Introducing Flashcards — A Perfect Complement to MCQs

Rohith
Rohith
Jun 30, 2018 · 5 min read
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We just added a new feature to Pre-PG app — Flashcards.

What-cards, now?

Flashcards are a useful tool to memorize essential facts by practicing recall of information. Traditionally, flashcards were printed on actual cardboard or paper. Flashcards used to look like playing cards (or Uno cards). The front of the card has a cue or hint; the back part contains the answer.

For example,

  • FRONT — ‘Father of Medicine’
  • BACK — ‘Hippocrates’

People who wanted to remember stuff like this used to have stacks of flashcards. They look at the front, guess the answer and check on the back. After going through the flashcards lots of times, the answers take firm root in memory, accomplishing the learning task.

Digital flashcards offer the same benefits as physical flashcards, but with the added advantage of using smart algorithms to make the learning process more efficient.

Why Flashcards?

You might be wondering why we chose to introduce flashcards over, say videos or notes. Two reasons. First, flashcards are the best aligned with our mission of helping doctors crack NEET through deliberate practice. Not all high-yield facts can be covered in explanations of MCQs and can fit better as flashcards. Second, we looked into research that evaluated the impact of teaching methods on recall, and along with MCQs, flashcards ranked highest.

The amount of material you need to remember for NEET-PG is a LOT. Writing all of this down in notes is a good idea. If you are serious about your preparation, you should have started working on self-authored notes. But some things can be improved in this process.

Intelligent repetitions: While reading your notes, you don’t selectively go through the points. You should ideally spend more time on points that are hard to remember. There is no easy way to do this when you have all your points in a notebook. On the other hand, some of these points will be easy to remember, and there is no advantage in going through these points often. But you don’t have any quantitative idea of how difficult a fact is, making any effort at improving the process mere guesswork.

Effective recall: Cognitive researchers are unanimous in their recommendation of “practice testing” (MCQs and flashcards) over rereading and highlighting books.

Attempting to retrieve target information involves a search of long-term memory that activates related information … facilitates later access to that information.
-SK Carpenter, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 2009

Portability: You don’t have your notebook with you all the time. Even if you have, opening it up may not be possible in some places. The one thing that you can open up anytime you want is… yup, your smartphone. Waiting for the bus? No problem, go through a few flashcards. It’s that easy.

There are many such advantages to having flashcards on your smartphone, but cards can’t wholly replace notes. Notes are free-flowing and can take any shape you want. So, you should use flashcards along with notes — not instead of notes. Use flashcards to remember essential facts and the notes to understand and revise critical concepts.

Flashcards are a tried and tested method for remembering things. Use them, and you will gain a significant advantage over your peers.

The theory behind efficient flashcards

At this stage, you may be asking:

  • How frequently should I go through the cards?
  • Should I go through all the cards every time I practice?

These are valid questions about the process. If you have a lot of material to cover, like in NEET-PG, you need to be efficient about the way you repeat cards.

There is research done on the speed with which our brain forgets things. The red curve in the graph shows you how a memory decays if you do not actively recall it later. The green curves show you how it decays after active recalls. As you can see, a memory strengthens after active recalls and decays slowly after more recalls.

The Pre-PG flashcard algorithm running in the background uses this research to make sure that you remember more material in less time.

Let’s see how this algorithm works behind the scenes.

Behind the scenes

As you practice, our algorithm in the background starts crunching numbers. The algorithm notes your feedback and figures out the difficulty level of the card. For example, if you indicate that you have trouble remembering the card, it will show the card to you more often. On the other hand, we will give lower preference of repetition to a card if you indicate higher levels of recall.

Instead of just showing you the hint and asking you to remember the answer, the algorithm uses the feedback you provide to prioritize the cards. You will see cards you find challenging getting repeated more often than easier cards. This makes the process much more efficient.

All this crunching helps you save valuable time. The algorithm is like an intelligent assistant. It takes care of efficiency. With the help of the algorithm, you can be sure that you are using your limited time in the most effective way possible.

Using flashcards on Pre-PG

Navigate to the flashcards page from the menu. Simply select the subject and start practicing with flashcards.

When you start your flashcards practice, a card is displayed. We show you a cue or hint and asked to recall the answer. We reveal the answer when you click ‘Show Answer’. After seeing the answer, check it with your guess and give feedback on a scale of 0–5.

  • 5 : Excellent recall. No hesitation
  • 4 : Correct Answer
  • 3 : Correct Answer but recalled with substantial effort
  • 2 : Near Miss. Slightly Wrong.
  • 1 : Wrong Answer
  • 0 : Zero Recall. Complete Blackout.

Once you give feedback, we show you the next card and so on. This process for practicing flashcards continues. Over time, you will see the efficient repetitions kicking in to improve your recall of more challenging cards.

If you give a feedback of 0–3, the card is added to ‘cards pending for review’ list. You can go through the list by clicking ‘Review’.

Note: There is an option to like/dislike a card. If you select ‘dislike’(thumbs-down) the card won’t be shown to you again. You can use this feature to not see cards which you remember very well and for which you don’t see the need for repetition. Don’t forget to use this feature if you come across any particularly bad cards. This will help us in removing invalid cards.

The Future

Flashcards are currently in beta and available only for Premium members. Over time, we will be adding more high-impact content and categorizing flashcards into topics. We are hopeful that flashcards will prove to be the perfect complement to MCQs.

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