Creating and Using Cue Cards for Studying

Upon completion of this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Understand what cue cards are
  • Understand how create cue cards
  • Understand how to use cue card software called ANKI
Cue cards are a unique study tool that allow students to document specific information to study for tests and exams.

What are Cue Cards?
(The following information is taken from Laurier University Learning Services - Study Aids: Strategies)

Cue cards can be one of the most useful tools for studying. They can appeal to every type of learner. For visual learners, they can be colour coded. For aural learners, they can be used to store short, compact bits of information for recitation. For read/write learners, they can be short descriptions and definitions. For kinesthetic learners, they are movement based and can be used to quickly give practical or real life examples of theories. As well, you can carry them anywhere and study while waiting for the doctor, on the bus or just sitting in your living room. Remember you always want to condense information onto cue cards. Your goal should be to have smaller and smaller piles the more you learn. Amalgamate your lecture notes, textbook notes, and anything else you have into your cue cards.

What information goes on cue cards?

  • Questions and answers. Ex. Who was Canadaís first Prime Minister and when did he hold office?
  • Diagrams and charts with explanations or significance on the back. Make sure you fully understand a chart or diagram just by looking at it.
  • Keywords and their definitions. Ex. Trees; and on the other side have, plant with bark and leaves.
  • Names and their significance or quotation. Ex. Roosevelt; ďnothing to fear but fear itself.Ē Use this to remember quotes to use on essay exam questions.

Always ensure that you switch the order of your cards from time to time. Donít just memorize the information in the order they appear in your pile. Also, try going through your cue cards in reverse order. Instead of just reading the keywords and knowing the definitions, read the definitions and try to remember to which keyword it applies.

  • Are there other cue card strategies?
  • Carry them around and study between classes
  • Create piles of information you know and donít know
  • Find associations between concepts and group cards together
  • Have a friend quiz you with them. They donít even have to be in your course!
  • Exchange them with someone else and test yourself
  • Quiz yourself

Learning Vocabulary

At some point in your university career, every student has to learn the vocabulary of their discipline. Vocabulary development is key in all disciplines (including mathematics) and is usually one of the most overlooked learning aids. The key to this sort of studying is to avoid your natural tendency to just memorize textbook definitions. Always paraphraseóby putting the information into your own words it will commit to long term memory. And you can ensure that you actually understand what you are learning rather than merely reciting information. If youíre uncertain of your definitions then bring them to your Instructor and have your instructor confirm your definition.

There are many different ways to learn vocabulary. Aforementioned cue cards are a great tool, but those donít work for everyone. Find what works best for you, whether it be cue cards, or listing them off a page, or explaining them in groups.

Another good strategy for learning vocabulary is to create analogies between the topic of your definition and an unrelated item. For example, earlier in this chapter you learnt that you should take breaks while studying. Why? Because your mind is similar to a funnel. If you fill your mind up with knowledge too quickly the knowledge wonít have time to commit to long term memory This is similar (or analogous) to water and a funnel. If you fill a container (your brain) too quickly with water (knowledge) using a funnel (learning) the water will over flow and spill on the ground. However, if you stop every so often for 10 minutes you allow the water to properly enter the container.

Memory Techniques

One of the hardest tasks students have is learning how to remember what they have learnt for their exams. Generally, students study in one particular fashion: they read their notes over and over, sometimes writing them out again. This strategy works for read/write learners, but isnít adequate for other learners. There many different ways to memorize information if you are struggling to recall what you have learnt come exam time.

Mnemonics are simple memorization techniques using words that come in a variety of forms.
  1. Acronyms - Use an acronym to remember a group of terms or words. Ex. If you have to memorize the five great lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior), you can condense it to HOMES and just remember that five letter key to trigger your memory.
  2. Acrostic - Acrostics work much the same way as acronyms, but use the letters to form sentences, which may be easier for you to remember. Ex. You have to remember the planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. You can turn the first letter into a sentence: My very evil mother jumped safely under Ned. You can come up with your own and try to make it as memorable as possible.
  3. Rhyming - Rhymes will also stick in your mind much more readily than large chunks of information. Ex. In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
  4. Songs - Create a song to a tune you already know and just softly sing it to yourself during the exam. Preferably in your own head! This can be a great way to remember a lot of information very easily. For example, most Ontarians remember the ďPizza PizzaĒ jingle
  5. Association - Associate information with objects or themes inside your head. You can associate them with visual pictures, or a story, or even colours, whatever works for you. This can be in several different forms. Ex. If you have to remember a series of terms, you can associate them with a series of items in your room. During the exam, just visualize walking around your room and then remember each term as you see each object. Or, you can create a story around the terms, the more absurd the better, and recite that story to yourself on the exam. Or, you can use letter associations to create memory triggers. For example Arteries move blood Away from your heart.

Effective Learning Techniques
(Taken from

Students studying for big exams may want to put down their neon highlighters and make some flash cards instead.

Some of the most popular study strategies ó such as highlighting and rereading ó donít show much promise for improving student learning, according to a new report published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

While 10 learning techniques commonly used by students are summarized in a White Paper (published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science); they vary widely in effectiveness. Two strategies ó practice testing and distributed practice ó made the grade, receiving the highest overall ratings.

Practice Testing involves using flash cards or answering questions at the end of a textbook chapter. Distributed Practice is the opposite of last-minute cramming, spreading out studying over time and quizzing yourself on material long before the big test.

Both techniques have been shown to boost studentsí performance across many different kinds of tests, and their effectiveness has been repeatedly demonstrated for students of all ages, according to the report by a Kent State professor and a team of psychological scientists including Mitchell J. Nathan from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Three other common study techniques received a low utility rating from the researchers: summarization, highlighting and underlining, and rereading.

