, but up to four months later, she said.

The flash card method can be simplified as a 3-plus-3 method.

“After the first initial time, students need to pick up the cards at least three more days after that,” Rawson said. “Studying the cards one hour for three days, versus for four hours the day before the exam, will give students better comprehension of the material.”

Rawson said she thinks this is a low-tech, easy method and relatively more efficient way to improve information retention.

“If you can practice with your flash cards until you can correctly recall the information from memory, this is way better for your memory than simply restudying the material through textbooks,” she said.

Although this is a good strategy for memory, Rawson does not suggest this is the only way students should study.

“This method is very good for memory, but we do not know that this is good for comprehension. There are other study strategies that student can use to make sure they understand and can apply the information,” Rawson said.

Sophomore nursing major Heather Justus said flash cards help with memorization, while study buddies help with comprehension.

“For microbiology, I use them for memorization,” Justus said. “Other classes, like physiology, it would be harder to write out on flash cards because it entails diagrams and processes.”

There are some classes that do not need flash cards (classes with lengthier text or math that involve equations) for key concepts and memorization, Rawson said.

“If you use the flash card strategy, along with other study strategies to help with comprehension, the flash card strategy is a pretty good one to use,” Rawson said.

Rawson will be among 100 other recipients for this year’s Presidential Early Career Awards for scientist and engineers. She will travel to Washington this fall to receive her award at the White House.

Contact Student Life reporter Kayleigh Evans at [email protected]