“How am I going to get this information inside my head?” This is a question we have all asked ourselves at some point during our school careers and one that we are generally bad at answering. Luckily, this blog post will teach you how to make flashcards and explain why it is so important.
If you ask most people how they study, they will say that they reread their notes or reread the chapter from the textbook. Unfortunately, these are terrible ways to store information in your brain. When your brain looks at something it has already seen before, it does not process the information again. So, while you are rereading, your brain is thinking, “Yep, I remember this!”
You believe you are making progress because your brain is telling you that it knows everything, but as soon as you take away the notes, you are stuck. You can’t remember the information without seeing it. I have personally experienced this phenomenon many times.
Middle School Study Skills
Figuring out how to store information in your brain can also be called study skills. If you are thinking, “What are study skills?” you are not alone! So many people don’t understand how to study, so I have spent time learning about the best study skills for middle school students, and I want to share what I learned with you!
It turns out, the best way to remember something is to practice remembering it. Trying to answer questions without looking at the answers forces your brain to scan through its neural networks to try to find the information. Activating neural networks makes the connections within them stronger, and the information in strong neural networks is easier to remember. The neural networks we activate frequently become so strong that we don’t even have to try to remember them anymore. We have developed automaticity. For example, what is your phone number? Did you have to think about it, or did you automatically answer?
Why Flashcards Work
Flashcards help build automaticity with information because every time you read a question on a flashcard, your brain is going to try to find the answer. Sometimes it will – yay! – and sometimes it won’t, but even when you don’t know the answer to a flashcard, you are still strengthening the relevant neural networks because neurons that fire together wire together.
The power of flashcards comes from getting neurons to fire, but they are even better because you get to see the right answer immediately after searching for it. Let’s say you are trying to remember the number of chromosomes in a human body cell. You can’t remember, but your neural network related to mitosis and meiosis is activated. You flip the card to see the answer is 46. “That’s right, I knew that!” you think to yourself. Now, the connection between your mitosis and meiosis neural network and the fact that a human body cell has 46 chromosomes has been strengthened, and you are more likely to remember the answer the next time you see that question. You have not wasted a minute of your study time.
My final favorite thing about studying using flashcards is that it is fast. We all have so many things that take up our time. Basketball practice, dinner, taking a shower, homework, and hanging out with our friends are not going to stop because we need to study for a test. Luckily, you only need about five minutes of practice with flashcards per day to see the benefits. In fact, you will see the most improvement in your memory if you spend five minutes per day five days before the test. That is a total of 25 minutes! There is no way that most people can ace a test after looking over their notes for 25 minutes, but because flashcards are consistently activating your neural networks, it is a whole different ball game.
Using Flashcards in the Real World
Of course, I am speaking in general here. If you find that you need ten minutes to get through your stack of notecards, practice for ten minutes. If you need more than five days to study, start studying a few days earlier. In fact, the best way to study would be to make your flashcards as you learn the material in class and start practicing them right away. Each day, you will add more flashcards to your stack and more connections to your neural network. By the time you are sitting down to take the test, you will be an expert on the subject.
How to Make Flashcards
Have I convinced you that flashcards are a powerful tool that will change your life? Good! Now, are you wondering how to make flashcards? Knowing what questions to focus on can be tricky. The best person to help you is always going to be your teacher. He or she knows what will be on the test and will be happy to point you in the right direction. To get you started, here is a list of things to include on your flashcards:
- new vocabulary words
- dates, places, people
- big concepts
- steps in a process or event
Now that you know what information to include on your flashcards, you will need to make them. The classic way to make flashcards is to get index cards and write questions on one side and answers on the other side. I like this method because it is simple, and I love index cards. However, it can take a long time especially if you have lengthy definitions or explanations.
I have found it is much faster to create a table on Word, Notes, PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Docs, or Google Slides. The first column of the table is for questions, and the second column is for answers. If you, like me, can type way faster than you can write, you can make flashcards much faster this way. Simply print the pages, cut the rows, and fold to create flashcards with questions and answers on either side. You can try setting the flashcards up to print double-sided, but I find folding much faster. Finally, you can make online flashcards using PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slides. Create a slide show with a question on one slide and the answer on the next slide. You can access the presentation on your computer, phone, or tablet and click through the slides to practice anytime.
If you think this sounds like a lot of work, you are right; making flashcards can be a lot of work. I know because I created flashcards for every topic in middle school science I could think of, and it did take a lot of time and effort. So, if you are studying for a test in middle school science, you might not have to do any work at all! Click the picture below to see all of the topics at Teachers Pay Teachers. If you see what you need, you can grab a full set of flashcards for just a few bucks! (Full disclosure, you may have to add flashcards to match your teacher’s expectations, but the basic information is all included.) If you don’t see a topic you need, send me an email, and I will update my list a.s.a.p!
Are You Teaching Another Science Topic?
I am working on creating more science units so that every science teacher can get exactly what he or she needs for her students. You can also read about how I use brain science to teach other science topics on my blog. Click the pictures below to learn more.