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Monday, January 26, 2015

The Quickie Flashcard Strategy: Never Sit Down To Study

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Throughout my hardest years in college I developed a strategy that improved my grades dramatically while reducing the actual time invested in studying. While I'd tried tons of crazy strategies in the past, I started to realize that my most consistent results were coming from the more traditional approaches to studying. Flash cards were consistently showing good results while some of my other methods were more spotty. That drove me nuts.

I'd always hated flash cards in the past. Using flash cards always seemed like a really boring game to play with yourself. I'd read one side of the card. I'd say what was on the other side. I'd check it. Within 10 minutes of using flash cards I'd want to drive a railroad spike in my eye. I always found it miserably boring.

When I realized how effective flash cards were, something started to click for me. I was already into researching study strategies like crazy at that time and I knew that enjoyment made all the difference in studying. I knew that people that enjoy studying study more effectively than people that dread studying. If I studied with flashcards and dreaded it while still getting good results, how good would my results be if I actually was able to enjoy using flashcards?

Now I'm not one to try and force the enjoyment of something but this thought got me looking into flashcards much deeper.

The Magic Of Flash Cards (And The Problems)

Flash cards are one of the most commonly recommended study strategies for a reason. They are one of the simplest methods of testing the effectiveness of your studying. When you're looking at one side of a flash card, you either know the other side's information or you don't. This can be stressful but it's using your brain the same way as a test would.

When students study using their textbook, they can read for hours without doing a single test on whether or not the knowledge stuck. (If they're not actually learning it then they're going to be preparing for an unpleasant surprise on test day.) With flashcards, it is almost impossible not to know if you’re screwing up.

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After going through a set of flashcards, you can empirically determine which information is in your brain and which information isn't.

This comes with some problems though.

First of all: Constantly testing information is relatively stressful. After a few minutes of using flash cards you can completely wear out your brain. That ultimately means it's really hard to enjoy doing for a long time. While you can derive some “running a marathon” pleasure out of it, the actual process is just painful.

Second: Flash cards are a major time investment. It can easily take 20 minutes or more to prepare a set of flashcards for a difficult course. In some cases, that means you're investing more time in preparing for the studying than you need to spend actually studying.

Finally: You need to actually use them. Yes. Despite the stresses of setting this whole system up, eventually you need to buckle down and find time to use them.

Making The Most Of Flashcards

Flash cards may be stressful to use but it is possible to enjoy things that are stressful. Anyone that's had a good workout in their life knows that. Stress, to a certain extent can be pleasurable. That's exactly how you need to think about flashcards.

Flashcards are stressful but only using a few flash cards at a time can actually be pretty fun. That's the change I needed to make to instantly rewire all of my previous thoughts about studying because everything finally came together.

Studying in short bursts with flash cards aligns with some of the most verified study experiments around. Studying is most effective in short bursts with long rest periods in between.

The problem with short bursts of studying is usually convenience. Who wants to carry a textbook with them to study a few minutes every few hours? That's where flashcards come in handy.

Picture this: You're waiting in line at a store. You pull the flash cards out of your pocket. You go through a couple. You put them back into your pocket.
This is the ideal way to study with flashcards. The effectiveness of each time you pull out the cards is off the charts. Flashcards are absolutely perfect to use in short bursts randomly throughout the day. Within that one minute you would have used to stare at a celebrity on a magazine cover, you were able to learn as much as you could have learned spending 2 or 3 minutes reading out of your textbook.

Not only that, but you'll often even find the random flash card test kind of enjoyable.

Making The Flash Cards

One of the hardest parts about designing your study strategy around flashcards is creating the flash cards in the first place. It can take a little bit of a time investment but it's well worth it if you make a large number of flash cards at a time. It also helps to create a system you regularly use to decide what deserves a flash card and what doesn't.

For example, here is a strategy I used:

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At the end of most textbook chapters, they have a summary of everything in the chapter. Use that summary and develop at least one flashcard per key point in the chapter. Those flash cards are the bulk of the information required. Oftentimes, they produce 85%-90% of what you need to know and they can be turned into flash cards within 5-10 minutes.

After memorizing those points over a few days, go through the chapter completely. (Fortunately, going through the chapter after you already know all the key points is much easier.) If there is anything else that seems important than make a flash card for that information.

The funniest part about this strategy is that you never have to sit down to study. You just need to sit down for 10-15 minutes a week to make the flash cards and randomly sneak a few flash cards out of your pocket a few times a day.

This is all you need to do:
1. Invest a few minutes in making flash cards.
2. Carry those flash cards wherever you go.
3. Pull them out randomly 3-6 times a day and go through them.
4. Never force yourself to study more than a few minutes at a time.

Total Time investment: Less than 10 minutes a day.

Do you want to know more ways to study faster and easier than you ever have in the past? Be sure to check out the archives for the secrets you need to know.

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