When created and reviewed properly, flashcards can be an effective tool to memorize discrete pieces of information such as amino acids, formulas, and definitions. You can use either paper or digital flashcards, although we recommend using digital flashcards since they are generally more portable and customizable.

When you create flashcards:

  • Focus on concepts, not questions. If you miss a question and want to make a flashcard, identify the concept the question was testing. Don't put the question itself on the flashcard. You will never see the same question twice.

  • Limit the amount of information to one fact per card. Complex systems, such as biochemical pathways, are not well suited to flashcards.

  • Use images when possible, especially if you are using a digital system. A picture is worth a thousand words and can save time!

  • Try out "cloze deletion," where a word is missing from a statement and the back of the card has the answer that best fits the blank.

When you study with flashcards:

  • Limit your review time to 30 minutes per day. Flashcards are best used to maintain your knowledge of discrete facts. They do not replace doing practice problems or reviewing more interconnected content areas, such as organ systems and metabolic processes.

  • Practice spaced repetition, where you focus more of your time reviewing cards that you most frequently miss. If you are using Anki, one of the more popular digital flashcard programs, spaced repetition is built into the program. If you are using paper cards, try using the Leitner system.

The Leitner system is a learning method based on spaced repetition. With this system, you start with a stack of flashcards and several boxes. When you get a card correct, move it to the next box. When you get a card wrong, move it back to the previous box.

Each box is reviewed at different intervals. If you are using 5 boxes like shown in the diagram, you could do:

  • Box 1 daily

  • Box 2 every 2 days

  • Box 3 every 4 days

  • Box 4 every week

  • Box 5 retired cards

You can customize the number of boxes and review frequency to your own study needs.

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