I'm studying for the ACT and keep on forgetting words and concepts. Are flashcards appropriate for me? Can they help me memorize information? What ACT topics are best suited for flashcards?
If you’re prepping for the ACT and struggling to retain certain concepts, flashcards can be a great way to memorize the information you need to know. However, flashcards are only really best to use to help with ACT vocabulary and ACT Math formulas.
I do not recommend using flashcards for the other sections (English and Science). I also do not recommend using flashcards as your only study method. While flashcards are helpful in preparing for the ACT, you need to be learning the ACT strategies and taking practice tests.
In this article, I’ll explain how to create ACT flashcards for vocabulary and math formulas and how to study with the flashcards.
Why You Should Make Your Own ACT Flashcards
I recommend making your own ACT flashcards by hand rather than buying pre-made flashcards or creating online flashcards (using a site like Quizlet). By creating your own flashcards, you'll start to learn the information before you even start using the flashcards. I recommend writing them out by hand because rather than creating online cards because when you create the cards online you might be tempted to copy and paste information onto the flashcards without taking the time to read it. Making physical flashcards will force you to read and transcribe all of the material, which means you'll review the material.
If you're pressed for time, you can check out our guide to the best ACT vocabulary lists on the web which includes links to online ACT flashcards you can use. But, again, if you have the time, make your own physical flashcards.
Creating ACT Vocabulary Flashcards
When creating your vocabulary flashcards, I recommend using our list of the top 150 ACT vocabulary words and the ACT words you must know. If you’re still struggling with vocabulary after making those flashcards and want supplementary material, check out the best ACT vocabulary lists on the web for some more ideas.
When creating the flashcards, make sure to write the word itself on one side and the definition on the back. Along with the definition, you should also write an example of how to use the word in context, and if there are multiple definitions, write an example of how to use the word in context for each definition.
I’ll use the first word on our list of the top 150 ACT vocabulary words, "adhere," as an example. The front side of your flashcards would simply say, “adhere.” The backside of your flashcard would say:
Definition: 1. stick completely to a surface or substance 2. believe in and follow the practices of Example: 1. I used the glue to adhere my photo to the scrapbook. 2. The priest adhered to all of the principles of Catholicism.
Why write an example using the word in context? On the ACT, you will not be tested on vocabulary through fill-in-the-blank type questions as you are on the SAT. Rather, the ACT uses vocabulary in context where knowing the meaning of the word is crucial to understanding or answering the question asked, but typically the exact meaning of the word isn’t asked directly. In other words, it's less about the vocabulary itself and more about how it fits with the words around them.
As an example, on the ACT reading you could be asked the following:
As it’s used in line 38, adhere most nearly means
A. to stick to a surface
B. to belong to
C. to believe in
D. to agree with
Both A and C are definitions of adhere, so just knowing the definition will not help you answer the question. If line 38 read, “the priest adhered to all of the principles of Catholicism.” Knowing the definitions of adhere AND picking up on the context clues, you’d realize the correct answer is C. The answer can’t be A because the priest did not physically stick himself to a surface. The answer is C because the priest believes in all of the principles of Catholicism.
For this reason, it’s crucial to not only include definitions on your flashcards but also to include a sentence using the word in context.
If you cannot come up with examples yourself (or are afraid of using the word improperly in context), I recommend doing a Google Search for “[Word] definition.” Typically, that will bring up the definitions along with examples of the word used in context. For example, I searched for “adhere definition” and found this result with examples for both definitions of the word used in a sentence.
Once you finish creating your vocabulary flashcards, make flashcards for the ACT Math formulas.
Creating ACT Math Flashcards
Knowing ACT Math formulas is vital to success on the ACT Math section as there are many questions you will not be able to answer without knowing a formula. When creating your ACT Math flashcards, I recommend using our list of 31 Critical ACT Math Formulas you must know.
When creating the flashcards, make sure to write the name of the formula on one side and the actual formula on the back. Also on the back, write what each variable in the formula stands for and the definition of the formula/concept.
I’ll use the first formula from our list of 31 Critical ACT Math Formulas as an example. I’d write “slope” on one side of my card. On the back, I’d write
“Slope is the measure of how a line changes. It’s expressed as the change along the y-axis/the change along the x-axis, or rise/run. Given two points A $(x_1,y_1)$ and B $(x_2,y2)$, use the above formula to find the slope of the line that connects them.”
It’s important to include what the variable stand for in order to remember the significance of the formula and how to use it. If you only memorize letters$(y_2 - y_1)/(x_2 - x_1)$, on the day of the test, you may totally forget what y and x mean in the formula. Don’t just memorize formulas as random variables. Memorize the formula, formula definition, and what each part of the formula stands for, so you’ll know how to use the formula to answer questions.
How to Study With Your Flashcards
Now that you have your flashcards, how should you study with them? Here at PrepScholar, we recommend using the waterfall method to study flashcards. This method forces you to focus on the words you don't know, while not wasting your time on the words you’ve already mastered. The waterfall method is based on a proven memorization technique called Spaced Repetition.
I’ll give a brief summary of the technique, but for check out our other article for a more in-depth explanation of the waterfall method. Start with 30-50 flashcards (I recommend studying the Math formulas and Vocabulary separately, so you don’t get confused jumping between different subjects).
Go through the pile, looking at the word or formula name. If you know the definition or formula immediately, put it in a “Know It” pile. If you couldn’t remember it quickly (or at all), put it in a “Struggled” pile.
After going through the cards, you should have 2 piles. Pick up the “Struggled” pile and test yourself again. This time, create a new “Know It” pile and “Struggled” pile for these flashcards. You should now have 3 piles: the original “Know It” pile, the new “Know It” pile, and the new “Struggled pile.”
Keep repeating this exercise (using the “Struggled” pile and separating into new “Know It” and “Struggled” piles) until you have only 1-5 words or formulas left in the “Struggled” pile.
Now, combine the remaining “Struggled” pile with the most recent “Know It” pile. Test yourself on all of the words until you do not get a single one wrong. If you get one wrong, restart the pile until you get 0 wrong. Once you’ve mastered all of those words, add in the next highest “Know It” pile, and test yourself on all of those words until you do not get a single one wrong.
Keep repeating until you get back to your original stack, and once you go through that stack without making a single mistake, you’ll officially know every word and formula!!!
How Much Should You Use Flashcards?
While flashcards are helpful for the ACT, you should not be spending all of your time studying these flashcards. Knowing the definitions and formulas is not enough to help you reach a high score on the ACT Math, ACT Reading, and ACT English sections, especially since you won’t be tested on extremely challenging, obscure words (like on the SAT). As I said before, the ACT tests moderate-difficulty words in the context of sentences, and tends to focus on words with multiple meanings (like the adhere example above). For a more detailed explanation of this, read our article on ACT vocabulary.
Studying flashcards should be just one component of your ACT preparation. You need to be learning other ACT strategies, learning the content of each section such as Math, and taking ACT practice tests to practice applying these strategies.
Concerned about vocab? Learn more about why vocabulary is important on the ACT.