Creating flashcards in the right way makes studying much easier

Flashcards, as I’m sure you know, are a really powerful way to review. They are the go-to method for many students. However, most people do them completely wrong!

There are a few simple things you can do to make flashcards much more effective and useful. There are also several common mistakes to avoid.

Flash cards are a powerful tool to help you memorize things such as vocabulary, mathematical formulas, history facts, and spelling. Here are some strategies to help you get the most from your flash cards.

Use flashcards in several different colors. Use each color as a cue to help recall something about the fact on that flash card. For example, if you are using the flash cards to memorize vocabulary words, use a different color for words that have different connotations. Positive words—such as benign, sagacious, and staunch—could go on green or blue 3 x 5 cards. Negative words—such as mendacious, stultify, and malevolent—might go on red or yellow 3 x 5 cards. Neutral words—like rebuttal, soporific, and nominal—could go on white or tan cards. The particular colors you use don’t really matter as long as you are consistent.

Illustrate and embellish the cards. Use different color markers. Draw pictures on the card or even cut them out of a magazine and paste them on the card. The more you work at making the card distinctive, the easier it will be to recall. Usually, you’ll want that distinctiveness on the back of the card, rather than the front. The front of the card should be in the same format, if possible, as how it will show up in a testing or recall situation. For example, I might put just the word stultify on the front of a vocabulary card, with no pictures or embellishments, since the embellishments will not show up on my later. The back of the card—the side I’m trying to recall—can have pictures, colors, symbols, etc. Those are what will come to mind later when I see the word in a or on an exam.

Carry the cards around with you and them whenever you have a chance; at the stoplight, before class, in the line at the grocery store or the bank, on long trips, or walking across campus. Make reviewing the cards a daily habit just like brushing your teeth or taking a shower.

Don’t put too much on any one card. The biggest mistake people make is putting too much information on a single flash card. One card equals one fact.

Put the word to be learned on one side of the card and a short two or three word definition on the other side. On a history fact card, for example, you might have “George Washington” on the first side of the card and “first US president” on the other side. You should NOT have “George Washington,” on one side of the card and “first US president, from Virginia, general in revolutionary war,” on the second side of the card. There are three different facts there, so you’ll need three different cards.

Front of Card

Back of Card

George Washington Occupation

First US President

George Washington was from…


George Washington Role

US General in Revolutionary War

Change the order of the cards frequently. If the cards always come in the same order, you will start to memorize the order of the answers. It will be much more difficult later to try and recall the facts in a different order.

Flip the cards over from time to time. If you always the flash card by seeing “Austin” on one side and recalling “Capitol of Texas,” on the other side, then that’s how you will recall it. When asked, “What’s the capitol of Texas?” you won’t be able to recall it as well, because that isn’t how you studied it.

Better yet, create two flash cards. . .

Front of Card

Back of Card


Capitol of Texas

Capitol of Texas


You can go back over your class and notes later to make your flash cards, but many find it also useful to make the flash cards as they learn. Carry around a stack of blank 3 x 5 cards. As you come across a piece of information you want to memorize, make a flash card and add it to your daily stack. Caution: don’t try and take notes from a class lecture on flash cards, since the connections between ideas are often just as important as any one fact. Take notes and then—immediately after class—decide what key facts should be committed to memory. Put each of those facts on a flash card.

Don’t mix your subjects, since you tend to recall things in context. If you mix up your math flash cards with your history flash cards, it will be much more difficult to recall the history by itself (on a history test, for example), because you learned the two subjects together.

Stacks for Better recall

Separate your cards into stacks that get reviewed at different intervals. You should have an initial stack that gets your attention several times a day. Each time you instantly and correctly recall a card, make a small check mark on it. When the card has two check marks, move it to the next stack.

By the way, my book, Best Grades Ever!, is filled with more powerful, time-saving tricks and techniques. Check it out!

{"action":{"root":"buy","product":"buy"},"carousel":false,"colors":{"buttons":{"background":"#64ce70","text":"#ffffff"},"checkout":{"background":"#64ec70","text":"#ffffff"}},"description":true,"layout":{"product":"portrait","widget":"portrait"},"logos":true,"modal":{"checkout":true,"product":true},"saleRibbons":{"product":true,"widget":false},"showFileList":true,"showQuantity":false,"showSku":false,"squareImages":{"product":false,"widget":false},"text":"See Options","url":"","width":"100%"}
See Options

The next stack is only reviewed every three days; Wednesdays and Saturdays, for example. When cards in that stack can be perfectly recalled, move them to a stack you only once per week, say every Sunday.

After that, move cards to a once-every-three-weeks stack, which you will probably need to on your calendar. You can then add a nine-week stack, a six-month stack, a one-year stack, etc.

Everyone’s brain is different, so you’ll have to find the intervals that work best for you. Your is to each card as little as possible while still getting excellent recall.

Let’s say you are looking over that once-a-week stack on Sunday and there are two cards that you’ve spent five minutes on, trying to remember them, but it just isn’t coming to you. Move those two cards back to the stack you carry around with you, and send it through the system again. Don’t move a card to the next stack until your recall is instantaneous and perfect; for example, you see the Spanish word, la vaca on one side, and you immediately think cow.

Hint: If you can’t immediately recall the word, don’t cheat and look at the other side!  Struggle with it and rack your brain to recall it, even if it takes four or five minutes.  When you finally do recall it, the memory will be much stronger!


Use flash cards, but make sure to use them in the correct way to get maximum benefit. Try using different color flash cards to carry extra information. Illustrate or decorate the back of the card for increased recall. Use stacks of flash cards to help you the card on the most efficient study schedule. Crucially, make sure your flash card has only one fact on it; make multiple flash cards to carry additional information about the same subject.

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Related posts


Comments are closed