In our series of Exam Study posts (see Exam Study – Getting Organised and Exam Study 2 – Scheduling Study Time) , we have worked through some important study skills, with some practical examples to implement in your preparation for exams. 

Today we will look at a study method that is backed by research to be an effective study tool. This would be useful when starting your studies or even to test your understanding ahead of your exams. 

The act of studying can be divided into two important parts:

PART 1 involves thinking about what needs to be covered and dividing the amount of work to be covered by the available time. It involves reading the content, highlighting and making notes (whether bullet points, mindmaps, pictures, etc).

The use of flashcards takes us to the all important PART 2 of studying – one that is often not tackled, and can result in forgetting or ‘blanking’ in exams. This is the ACTIVE part of studying actively engaging in the work so your mind can process it and file it correctly in your brain for retrieval later on. Other examples of active studying may include quizzing oneself, getting someone to quiz you, explaining the work to a friend, and working through past papers. Often students actively avoid this testing of their knowledge and understanding as it may be uncomfortable confronting gaps in understanding or exacerbate fears about struggling in an exam. This is, however, an essential part of ensuring that you have taken in and correctly stored the information, and are thus ready for the test or exam!

So…how does it work?

You will need:

  • Index cards (commonly used for oral cue cards) or coloured cardboard paper that can be cut into squares. The card must be thick enough that you cannot see through it, even when using kokis. Different colours can be used for different sections of the work. 
  • Koki pens and pens in various colours
  • Hole punch and metal ring used to hold keys together or rubber bands

Creating the Flashcards:

  1. Go through your notes with a highlighter and determine important concepts, terms and definitions to be learnt.
  2. Transfer the term or concept to be learnt to one side of the flashcard. Only the concept goes on this side. You can add a category in the corner if you like (i.e., Term 2 or Measurement, etc).
  3. Flip the card over – on the back you will write the definition or briefly explain the term. You can also add things like formulae. Try to be as brief as possible so the card isn’t too cluttered. 

    Example of both sides of one flashcard – Grade 8 Science.

  4. Once you have finished making cards for all the concepts, you can punch a hole in the top left hand corner and secure all the flashcards of one category/section with a ring or rubber band for safekeeping. 


Play the Flashcard Game:

Flashcards for Grade 8 Science – Measurement

  1. Draw up 3 sticky notes with ‘YES’, ‘NO’ and ‘MAYBE’ and stick them in a row on your desk. 
  2. Work through your pile of flashcards, quizzing yourself on each one. 
  3. If you can recall the information (without looking at the back of the card), you can put the flashcard under the ‘YES’ sticky. If you cannot recall the information, turn it over and read the information, and then put it under the ‘NO’ sticky. If you know the information a little bit, but need to turn over the card to really get the answer (be honest!), read the information again and put the card under the ‘MAYBE’ sticky. 
  4. Pick up the ‘MAYBE’ pile – these cards represent the information you sort of know, and your brain has partly understood and filed in your long-term memory. You are half way there! Keep playing the game, transferring cards back to the ‘MAYBE’ pile if they still need a bit of work for good recall, or in the ‘YES’ pile if you are satisfied you know them. 
  5. Next, tackle the ‘NO’ pile – these may take a little more time as they are still unfamiliar. If you get it wrong or partly wrong, don’t forget to turn it over and read the information before putting it into the ‘MAYBE’ or ‘NO’ pile to try again. If you have success, transfer them to the ‘MAYBE’ pile and then ‘YES’ pile when you are satisfied you know them.
  6. Shuffle and play again until you can get them all in the ‘YES’ pile.

The secret to extracting the most value out of flashcards is reviewing them several times over several days ahead of the exam, to allow the connections to be correctly filed in the long-term memory. You can mix things up by reviewing them silently or aloud, alone or in pairs/a group. 


All of the best for your studying!




Golding, J.M., Wasarhaley, N. & Fletcher, B. (2012). The use of flashcards in an introduction to psychology class. Teaching of Psychology, 39(3): 199-202. 

Flemming, G. (2018, October 1). How to Study with Flashcards. (Blog post from ThoughtCo.). Retrieved from

Azevedo, K. How to study with flashcards: The 3-pile method. SchoolhabitsRetrieved 15 Nov 2018 from