Flashcards can be an awesome study tool. Studies show that flashcards can be one of the most effective study strategies. However, like most tools and strategies, flashcards are only effective when used correctly. Follow the tips and directions outlined below, and you might find yourself adopting flashcards as your new secret weapon!

What You Will Need:

  • 3 different colored writing utensils

  • note cards

  • a Ziploc bag or an envelope

* Tip: Before you begin, keep in mind that ideally you don’t want to start making your flashcards the night before, or even the week of the test. In a perfect world, you want to get in the habit of making the flashcards as you are first being exposed to new material. For example:

  • make flashcards from the list of terms/ things memorize/ study guide that your professor handed out in class that evening after class

  • make flashcards from your assigned reading as you read

  • make flashcards from your reading notes the day after you made your notes

  • make flashcards from your class notes as soon as possible after class

Step 1) Write the vocabulary word, or broader concept on one side of your note card.

Be sure to designate one of your 3 colors of writing utensils to this step. Write the concept/ term simply as it written in your text or class material. Example:

Skinner Box

Step 2) On the left hand side of the back of the card write the definition of the term, or summary of the concept that is on the front of the card. DO THIS IN YOUR OWN WORDS!!!

Designate a second color for this step of the process. It’s important that you do this step in your own words so you are not just mindlessly coping what the professor said or what the text book says, but actually processing the information so it makes sense to you. Example:

Skinner Box: a laboratory apparatus in which an animal is caged for experiments in operant conditioning and which typically contains a lever that must be pressed by the animal to gain reward or avoid punishment


box in a lab

animal is in for

operant conditioning

may have lever for

animal to push for reward/


Step 3) On the right hand side of the back of the card draw a doodle, symbol, or write one or two words related in your mind to the term on the front of the card.

This is an important step, especially if you are a visual learner. This step creates an association in your brain, and in some ways is helping you process information the same way you did in step #2. Again, designate your 3rd color for this step. Example:

box in a lab                                                           Pigeons

animal is in for

operant conditioning

may have lever for

animal to to push for reward/


Step 4) When you have finished making all your cards, put them in your Ziploc bag/ envelope, and put it into your book bag.

It’s important to keep your flashcards in the thing you have with you all the time, which for most students is their backpack. Then, when you have that awkward 15 minutes between classes you can pull them out, and casually flip through them. When you have a little more time to devote to studying them, there are a lot of ways they can be used. Fold them in half so you can just see the definition or the picture, and see if you can name the word on the front. Or go the traditional route, and describe the back by looking at the front.

*Tip: Even if you didn’t get a chance to go through and study your flashcards as much as you would have liked before the test, don’t sweat it. Remember: you learned simply by making them!