10 Tips to Study Smarter with Index Cards

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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.

10 tips to study smarter with index cards

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.

We know it feels silly, but researchers have discovered that repeating information out loud boosts memory retention. Foreign language classes are a great example: your professor makes you repeat each word and its definition to help you learn.(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.

The number one reason why index cards fail? Excessive wordiness. Remember, the goal of using index cards isn’t to sound eloquent, but rather to memorize the most significant details from your lessons. Shorten definitions by eliminating parts of speech you don’t need, like adjectives and adverbs.
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.

If you still find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of words on the flashcards, you’re not alone. Use bulleted lists to help further break down challenging concepts into bite-sized pieces of information. Visually, it’s less intimidating, and practically, it’s easier to memorize distinct pieces of information rather than a whole paragraph.
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.

Did you know that scientific studies show people learn more effectively with the aid of pictures when compared to words alone? Even if you’re not the best artist, make it a point to draw a picture that captures each definition or term. Funny drawings make definitions harder to forget (and make studying more enjoyable).
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.

We know that you’ll cram at least once this semester, but even well-written index cards won’t improve your grades if you have to make them and retain them in the few hours leading up to a big exam. Begin creating index cards as you learn key concepts in class, or wait no later than two weeks before that midterm or final to make your first stack.
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.

Your goal is, of course, to succeed. But in order to get there, it’s good to spend some time failing. When you begin a flashcard session, start with the ones you’re less confident with. Then, if you get a definition wrong or can’t remember it accurately, put it to the back of the pile to make sure you see it again.
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.

On the subject of using failure as a tool, get a head start on your midterms and cumulative finals by writing down definitions or concepts you missed on other tests. Let’s face it: most of us are lacking in at least one subject area.
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.

Make index cards with a highlighter to single out important ideas and remind yourself what you need to study. In the upper corner of your index cards, mark a green circle for topics you’ve mastered or a red star for topics that require more review.
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.

Mnemonics aren’t just for learning about colors in elementary art or spelling bees. From absorbing rules of grammar to memorizing all the amino acids, this handy memory aid keeps your flashcards short and sweet. There are plenty of mnemonics for every subject online, but you can make them even more effective by using a little humor and personalizing them to your life.
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.

The last thing you want is to master only one side of your flashcard stack and blank out on exam day. Ask a friend or family member to quiz you with your index cards to see if you can match names with their definitions. Then flip your stack over and match definitions to the names. If you miss the inverse of a card, tuck it in the back of your stack and go back to it later.
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

Using index cards to study for your next exam is flat out a great idea. They’re simple, quick, tested, and dare we say a little fun. But you won't be successful if you don't also have other good organizational habits. So if you only take one thing away from this blog, just remember that index cards alone won’t save your test score, but they can certainly help (and if you can’t remember that, try writing it down on a flashcard).
If you're looking to upgrade your dusty, old index cards to new, reusable flash cards, look no further. The brand new Rocketbook Cloud Cards are reusable index cards that can be scanned, saved, and studied.  

1 comment

Diana B
Diana B

I bought Cloud Cards on Amazon to use at work. When our photographer comes in to shoot new products he likes to have a tag to reference and they are PERFECT! Just the right size and easy to write on and read. I will never have to hunt for index cards again!
Thank you!

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