Flash Cards – The Complete Guide

Flash CardsTest Preparation with Flash Cards

Flash cards tend to universally evoke memories of grade school.   The idea of using them as an adult doesn’t even cross the minds of many. Even to consider using them, can give a sense of immaturity.  The reality is that they are used with children for a reason: They work.  In fact, they work just as well for older children and adults as they do for the kindergarten.    That’s because they are a very effective test preparation tool.

Flash cards bring many benefits to the learning process that each person should heed and consider integrating into their normal study patterns.  Initially, they are useful because they are small and portable.  They provide the opportunity to review the subject in almost any environment and any circumstances.  They can be pulled out at lunch, while waiting on the bus, between classes, anytime there are two minutes or more to spare.  Of course they are also excellent for using during normal study times and within study groups.

Additionally, flash cards integrate different forms of learning, expanding the integration of the information.  They are obviously visual as they have to be viewed and read.  They also integrate the benefits of repetition, which many argue, is the purest form of learning.  Even with the repetition they also offer variety since they are likely to be viewed out of order, leading to fuller memorization rather than just sequential recall. Flash cards could also encompass audible learning if used in a study group or even alone and verbalized aloud.  Their uses and advantages are nearly endless depending on the imagination of the learner.

Most exams are content driven, as well as Nursing Certification

Even if you do not consider yourself a creative person, invoking creativity from your flash card study sessions can help get your brain working.  Writing in different colors and decorating cards will help stimulate different areas of the brain.  This will increase the chances for recall.  Unless if you are averse to your creative side, spending a little extra time on your flashcards by decorating them can help recall during the test.  More on Flash Cards from Wikipedia.


Making Flash Cards

They are easy to produce and can be made in many different ways.  They can be written on cut sheets of writing paper, though the use of card stock paper adds a helpful level of rigidity.  A popular tactic is to make them using stock note cards or index cards, typically 3 X 5.  They can also be printed on a computer, providing a sharper, clearer presentation.  A Microsoft Word Template for creating Flash Cards can be located HERE.  Instructions for two-sides printed will be included later.  There is no correct way of making them; however, they are better the more uniform and sturdy they are; especially considering they are likely to be carried around a great deal.  Flash cards can always be bought pre-designed; however, by creating them personally, they are customized to the needed subject and include specifically needed information.

Flash Card Content

Flash cards should all important information summarized from lectures, notes, readings, textbooks and any questions from class and discussions from study groups.  It is highly recommended to write out the cards on the go, or at least a draft of the card.  When something is said during class, that should be recalled, take time then to make a basic flash card.  The prototype card can be translated to a more permanent card later.

When translating this information to the card, it is best not to simply copy them in a rote fashion as this tends to take up too much space.  Changing information into your own words better facilitates the learning process.  It requires you to apply it, and then explain it in a way that is sensible to you.

  • Choose the most important facts from lectures, notes or your text to write on your flash cards. Unless you are required to learn a specific definition, put the information in your own words.
  • Label your flash cards with the subject and date. This helps you categorize them for different quizzes and tests.
  • There are several ways of organizing information on the flash cards, depending on what type of information you are studying:o Terms: Put the word on one side of the card and the definition on the other.
    Include examples that help clarify the definition.
  • Mathematics: Put problems on one side and answers on the other. Include the steps for solving the problem and any illustrations that help make the answer clear.
  • You can also draw pictures on one side, with an arrow pointing to what you need to know, with the answer on the other side. This method is helpful when studying maps, places and anatomy.
    Using Flash Cards

See Walden University Bucks County Community College for more tips on making Flash Cards.


How to Make Flash Cards

Make your flash card with a prompt or question on one side and the answer or expansion of the prompt on the other.   For term cards, this would likely include the term to know on one side with its definition on the other.  Include as much additional information as possible, such as examples of the term’s usage.   This will anchor the information in your mind – the more associations you have with it, the better you will remember it.  For math flash cards, put the problem on one side and the answer on the other, with your work showing how the answer was derived.  Other cards may possess a picture or a diagram with the other side carrying an explanation or application.  In any scenario, the answer side of the card should be as concise as possible to allow for clarity and better facilitate learning.

For exams that have a lot of math such as Armed Services Entrance Exams, a Securities Certification exam or nursing entrance exam, be sure and show all of your work and how you derived the answer.

Label each set of flash cards with a subject and date for later reference.  Over time you can create a library which you can use later when studying for a final exam, or in a study group.

