Quizzes and study techniques generally come in two forms: production and recognition.  Flashcard engines such as Brainscape lend themselves to the production variety of study, as they require the user to freely recall the target rather than simply recognizing it from among multiple choices.  A large body of research shows that production is tremendously more effective than recognition even if the goal is to perform well on a multiple-choice test (see Karpicke and Roediger, 2006).

Brainscape’s developers and partners create our cue-target pairs in a format that most directly solicits active recall, rather than simple recognition, since this format yields greater benefits with limited study time.   Our language content, for example, always asks learners to produce the foreign language word/phrase, rather than simply showing the foreign words and asking the learner to translate to his native tongue (which would have been much “easier” but less effective).

Certain flashcard programs (see Smart.fm) actually give multiple choices for each flashcard response in an attempt to make the experience more fun and give the user an opportunity to provide answers.  While this might be marginally more engaging, it is a form of recognition and is therefore inferior to the production model.  The U.S. Department of Education strongly recommends that students should actively recall specific information in order to “directly promote learning and help students remember things longer” (Pashler et al., 2007).

There is a reason that traditional flashcards have been so successful for centuries, and the advent of mobile technologies makes the successful use of flashcards more convenient, dynamic, flexible, and effective than ever before.


Karpicke, J., & Roediger, H. (2006). Repeated retrieval during learning is the key to long-term retention. Journal of Memory and Language. Vol. 57, No. 2, 151-162.

Pashler, H., Bain, P., Bottge, B., Graesser, A., Koedinger, K., McDaniel, M., & Metcalfe, J. (2007). Organizing instruction and study to improve student learning. Institute for Educational Sciences practice guide, U.S. Department of Education.