• Ian Gibbs

Student Tip 14: Don’t Lose Those Nuggets


You probably already know what flashcards are: small rectangular cards with the stuff you want to learn written on the back and some sort of question or prompt written on the front.


You go through each card looking at one side and trying to remember what’s on the other before turning it over to see if you were right.


If you’ve ever prepared for an exam, you might have already tried using them.


But here’s the important bit: If you combine flashcards with Tip 5 (The Sooner, The Better), Tip 6 (Do A Little Often) and Tip 12 (The Power of Habit) you can create one of the most powerful ways to learn anything you want.


Don’t wait until exam time to make flashcards.


Start making them from day one.


Not hundreds of them, just one or two for each lesson.


Go to your local stationery shop and invest in a pack of blank cards. They usually come in packs of a hundred (You can even get them bound on a big ring to keep them together but those are more expensive. Personally I prefer them loose, as they’re much more flexible to work with. Save your money on the ring-bound type and use a rubber band instead.)


Take a few blank cards to school and, during class, try to identify what the key points are.


What are the nuggets of knowledge your teacher is trying to teach?


Write them (preferably in pencil) each on a card and then take them home and keep them next to the place you study.


If you already have a blank card handy, making a flashcard only takes a few seconds.


Over the weeks, your pile of flashcards will steadily grow.


In fact, if you’re keeping track of your nuggets, you’ll need to go back to the stationer’s before Christmas.


Of course, making your own flashcards is only half of it.


The other half is to regularly go through them to see what you can remember.


And when I say ‘regularly’, I mean ‘every day’.


Not necessarily looking at all of them.


But a few—at least the top ten cards or as many as you feel like.


The power of this method is that the steady trickle of information going through your mind keeps what you’ve learnt fresh and firmly in place.


While your classmates have already forgotten what you did a few weeks ago, you’ll have it clear in your mind.


You won’t have to worry if your teacher gives you a test out of the blue, you’ve already learnt it.


And by the time you get close to your exams, you’ll impress yourself by how much you’ve learnt and how easy revision is.


Flashcards are a simple and convenient way of remembering nuggets of knowledge.


It’s fair to point out there also exist a variety of flashcard apps that you might like to investigate. They are good. In certain circumstances, I recommend them. But for learning a variety of subjects, most students find real cards work best.


They can also be used in different ways to help you learn.


  • You can get the pack and go through them one by one as you lie in bed.

  • You can set them out face down on the table and select the ones you choose to revise.

  • You can divide them into groups: Easy, Okay and Difficult and spend more time revising the difficult ones.

  • You can challenge yourself to how many you can get right without making a mistake.

  • You can compete with a friend and turn it into a game.

  • You can get someone to test you with them.


Another advantage of flashcards is you can count them.


This might sound trivial, but there is something very satisfying about seeing all your cards together and realising just how much you’ve learnt so far.


If you can say ‘I’ve learnt 147 things so far this term’, it gives you a nice feeling of progress.


And one final recommendation: When you go through your cards, write down your answer BEFORE you turn the card over.


It’s tempting to try to convince yourself you knew the answer all along.


But there’s a big difference between recognition and recollection and only one of these is going to get you through your exams.


So don’t fool yourself— jot down your answer before you flip the card over.


That way you can really prove to yourself that you are learning stuff better.


Tip 14: Flashcards are one of the best ways of remembering stuff that’s important. Start your flashcard collection from day one.

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