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Using Multiple-Choice Flashcards Effectively
Using Multiple-Choice Flashcards Effectively

Multiple-choice questions are a useful tool in some cases, but reframing them often yields flashcards that are more efficient and useful.

Soren Bjornstad avatar
Written by Soren Bjornstad
Updated over a week ago

Multiple-choice questions, where a number of possible answers are presented, only one of which is correct, are a popular way of writing exam questions. As such, we offer multiple-choice flashcards in RemNote to help you prepare for such exams. However, we recommend using them as one small part of an overall learning strategy, to match the format of a specific exam you're taking, rather than as a substitute for other types of flashcards, because over-reliance on multiple-choice questions will make your learning less effective.

To understand why, consider why multiple-choice questions are so common on exams. They're easy to grade, for one. They also do a great job at assessing whether you've learned the material well enough to recognize the right answer and avoid common pitfalls in thinking (represented by well-chosen incorrect answers). But while this format does a good job at assessing whether you've learned some material, it does a poor job at teaching you the material. If you only practice multiple-choice questions, you will certainly have learned how to pick out the correct item from that list of possible answers, but there's no guarantee you will have gained the type of durable understanding of the material needed to do your own reasoning with it.

Practicing the same multiple-choice questions repeatedly without seeing the information they test in any other format risks causing pattern matching, in which you memorize the answer to a flashcard in a way that relies on the appearance or wording of the question rather than the actual content you want to learn. In the context of multiple-choice questions, perhaps you'll only learn to recognize the right answer or eliminate the wrong answers and pick the last one by default, rather than actually learning the right answer. If the wrong choices on your exam are different than the ones you study with, or even just look different, and such multiple-choice questions have made up the entirety of your study, you might end up unable to remember the answer when you see the question on your exam!

Additionally, the more context is provided on a question, the less likely you are to be able to apply the knowledge represented by the question in a different context. If you're asked to talk about the material on your flashcards in an essay, for instance, chances are you'll have a harder time writing about the relevant concepts if you learned them using multiple-choice flashcards than if you learned them with other types of flashcards.


Let's look at a typical multiple-choice question and explore other ways to create flashcards for it. Here's a simple question:

Which of the following elements is often used to fill party balloons?

A: Hydrogen

B: Helium

C: Xenon

D: Iron

One option is to simply remove the choices and use a basic flashcard instead:

Q: Which element is often used to fill party balloons?

A: Helium.

This might be all you need to do. It's more generally applicable than the multiple-choice version, and it's even easier to create โ€“ you don't have to type or reformat the wrong answer choices. However, right now this is still a little bit verbose. It also doesn't explain why helium is used here; even if you don't have a question about that on your upcoming exam, understanding the reason why will make a fact much easier to remember!

We can create a more complete and concise version using the Concept-Descriptor Framework:

Of course, using other types of flashcards doesn't mean you can't use any multiple-choice flashcards! If you have the time to practice a few more flashcards, you'll probably get the best results from both learning about party balloons and helium in detail with Concept-Descriptor flashcards, and then adding some sample multiple-choice questions to practice applying your knowledge in an exam-like context.

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