Study calls out flash cards for enhancing active recall

Flash cards, a favored and familiar learning tool for decades, continue to deliver big value at a small price. Yes, they encourage memorization, but they also develop the important skill of active recall. A January Time Magazine column highlighted findings from a report released early this year by the Association for Psychological Science. Its authors examined 10 learning tactics and rated each from high to low utility on the basis of the evidence they gathered. According to the report, one of the best strategies is practice testing. Calling information to mind strengthens it and improves future retrieval of it. They describe flash cards—both traditional and digital—as a form of practice testing. Annie Murphy Paul, author of several books on learning , penned the Time column, and based on the APS report, noted that the study’s “evidence suggests that most of us don’t use the learning techniques that science has proved most effective.”

Flash cards are portable, take-anywhere tools, and they are generally extremely affordable. They can be shuffled, changing up the order and adding an element of recall that moves beyond running down stationary “lists.” Flash cards that incorporate—or are turned into—a game or activity combined with learning, multiply the benefits. For preschool through the early grades, flash cards help introduce and reinforce math facts, sight words, letter-picture, and letter-word associations.