The remaining five techniques evaluated fell into the middle ground ó not useless, but not especially effective: mental imagery, or coming up with pictures that help you remember text; elaborative interrogation, or asking yourself ďwhyĒ as you read; self-explanation, or forcing yourself to explain the text in detail instead of passively reading it over; interleaved practice, or mixing up different types of problems; and keyword mnemonic, or associating new vocabulary words, usually in a foreign language, with an English word that sounds similar.

How to Study Effectively with Flash Cards

How to Memorize Flashcards (Cue Cards)

3 Flashcard Mistakes Most Students Make

Creating Your Own Paper Cue Cards

Tips Before Creating Cue Cards

Before you start creating cue cards, follow these steps:
  1. Donít wait to create your flash cards the day before the exam. Begin creating them right away, after every class (using your class notes) after every chapter you finish in your textbook.
  2. Use both sides of the card. One side should ask just one question. On the other side of the card, write the answer to that question.
  3. Bring blank flash cards with you to class. If something comes up in class that will be important for you to know or study later, prepare a fast flash card right away, and then if need be, make a new, more thorough one at home.
  4. If you have a question about something you learn in class, write that question down on a flashcard. After class, ask your teacher the question, and write his/her response on the reverse side.
  5. Sometimes itís helpful to colour code your flash cards. For example, if you are studying a language, try using pink cards for feminine nouns and blue cards for masculine nouns. Or, you can use different colour cards for each of the chapters in your biology textbook.
  6. Try to use your own words when writing your flash cards, unless a specific definition is required.
  7. DONíT put too much information on a single flashcard. Each flash card should be designed to teach you just one piece of information. Even if the information is related, it is better to have five flashcards than just one.
  8. DO break up the information so that there is only one question on one flash card. Try to keep the answers short and precise; itís more helpful if you can process the information with one glance at the card.

Steps To Creating Your Own Cue Cards

The following steps will aid students in creating their own study decks. This first picture illustrates a completed deck of cue cards to study for Unit 1 of the computer technology course:

This next picture illustrates an elementary student using a cue card to learn math:

The next picture illustrates the front and back sides of a cue card that has been created to study the computer technology Unit 1 AC theory information. Notice that the information is written in question form to aid the student in learning how to document information using this type format to prepare for a question and answer test:

This next cue card illustrates how students can print out pictures and glue them to the cue card. Notice the answer is written out and the picture reinforces the theoretical concept:

Studying Cue Cards

The following tips will help you get the most out of your cue cards:

  1. Donít study your cue cards for long periods of time. Instead, study them for intervals of fifteen to twenty minutes at a time throughout the day.
  2. Break your cue cards up into several, related groups. People tend to memorize the first and last cards first. If you have a lot of cue cards, the mid-section is just as important; therefore it takes longer to learn. Study the cue cards in small groups so that you can remember more.
  3. Go through your cue cards and try to answer each question. If you know the answer, put the card in a "Know Already" pile. If you do not know the answer, put that card into a "I Don't Know" pile.
  4. Keep going through the pile of cue cards that you didnít know the answers to, and as soon as you get the answers right, put that cue card in the know already pile. Youíll see the pile of cue cards you didnít know become smaller over time until there are no more cue cards left in that pile. Start the process over again until every card ends up in the know already pile. When you are able to do this, you have learned all the knowledge on the cue cards.
  5. Review your cue cards often. Donít just look through them once and put them away for the rest of the week. Carry them everywhere with you and look through them every time you have a free moment: on the bus, during lunch, between classes, and at home. make sure you add more time every day at home to study the cue cards. Repetative re-reading does improves learning.
  6. Be sure to shuffle the cue cards often. This helps you learn the individual pieces of information and not just in relation to the card before and after it.
  7. You know youíve done a great job studying when you can answer the entire stack of cue cards twice, preferably with a day in between.

Using ANKI - Online Cue Card Software

There are two simple concepts behind Anki: active recall testing and spaced repetition. They are not known to most learners, despite having been written about in the scientific literature for many years. Understanding how they work will make you a more effective learner. Here's a link to the ANKI user manual:

ANKI User Manual

Quick Step Guide to Creating a Personal ANKI Deck

Once you enter the ANKI program, click the "Create" button then name your new deck as follows:

Next, click the text word "Add Material" as follows:

Now add your text question, in the top text area or the front of the cue card then click the "Add" button as follows:

Now add your answer text to the bottom text area or the back of the cue card then click the "Add" button as follows:

The first card is complete. On the screen now is card two's window. Add text to the front card then click the "Add a picture" icon or press "F3" to add a picture to the back of the card. You can add text under the picture then click the "Add" button as the following two pictures illustrate:

Once you are finished entering your questions and answers, click the "Close" button as follows:

You can immediately use your deck to study by clicking the "Review" button as follows:

Notice the first question will appear but not the asnwer. Try to answer your question then when you are ready, click the "Show Answer" button as follows:

Notice after press the Show Answer button, there are several time buttons at the bottom of the page. You can click a time button and choose when you want to see the question again. If the question is easier, click a longer period. If you didn't answer the question properly because you don't know the answer then press the "Soon" or "1 Day" button. This causes the question to be shown in your deck then next time by lciking "soon" or in one day by clicking the "1 Day" button as follows:

When you finish reviewing your deck this window will appear. You can review the deck again by clicking "Review Early" or click the "Finish" button to terminate the program, which will take you to the "Study Options" window as the next picture illustrates:

If you want to go to the "Home" window, click the icon at the top right of the window and the following window will appear. Notice your newly created deck at the top of the list as follows:

Just click the "RED X" button at the top right of the window to close the program.