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10 Tips to Study Smarter with Index Cards

November 03, 2020 5 min read

Who knew a little card could be so powerful?

For students, distance learning has become the new normal. That means more time at home to watch Tik Toks on the couch, Facetime with friends, and then….study. Before you get distracted by another Buzzfeed quiz, get back on track by improving your studying techniques.

Using index cards as flashcards have been shown to have dramatic effects on student’s ability to recall information — which is why flashcards have earned their spot as the go-to study tool for students. Here are 10 tips to help you master even the most mind-bending multiple-choice questions with index cards.

1. Vocalize each index card.

(Just imagine trying to learn German or Japanese without reciting those vocab lists!) Find a quiet space to study (the library probably isn’t the best idea) and repeat each word and its definition to yourself at least five times per study session.

2. Write short, simple definitions.

With a little language finesse, you can turn “The United States of America’s NASA program first landed on the moon in 1969” into “Moon landing: 1969”. It’s just your exams that are graded — not your index cards — so don’t worry about having A+ grammar or spelling.

3. Use bullet points.

For example, if you’re taking an earth science class, use a bulleted list to explain each mineral is a type of rock. Remember: most students don’t succeed with index cards because of information overload.

4. Doodle on your index cards.

Learning French? Doodle the Eiffel Tower in a dress and you won’t forget that it’s a feminine noun! Alternatively, you can print out a picture from your study materials and paste it on one side of your index card. For instance, if you’re learning about human anatomy, paste a close-up of the circulatory system beside a bulleted list defining each part.

5. Start quizzing yourself early.

To retain more information, space out your study sessions with 45–60 minute breaks to give your brain some rest. Review index cards for each subject no more than twice per day.

6. Try to fail.

The more you go over the tough ones, the better you’ll remember them and just like that you’ve turned failure into success.

7. Use past tests as a guide.

If you can’t nail the vocab for your AP English class, or if that 400-level Biology course is making you want to rip your hair out, that’s a good indicator of what you need to work on. Review the answers you missed at least twice per week during the semester. It’s like the old adage: use the test to take the test.

8. Try a color-coding system.

If you use more than three colors, create a color key on your syllabus or a sticky index. Don’t go overboard with the highlighting — limit yourself to one line per index card.

9. Play around with mnemonics devices.

For instance, we remember this tip by using the acronym PAWAND: Play Around With Mnemonics Devices (we didn’t say it was a very good acronym).

10. Study the front AND back of your index cards.

Don’t forget to mix up your index cards to keep your brain guessing: upping the challenge factor enhances memory retention.

Index Cards to the Max


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