Flash cards for revision
Flash cards for revision

How to Use Flash Cards for Revision

Discover clever tips, strategic tricks, and science-backed methods to max out your exam results.

Using flash cards for revision is one of the most simple yet effective ways to maximise your success in tests and exams.

But while revising with flash cards might sound simple, it can take time to find out what works for you. But don’t worry – in this article, we’ll show you how to transform a simple piece of card into your ultimate study hack.

Spoiler alert – it’s all about how you design, use, and engage with flash cards that gets the best results.

So, whether you’re grappling with complex algebra equations, memorising pivotal events of the Second World War, or unravelling the mysteries of molecular biology – flash cards will be your best friend.

If you’re not sure about using flashcards for revision, you can check out our article on the best revision techniques and revision strategies.

What are revision cards?

In its simplest form, a flash card is a double sided card (usually 6x4in or A6 size). You have a question on one side, on the back is the answer.

We recommend going old school and using pen and paper on index cards, but there are apps that do something similar.

Just remember that using technology can be a gateway to distraction. So make sure you’ve got some tech blockers or focus modes enabled.

How do I make a flash card?

flash cards for revision - hand holding pen and notes

If you’re wondering how to write revision flash cards, you can make flash cards as you start reviewing your notes. At times this can feel overwhelming – if you turned everything into a flashcard, you could probably make enough reach the moon.

So be smart.

Break it down into small chunks. Instead of just ‘maths’, your topic might be ‘proportion and graphs’.

If it’s the first time going over your notes, you might need to be more focused, like ‘inverse proportion’.

Include test and assignment questions because these are likely to come up in the exam. You should also include key terms. Just keep the info to bullet points.

Whatever you do, don’t copy and paste – put the answers in your own words. This will turbo-charge your memory.

Why flash cards work for revision

Flash cards do more than just jog your memory. They leverage proven scientific principles that enhance learning and retention.

Active Recall

By using flash cards you’re engaging in active recall. This is where we retrieve information from memory.

Trying to recall the answer to a question strengthens neural pathways. That makes it easier to remember that information next time.

Spaced repetition

Once you’ve made your flash cards, you’ll find that some answers you know better than others.

The trick here is to tackle the answers you don’t know more frequently. You’ll find your rhythm, but a simple method is the 1, 3, 5 system.

Go through your deck and put your answered cards into piles. The answers that came easy, review in five days. The answers that were hard, review in one day. Those that weren’t hard but weren’t easy you can review in three days.

The Leitner System

Once you’ve got to grips with this, check out some more information on the Leitner system.

This is a scientifically proven system to improve the efficiency of learning with flash cards.

Developed by German science journalist Sebastian Leitner in the 1970s, it involves sorting flash cards into groups based on how well you know the answer to each one. 

Leitner kept his cards in a series of boxes. If you answer a card correctly, it moves to the next box. You won’t need to review it again for a while.

If you answer incorrectly, the card moves back to the first box, which you review more frequently.

This idea gives more brainpower to the information that is difficult to remember. You spend less time on things they already know well.

Cleverly, the system adjusts study intervals based on your knowledge to max out the efficiency of your study sessions.

The forgetting curve

Image courtesy of: Elearning Industry

The Leitner system goes hand in hand with the forgetting curve. This is a concept developed by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus.

It shows how you lose information over time if you do not make an effort to retain it. Ebbinghaus found memory loss occurs rapidly within the first few days or hours after learning.

The curve is exponential. That means memory retention is at its highest immediately after learning. And without any review or reinforcement, retention drops steeply, levelling off at a lower percentage of retained information.

You need to repeatedly review and reinforce the material to improve long-term retention.

The Testing Effect

Another sneaky bonus here is something called the testing effect. This is where you improve retention just by testing yourself on the material (rather than re-reading your notes).

Tips for making flash cards

Making flash cards for revision
  • Keep each flashcard simple. Focus on one question, term, or concept per card to avoid overload.
  • Use a consistent format for all your flash cards to streamline the learning process.
  • Use colours, diagrams, or mnemonic devices as needed.
  • Create flash cards that encourage active engagement. Give yourself a problem to solve.

Make flash cards for each topic

Ideally, you want your flash cards to be hassle-free. You don’t want to be scratching around for them at the start of a session, so make sure they’re clearly labelled by subject and topic.

If you’re at GCSE, that could be Maths>Numbers>Surds. While A-level might be History>European History>Russia>Control of the People.

If you’re studying Economics at university, your flashcard might look like this.

Question: Explain the concept of fiscal policy.

Answer: Fiscal policy refers to the government’s tax and spending policy as a way of trying to influence economic conditions.

Managing the load

Once you’re on the flash card train, the biggest problem you’ll have to deal with is managing the load.

This means that you might find yourself with a lot of cards to review initially.

This gets easier the more you get used to the system.

First up, prioritise. Which exam is soonest? Which is your worst subject?

Next, limit reviews – either per session or per day. As you work the system, you’ll get a good idea of how many cards you can review an hour before you burn out.

Don’t add new cards until you’ve got the majority of daily/frequent reviews into the next box.

If you’re using physical cards, this is much easier as you can see which pile is the tallest.

Some digital tools have an algorithm to help you manage this. It’ll tell you when it’s time to add (or stop adding cards).

How to remember revision cards

How you schedule your reviews will depend on how you’ve set out your study timetable.

Let’s say you have 50 minutes to study. Spend 30 minutes reviewing flashcards, with 10 minutes for each set.

If one box has more cards in it than the other, then adjust accordingly with say 15 mins, 10 mins and 5 mins.

Putting it all together

If it feels overwhelming, don’t panic. The beauty of flash cards is their simplicity. To get started, choose a subject, select a topic, review your notes, and begin writing down key bits of information.

Dates, quotes, definitions, equations… flash cards can handle pretty much anything. 

If you need some more info, we’ve got a host of helpful content. From articles looking at when to start revising for university exams, tips on dealing with exam stress, and how to pull a revision all-nighter.

Find your groove, and these flash cards will be more than just pieces of paper. They’ll be your super supportive bestie helping you fulfil your potential and achieve your goals. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How to make flash cards for revision

Create flash cards by writing key facts or questions on one side and their answers or explanations on the other side.

How to use flash cards for revision

Use flash cards by reviewing them regularly, trying to recall the answer before checking the other side for accuracy.

How to write flash cards for revision

Write flash cards by keeping the information concise and focusing on one concept per card.

Are flash cards good for revision

Flash cards are beneficial for revision as they encourage active recall and spaced repetition.

How effective are flash cards in revision

Flash cards are highly effective for revision when used in frequent, spaced-out review sessions.

Do you sleeve revised cards

Sleeving revised cards is optional but can help protect them and extend their lifespan.

Can you print your own revision cards

Yes, you can print your own revision cards using templates or design software.

Where to buy revision cards

Buy revision cards at stationery stores like WH Smiths or through online retailers like Amazon.

Does Asda sell revision cards?

Supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s usually carry these items around exam time.

What size are revision cards

Revision cards typically come in standard sizes like A6 (105mm x 148mm) or A7 (74mm x 105mm).

How do you use revision cards

Use revision cards by actively recalling the information on them. Space out your review sessions to enhance memory retention.