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The Note Card Question and Answer Format
for Taking Notes from Lectures and Textbooks

Information from "Note Organization Formats That Inhibit or Promote Learning" by Dennis H. Congos, Academic Advisor and Learning Skills Specialist, University of Central Florida

Photo of a study note card


The way students organize notes from textbooks and lectures can enhance or inhibit learning.

In a recent study, Professor Dennis H. Congos compared five note organization formats in terms of their efficiency in promoting learning. The rating begins with the least efficient and ends with the most efficient:

1) Hi lighting a Textbook
2) Main Idea and Relevant Details
3) Outline
4) Cornell System
5) The Note Card Question and Answer

The Note Card Question and Answer Format proved to be the most efficient method for recording notes and learning the material covered. This method is explained and illustrated below.

How to Format Note Cards


Photo of a study note card

Each note card contains one main idea per card.

Use the card size that best fits the information to be recorded.

Front of Card: Write a main idea or question

Back of Card: Write the corresponding details or the answer to the question.

Note: Use consistent abbreviations whenever possible. For standard abbreviations refer to this link: Note taking Symbols


How to Recite Using Note Cards


Step 1: Read a question aloud and try to answer it aloud without looking at the answer on the back.

Step 2: Check the answer to see if it was recited aloud completely and correctly.

Step 3: If it was correctly recited, place the note card in the learned pile.

Step 4: If the answer was recited incorrectly, reread the answer aloud until you think you can recall the material the turn the card over to reveal the question again.

Step 5: Begin the cycle again by reading the question aloud and reciting the answer aloud from memory, then turn the card over to check for accuracy.

Step 6: This process should be repeated as many times as is necessary until the answer is recited aloud correctly from looking only at the question.

Step 7: That note card should then be placed in the not-yet-learned pile because it was recited incorrectly the first time and has not been fully learned.


How Reciting from Note Cards Promotes Learning
Photo of a note card with information written on it
  • Visually separates main idea and details

  • Numbers and letters can be easily incorporated.

  • Self-testing is enhanced because learned and not-yet-learned material is separated in two stacks of note cards.

  • Main ideas can be quickly regrouped/reorganized simply by rearranging the note cards. This promotes synthesis and seeing relationships between ideas.

  • Mental manipulation is necessary to set up the cards properly and reviewing and reciting the note cards enhances analysis, evaluation, condensation, and restructuring of ideas.

  • Note cards are easily recorded onto summary note cards or sheets of paper because main ideas are so readily visible.

  • Photo of a note card showing a concept map on it

    The note card format accommodates questions and answers that enhance learning.

  • Since there is one question and one answer per note card, review and recitation is quick and convenient.

  • For evaluation of test performance, note cards make it easy to locate information.

  • Note cards excel in portability. The are small and easy to carry in a pocket or purse.

  • Review and recitation is the easiest with this format because of the separation of main ideas and details and because learned material is physically separated fro not-yet-learned material.


 Sample Note Cards


#1: Front of Card


#1: Back of Card

p. 89

Why is recitation the most imp. activity to strengthen mem.?


1. Forces me to think seriously about what’s read or heard.

2. Leads to deep thinking (deep cognitive processing) - key to make memories last.

#2: Front of Card
#2: Back of Card

p. 90


3 ways to get benefits of recitation?


1. Know how to recite

2. Understand how reciting strengthens mem

3. Know why reciting is more effective than rereading


#3: Front of Card
#3: Back of Card

p. 90


3 steps in traditional reciting?





1. Restate info. out loud

2. Write in own words

3. Recite from memory

Ex: read a ¶ — look away — explain meaning


#4: Front of Card
#4: Back of Card

p. 90


2 probs of traditional reciting?




1. Not all students like it


2. Result: many students don't recite

Trick — stick to basics of reciting

#5: Front of Card
#5: Back of Card

p. 90


4 reasons why there are problems with traditional reciting?

FRED has problems reciting.


1. Feels strange or unnatural

2. Reluctant to recite in quiet place where others study

3. Embarrassed to be heard reciting

4. Don't like talking to themselves

FRED has problems reciting.


Explanation of FRED on Note Card #5


  • The letters F-R-E-D stand for the first letter of each problem.

  • Making a word out of first letters to help with learning and recall is called making a mnemonic.

  • The words "has problems reciting" connects the mnemonic with the main idea in the question and prevents confusion with mnemonics for other main ideas and questions.

  • Mnemonics are an excellent way to increase learning and recall.
  • Some learners prefer mnemonics on the front of the note card while others prefer them on the back. Experiment and see which way helps you remember better.

  • The use of color also enhances learning. Be sure to use color consistently and meaningfully, i.e., main ideas, details, mnemonics, etc.


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3/96rev10/04 Developed by Dennis H. Congos, Academic Advisor & Learning Skills Specialist, First Year Advising and Exploration, 116 Phillips Hall, University of Central Florida, Orlando FL, 32816 407-823-3789 Email:

This site was created and is maintained by Barbara J. Speidel, SWC Academic Success Center Coordinator. @ Barbara J. Speidel

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