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How to Memorize Flashcards More Efficiently

When you get to the last month or so of studying for an exam, besides doing as many practice problems and practice exams as possible, you’re probably also focused on memorizing an intimidating stack of flashcards. I’ll be honest, I always hated the tedium of memorizing flashcards.

Over the years I tried different approaches to figure out how to memorize flashcards more efficiently and effectively. Below are three techniques I learned along the way that I think will save you a lot of time when memorizing all of the lists and formulas.

Technique 1 - Don’t go straight through a stack of flashcards

By default, I think a lot of people take a stack of flashcards and then just flip through them in order, from top to bottom.

The problem is that in a stack of flashcards, there are three types of cards:

  • Cards you know REALLY well and have immediate recall
  • Cards you know well enough and can recall without looking at the back
  • Cards you don’t know and you need to look at the back for the answer

The problem with just going straight through a stack is that you see each of these types of cards with the same frequency. Ideally, you want to see the cards that you don’t know a lot more often than the ones you know really well. Otherwise, you waste a lot of time reviewing cards you already completely memorized.

Instead, this is the approach I used:

A Study Schedule that Works

Like everything with studying for an actuarial exam, it’s important to keep the main goal in mind.

Ultimately, your goal is to maximize the points on exam day. Your study schedule and how you study should reflect this goal.

Some study activities may feel like they’re important or worth your time, but they don’t move the needle much towards that goal. For example, spending a day trying to figure out a fringe topic that’s mentioned in a couple paragraphs in an appendix, reading a referenced paper for context that’s not on the syllabus, or working 10 problems in a row of a problem-type you’ve already mastered probably aren’t going to help that much.

Make sure your study efforts are in line with the goal of maximizing your points on exam day.

Levels of Understanding

When studying, there are two main levels of understanding the material.

The first level is being able to understand the paper and follow solutions and examples. This is important to develop in your first pass through the material.

The second level is to be able to read a question and knowledgeably answer the topic without any additional prompting. Obviously, this is the level of understanding you need for the exam. On the second pass through the material you begin to build this level of understanding through practice problems.

Study Schedule Framework

I think a lot of people start studying relatively soon after exam results are out, so that leaves about four months for studying. Most people will study between three and four months by exam day. Any less than that is pretty tight on time for an upper-level exam.

Assuming four months for studying and this is your first sitting, below is the framework I would suggest for a schedule:

How to Get Real Studying Done the FIRST Month

I followed a pretty standard pattern for almost all my exams:

Find out I passed my last exam, Woo Hoo!!! -> Celebrate passing! -> Print out the syllabus for the next exam and feel smugly accomplished -> Set an ambitious study schedule, telling myself that this time I’m going to start off studying strong.

Then…

I either completely procrastinate for days at a time or I stare at a syllabus paper and make almost zero progress.

Before I know it, the opportunity to set a solid foundation with that first month of studying is already gone and I’ve barely made a dent into the readings.

Why is it so hard to get back into a consistent study schedule at the start of a new exam season?

If this is January or July, then just a few months ago you were studying just about every free moment you could. Now, at the start of a new exam season you might be struggling to make it through a few pages of a paper or a study manual before feeling a sudden need to check Facebook or email.

I think the underlying issue is the sheer overwhelm when starting a new exam.