One of my favorite go-to methods when preparing for an exam has always been to create flashcards. I used this study strategy to get through school and also to prepare for comprehensive exams like the MBLEx and physical therapy boards.
I like using flashcards because they help to strengthen active recall of the study material. And they give instant feedback to let me know what areas I need to spend more time on.
Flashcards also work great when learning a large number of simple concepts. For example, memorizing anatomy structures, medical terminology, pathology signs and symptoms, and other massage therapy concepts.
Read on to discover my top 5 tips on how to make flashcards for the MBLEx.
Should you use flashcards as part of your study plan?
Absolutely! There are several reasons why you should include flashcards as part of your massage school and MBLEx study strategy.
First of all, flashcards are scalable. This means that you can make just a few if you need to study for a short quiz. Or you can make hundreds, covering each of the content areas on the MBLEx.
Flashcards are also convenient to use. Whenever you have 10-20 minutes of downtime during the day you can pull out your flash cards and have a quick review session. This works for a physical deck of flashcards made from 3×5 index cards, or as an app on your mobile device.
Short, frequent study sessions like this are an effective way to increase retention.
You probably have several gaps during your day to do a quick review using your flashcards. Here are a few suggestions:
- Review your flashcards during breakfast or lunch
- Have a quick review session a couple times per day instead of hopping on social media
- Between classes. You can include a classmate and quiz each other using your flashcards.
- During commercials (there’s about 20 minutes of commercials for every hour of television)
- Right before going to bed, so your brain will have something useful to percolate on while you sleep.
Just remember to keep some flashcards with you all the time. You don’t have to carry around all of them, just keep twenty or so nearby.
Plus, having these impromptu study sessions is a great way to overcome procrastination. We tend to procrastinate studying if we expect it will be a long and boring process. Spending 10-20 minutes reviewing some flashcards or completing a short practice quiz is about as pain-free as studying gets.
Flashcards are also cheap compared to the price of textbooks. This is true if you make them from index cards or if your find a flashcard app online.
Using flashcards should be part of your study strategy, but not the only system you use. Be sure to also do things like re-writing and reviewing your notes, using practice tests, and participating with study groups.
Why do flashcards work so well?
Flashcards promote active recall. Using flashcards is a way to practice retrieving information from your memory.
There is a difference between information recall and information recognition.
Information recognition is being able to recognize the right answer. Since the MBLEx is a multiple-choice exam, it only requires information recognition.
Information recall is required when you have to come up with an answer without a prompt. An example of this would be a fill-in-the-blank or short answer question.
The idea is that if you learn the material so that you can recall it without a prompt, then taking a multiple-choice exam should be relatively easy.
As mentioned earlier, flashcards give instant feedback. You’ll know within a couple seconds whether or not you know the information on the card or need to keep reviewing it.
Flashcards work especially well for visual (spatial) learners. If you prefer learning using images, colors and relative position to help remember things, then you are a visual learner. So if this is true for you, be sure to include some images on your flashcards.
Another reason that flashcards are so effective is that they are perfect for repetition. Repetition is the cornerstone of learning anything. The small amount of segmented information on flashcards is a perfect format to review a specific bit of information until it is thoroughly ingrained in your brain.
Why you should you make your own flashcards
There are loads of flashcards available both online and as a physical deck of cards. Especially if you’re just looking for general anatomy information on bones, muscles and other body systems. We even have some free flashcards here on MBLExGuide.
In some cases pre-made flashcards will meet your needs. But most of the time, it is better to just make your own.
You will learn a lot about a subject just from the act of creating your own flashcards. The process of taking information from your textbooks or class notes and boiling it down to the most important information is an important step in the learning process.
Taking this information and making it concise and precise will help you build neural connections that increase your understanding and recall of the subject.
The process of making flashcards is a form of active learning.
In fact, many times after making flashcards I barely needed to review them because I learned the material from as I made the card. This was especially true if I took the time to create an illustration with labels.
As you create the flashcards, you will also be writing down the concepts in a way that makes sense to you. You can also add memory triggers on your flashcard that you associate with a certain topic. For example, you can include a mnemonic that you make up to help you remember the parts of a nerve cell.
Flashcards easy and cheap to make. You really only need some index cards and a pen. However with a little extra effort and time you can create some flashcards that suit your needs perfectly. Including a simple illustration with labels, and color-coding your cards can help you stay organized.
How to make flashcards yourself
Here are 5 tips on how to make flashcards to help you in massage school or to study for the MBLEx.
1. Start making your flashcards early
You’ll want to start making your flashcards for the MBLEx early. Ideally start making them while you’re in massage school. That way you can use them to prepare for your school quizzes and tests too.
Then when it’s time to start preparing for the massage license exam, you will already have the majority of flash cards made.
For quizzes during massage school, start reviewing your flashcards at least 2-3 days before your quiz. For big exams during school, start reviewing them at least 1-week before the test.
You will probably want to start making and reviewing your MBLEx flashcards at least 1-month before you are scheduled to take the exam.
2. Keep each flashcard focused
Avoid overloading your flashcards with information. Keep them focused on 1 bit of information.
If your flashcards have questions on them, then just have one question per card.
The reason for this is that you may only get one question right, and you want to be able to separate out the flashcards that you need to review again.
3. Include images with descriptions or labels
Picture superiority effect. We remember pictures more easily. This is especially true for people who are “visual learners”.
In fact, there is a phenomenon known as the picture superiority effect. This states that pictures and images are more likely to be remembered than words.
You can cut and paste images, but drawing your own images has additional benefits.
When you draw your own graphics, you can include only the level of detail that you need. For example, if you are studying the components of a cell, and you only need to know a few basic organelles, then a complicated picture will just complicate the issue. You should include only the labels and text that you need.
It will also be a lot faster in most cases to draw your own image than to try to find the right picture online.
Also, the process of drawing your own images will boost you recall more than just finding an image and staring at it.
Sometimes it helps to find a picture online or in a textbook that is close enough to what you want, and then sketch out a simple image based on the photo.
4. Color-coding your flashcards
Color-coding your flashcards can improve recall. You can apply this technique by using different color cards, or using colored pencils for any illustrations or text.
There is plenty of research available online about how color can enhance memory performance. Research suggests that using color can help with learning and memory by increasing our attention level.
Color can also affect our mood, so use your favorite colors that you make you feel happy and energized.
Finally, using colored index cards or colored pencils will help you keep your flashcards organized. Use whatever system works for you. For example, you could write all the names of muscles in red, nerves in green, and bones in black.
Personalize your flashcards by including mental triggers called mnemonics. These are memory aids that you create or adopt that help you remember the content.
There are many different types of mnemonics including: spelling and names, models, and key words.
So there you have it. 5 ways to make better flashcards that you can use in massage school or when preparing for the MBLEx.
I hope this post inspires you to make some flashcards and start including them in your study sessions for massage school and for the MBLEx when it’s time. I’d love to know how this works for you. If you have any questions or have found any advice for other massage therapy student, please comment below.