How to Make Flashcards That Work

Most people agree that flashcards are a really useful learning tool, but most people don’t know how to make flashcards that work.

Most people just put a few pieces on information on a flashcard, such as the word, definition and a translation. I admit that I used to do that, too.

When I studied Japanese, I used flashcards with the Japanese on one side and the English translation on the other side. I didn’t use these flashcards for very long. They didn’t teach me enough and they were boring.

Then I discovered that I could make flashcards which were much more valuable. These new flashcards contained much more information and were probably 10x more effective than my old ones. (This is just a guess!)

Since then, I’ve used this flashcard template in my classes, and I’ve encouraged my students to make them. Usually the response is quite good. Although they can be time consuming to make, they are useful.

Now, these new flashcards won’t be really easy to make – these are supercharged flashcards, not super-simple. In the time it takes you make one of these supercharged flashcards, you could probably make five normal, basic, useless flashcards. But that extra effort is what makes them so useful.

Let’s look at how to make flashcards that work!

How to Make Flashcards that Work STEP 1: Choose the Information

On a normal flashcard, you’d put the definition, translation and that’s probably it.

On these supercharged flashcards, that’s just the beginning!

There are two types of information you want to include: Essential and Bonus

Essential – these are pieces of information which must be on your flashcard to make it really useful.

  • Target word – the word which you want to learn
  • Type of word – is it a noun, adjective, verb, etc?
  • Pronunciation – how do you say it?
  • Word family – does the word have other forms? For example, you could have ‘analyse’ (v) as your key word, and ‘analysis’ (n) as part of the word family. Another example would be ‘happy’ (adj) and ‘happily’ (adv)
  • Collocations – these are words which are often used together with the key word. For example, with ‘analyse’ we can have ‘analyse data’, or ‘happy’ and ‘happy ending’

Bonus – these are extra bits of information which can take your flashcard to the next level:

  • Word map – these are words which are connected to your key word. For example, ‘analyse’ could have ‘study’, ‘research’ and ‘details’, while ‘happy’ could have ‘emotion’ and ‘smile’.
  • Translation – a translation of the word in your own language
  • Image – an image that represents the word
  • Examples – examples of the word in a sentence

All you need to do is choose which of this information you want to include on your flashcard. You’ll research the information in the next How to Make Flashcards Step.

How to Make Flashcards that Work STEP 2: Research the Information

So you’ve chosen the information to include. Now you need to find the information. This is the fun part!

Here are some suggestions:

how to make flashcards

Make a note of the information that you’re researching

How to Make Flashcards that Work STEP 3: Create the Flashcards

You’ve done the hard work! All you need to do now is put the information on the cards.

I like to use index cards (about A6 size) which you can buy at most supermarkets because they seem to be the right size.

Use both sides of the index cards, and divide them into sections. However, don’t write the target word on side B. Leave spaces where the target word would be. This will make your brain work harder.

If it’s a bit confusing, here’s an example:

Let’s look at an example:

Here’s an example of what a finished flashcard could look like. Side A contains the information which helps you to understand the word and how to use it, while Side B extends your knowledge.

Side A

Key Word, pronunciation & word type

Analyse

(n)

ˈænəlaɪz

Example Sentences

The data was analysed carefully.

The results were analysed in detail.

 

Word Family

Analysis (n)

Analyst (person n)

Analytical (adj)

 

Side B

Word Map

how to make flashcards

Collocations

_____ data

_____ in detail

Carefully ____

Translation/Image

分析

 

 

How to Make Flashcards that Work STEP 4: Using the Flashcards

There are two key factors which make flashcards so good:

  1. You’re studying while you make them
  2. They’re convenient

To make the most out of your flashcards, you should:

  1. Make them yourself!
  2. Study with them often

It is possible to memorise the order of the flashcards before you remember the vocabulary, so shuffle them regularly!

Final Words

Try these flashcards the next time you need to learn words that you can use. The process of creating them will really help you to retain the information about the word you’re using.

The example sentences can really come in useful when you’re struggling to think of what to write, too.

Want to find other useful ways to learn vocabulary? See this post!

If you liked these flashcards, share them with a friend!

About the Author Sam

Sam is the founder and creator of English For Study. He's also lecturer in EAP/Academic English. Apart from making Academic English easy, he likes learning languages, lifting weights and eating good food.

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