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The Waid Academy

Retrieval Practice - Flashcards

Retrieval Practice - Flashcards

Simply put, recalling information from memory is simple and powerful. Retrieval practice is a learning strategy which makes you think hard and brings information to mind. It is the action of actively retrieving knowledge that boosts learning and strengthens memory. It means trying to remember previously learned information as opposed to simply re-reading it. It builds confidence over time and allows you to identify gaps in your knowledge. Examples include:

  • Knowledge quizzing, low stakes testing and multiple-choice tests.
  • Completing past paper questions or practice answers.
  • Answering verbal questions asked by teacher/peers/parents.
  • Summarising, creating flashcards or revision materials where you can ‘test’ yourself.

One particularly effective strategy is the creation and use of flashcards. Flashcards are generally a card containing a small amount of information on either side as an aid to learning. The use of flashcards is for low stakes testing to improve recall and to strengthen memory.

An effective flashcard may include the following (in each subject they will be used in a different way):

  • A key term/key word with definition on the back.
  • A key date with the event on the back.
  • A key equation with its use in practice on the back.
  • A past paper question/plan and a model answer on the back.

In order to use flashcards most effectively, the Leitner System is a desired strategy for spaced testing. Once you have created a set of flashcards, create three boxes/areas marked as the following.

BOX 1:

Every day

BOX 2:

Twice a week

BOX 3:

Once a week


  • Test yourself on the flashcards in the Box 1 pile. If you get the answer correct on the flashcard, move it to the Box 2 pile. If you get it incorrect, it stays in Box 1.
  • Twice a week, test yourself on the flashcards in Box 2. If you get the answer correct on the flashcard, move it to the Box 3 pile. If you get it incorrect, it stays in Box 2. The aim is to get all of the flashcards to Box 3.


Retrieval and Flashcards ‘Do’:

Retrieval and Flashcards ‘Don’t’:

  • Put a single piece of information on each flashcard.
  • Sort your flashcards according to your confidence with them (see above).
  • Create ‘decks’ for each topic. This may be a different colour card for each subject/unit.
  • Mix up topics so you aren’t always testing yourself on the same topic.
  • Practice the information you struggle and need to improve on.
  • Use PLCs, checklists or revision guides as a way to monitor your retrieval practice.
  • Move beyond recalling simple facts to detail and analysis.
  • Spend more time making the flashcards than using them.
  • Put lots of information onto each flashcard.
  • Revise the flashcards in the same order every time that you use them.
  • Only read the flashcards – test your memory!
  • Assume everything you’ve written is correct.
  • Throw away your quizzes or brain dumps.
  • Avoid testing yourself on tough topics or ones you dislike. You want it to be difficult.