How to Use

First view the prompting side and attempt to answer the problem or explain the term.   Then turn the card over and check for accuracy.  For term cards, this can also be done in reverse by reading the definition and recalling its term.  Regardless of success or failure, move on to the next card and attempt it.  The success card and the missed cards can be placed in separate stacks so that you can easily see what areas need more study.  Eventually the cards that become easy can be removed from the stack and replaced with unknown or more difficult concepts.  However, don’t simply remove the card because it’s been answered correctly a few times consecutively.  Don’t view the card for a few days and return to see if you still recall the information.  If not, then the information has not been fully retained.

Tips for Using Flash Cards

  • Look at the problem side of the card and answer it. You can check your answer by looking at the other side.
  • For terms, you can alter your study method by looking at the answer and trying to name the term that goes with it. This method will also work with image flash cards.
  • Make studying with flash cards a game. As you answer for each card, place it into either the ‘I knew it’ pile or the ‘I didn’t know it’ pile. When you get to the end, pick up the ‘I didn’t know it’ pile, shuffle them and start over. It will not take long for the ‘I didn’t know it’ pile to get smaller. After a few days, that pile will be non-existent.
  • Use the flash cards every day for 5 to 10 minutes. They are small and portable, so you can pull out the flash cards for a quick cram session anywhere.
  • When you have cards that you know every time and that require no hesitation, take them out of the deck. Replace them with new cards that have more difficult information. The replaced cards can be used for a quick review session the night before an exam.

Leitner Flash Card Method

A popular and effected pattern to use with flash cards is the Leitner System.  Developed by a German Psychologist by the same name, it incorporates selective and staggered learning.  The Leitner system works with four card boxes.  All flash cards start in the initial box.  If a card is easily answered it is moved into the next higher box.  If the card is missed, it is then returned to the initial box.  Those cards in the first box are reviewed every day.  Those that are transferred to the second box are reviewed at a longer interval, such as every two days.  If those cards are answered correctly they too are promoted and then only reviewed every three day and so on.  At any time, if a card is missed, it is returned to the initial box.  This process allows for heightened focus to be given to un-recalled information while promoting longer recall to learned information.  A diagram and more information can be located HERE and HERE.

Double-Sided Printing

Here is a quick tutorial on double-sided printing.  The easiest way is with a printer that support duplex printing, however most home printers are not enabled with this function.  If this is the case, then the duplex printing must be done manually, which you can do on any printer.

First, determine how the printer feeds the paper.  Some printers start the paper face-up while others start face-down.  In addition, some printers starts at one side of the paper while other start at the opposite end.  Place a mark at the top of a blank sheet of paper.   Place it in the printer with the mark facing up and print any one-page document.   Once the page has been printed, determine if the printing is on the same side as the mark.  If this is the case then the printer feeds the paper face-up, otherwise it feeds it face-down.  Also verify the location of the print top-to-bottom.  If the printing is at the top, with the mark, then it feeds the paper head first, otherwise it feeds it bottom first.

With this knowledge, use the template provided earlier, and located in the Resources section, to create the flash cards.  Odd numbers pages, such as 1, 3, 5, etc, will be the front of the cards and even numbered pages will be the backs.   Start by printing just the first page.  Then load that page upside-down from how it originally was printed.  If the printer prints face-up, now load it face-down and visa-versa. Also pay attention to how it is fed, either top or bottom, and feed it exactly the same way as the first page.   Then print the second page, serving as a test print of several cards.  If all turns out well, continue printing all odd number pages.  Reload as done before and print all even numbered pages.  When finished there will be a complete set of flash cards.

Resources and Other Links:



http://www.flashcardexchange.com (Sites Home Page – Offers Free Online Flash Card Creation and Even and IPhone App)


Flash Cards from Wikipedia.

Also see our Post – The Ultimate Guide to Test Preparation.


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Written by: Brian Stocker MA, Complete Test Preparation Inc.
Modified: November 2nd, 2018 November 2nd, 2018
Published: July 21st, 2010

9 thoughts on “Flash Cards – The Complete Guide”

  1. Flash cards do really work – I make my own which is a total pain but they do work and it is worth it for a big test.

    Even making the flash cards helps- sometimes I just making them I memorize a lot so I don’t need them!

    1. There is a way to make your own flashcards using a WORD template for index cards and double sided printing – You have to print off the odd pages on one side and then the even pages (with the answers) on the other side. It is a bit of a pain to set up and maybe not worth the bother – but it can be done!

  2. i remember an exam where i used flash cards. when i saw questions that i had studied with a card i had literal memories of the cards when i was studying.

  3. the shorts study periods does work, and using flashcards works also. my memory recall is higher when i get to study more often using the flascards because they are portable, and easy to just stick in your pocket. i can take my four kids were ever they need to go and still study.

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