They seem like such a basic, simple study tool, and yet I’ve rarely been inclined to use them. When I have used them, I typically spend at least twice as long making the flashcards as I do actually using them for studying. (Side note – this post is referencing physical, paper flashcards, not flashcards online or in apps, like Quizlet.)
However, occasionally I still use them, and it’s almost always for learning vocabulary. Here’s what I personally like and dislike about flashcards:
What I Dislike:
Like I already mentioned, the time I invest in making the flashcards is rarely worth it. I’m a perfectionist, so I spend more time than I should ensuring that my handwriting is neat, that my words don’t slant upwards as I write, and other silly nit-picky things. Then, once I have the flashcards, I rarely use them. They just tend to sit on a shelf.
The physical entity of the flashcards can also be a problem. Whereas online tools or apps can be accessed [relatively] easily using technology — smartphones, tablets, take your pick — flashcards require a lot more premeditation. Selecting the flashcards that I want to study, finding a good way to transport them (they’re so awkward in bulk), and actually remembering to take them with me when I go places — it’s usually just too much for my tired brain to handle.
Another aspect of the physicality of flashcards is keeping track of them. I tend to misplace things rather easily.
What I Like:
Yes, I do, in fact, have some positive things to say about flashcards as well.
Their physicality. Yes, I know, I just blathered on about how that’s a negative thing, but it’s also an extremely convenient thing. I can easily shuffle them around and sort and resort them as I please. Once I know a vocabulary word, I can put it to the side and not look at it anymore. Trying to manipulate online flashcards in the same way can be a huge pain in the butt.
Also, although (in my case) they take a while to make, they can be worth their while. Sometimes certain words or phrases will just not stick in my head, in which case a flashcard can be useful.
My Personal Habits
Like I mentioned before, I rarely use physical flashcards, and when I do, it’s pretty much only for vocabulary. Here’s how I typically learn vocabulary:
When I first encounter words I usually use an online flashcard/memorization system to introduce my brain to them, such as Quizlet or Memrise. If I have questions about a definition, then I’ll check Naver (Korean) or MDBG (Chinese) for more information about the usage of the word.
If I really have trouble getting a word to stick after using these online sources several times, then I might consider making a flashcard for it.
I also sometimes make flashcards for reviewing purposes. In college, I had to take a test in order to determine if I could enter into Intermediate Chinese classes. It had been two years since I had taken Chinese 1, so I got out my old textbook and made flashcards for all of the vocab. Even just the process of making the flashcards was a good review of the words, and then flipping through the sets of vocab prior to the test reassured me of my preparedness.
Honestly, I think the usefulness of flashcards varies greatly depending on who is using them.
Some people are super motivated by flashcards, and once they have flashcards in their arsenal they will put forth time and determination to study them.
I am not one of those people.
I’m in the other camp, the one that likes making flashcards, but rarely garners up enough energy or will to study them thoroughly. Only in rare cases will my flashcards be used.
What about you guys? Comment with your study habits.