An alternative to flashcards

A message that I have repeated to some of my students ad nauseam:

Making flashcards will not make you memorise the facts. You have to do something with them. You have to quiz yourself (or get someone else to quiz you) on the facts until they have been committed to memory. 

As we got closer to the exams I continued seeing students make flashcards, which were then sometimes never (or rarely) used again. I therefore decided to instead provide students with my own revision tool (shown and downloadable below). 

Here, I instructed the students to fold over the sheet shown. They can then either:

  1. Attempt to write down the correct equation from memory and check answers afterwards.
  2. Get a family member or friend to quiz them on the correct answers (and I’m a big fan of parental engagement with this process). 

Have you repeated this until everything has been committed to memory? Great! Now mix up the order to make it more challenging. 

This isn’t only applicable to recalling equations in physics, though. Recently, my department has re-written our curriculum with key-learning questions in mind (much like in Adam Boxer’s brilliant blog here:

One side of the sheet can be the question; the other can have the answers. In this way, students can make sure that their factual, declarative knowledge is on point. And they can make sure of this very easily. 

It’s understandable if a student loses marks on a complex multi-step calculation or an interpretation of a nuanced point in GCSE physics. There are some genuinely difficult questions with complex procedural or conditional knowledge required. In my opinion, however, it far less understandable if a student can’t recall a basic fact.

As I repeatedly tell my students:

You have to know the facts. You can have all of the skills in the world, but if you can’t remember the facts then you won’t have an opportunity to show off and use your skills.  

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