Effective Practice with Flash Cards

Effective practice with flash-cards is about speed and recall. Our focus with flash-cards is to intentionally build automatic recall with spaced repetition.

Who is this article for?

  • Anyone who needs to practice a body of vocabulary, concepts, equations, etc...
  • People who need an effective study-aid
  • Individuals who have used flash-cards before, who would benefit from an effective plan of action.

Things you need to get started

  1. A stack of blank notecards. 3x5 or any size is fine. If you only have 20, then that's an ok place to start!
  2. A clear set of vocabulary words, key terms, and concepts that you know you need to study and drill.
  3. A rubber band, document clip, or small box to keep your notecards together. (I use a hairband so it doesn't hurt/bend the cards)
  4. A pen, marker, or writing instrument

How to practice effectively with flashcards

  1. Build your flashcard deck.
  2. Do a "cycle" with all of the flashcards.
  3. Take a tiny break.
  4. Visualize your "correct" pile of cards growing and your "incorrect" pile shrinking.
  5. Do another two cycles.
  6. Take a a little break.
  7. On the 3rd cycle through, set aside the "incorrect" pile and "do a cycle" with only the "incorrect" pile.
  8. Take a longer break
  9. After the break, go back to step 2 and do a fresh cycle.
  10. Carry your flashcards with you so they're handy. Run through a "set of cycles" anytime you have a few minutes.
  11. As you master vocabulary/concepts, add more new cards and set aside the cards that you always get correct.

Step 1: Build the notecards

  1. Identify the key vocabulary and critical core concepts that can fit on a notecard. This is the content you want to learn.
    • If the item is a vocabulary word, put only that vocabulary word on this side of the card.
    • If the item is a concept, put the shortest possible concept definition on this side of the card.
    • If the item to learn is a bit of code, then limit this code to 1-4 lines, if possible.
  2. On the back, provide 2-3 sentences that explain/define the concept or the code on the front.
  3. As soon as you finish making 20-30 flash-cards, jump right in and do a cycle.

Step 2: Doing a "cycle" of flashcards

  1. Present yourself the first notecard of the stack. Your stack of notecards is your "hand"
  2. Recall, remember, or reason about the definition, answer, or lesson as rapidly as you can. Speed is key.
  3. Say aloud to yourself your answer and why it's correct. "Ok, this is assignment because one equals sign means assigning a variable to hold a value"
  4. If you're somewhat confident, clearly say to yourself "I think have the answer, and I'll get it for sure".
  5. If you do not currently recall the answer, say aloud "I'm going to get this." and mean it!
  6. Now, check your provided answer vs. the answer on the card.
  7. Whether if your guess is correct or not, re-say the correct answer to yourself.
    • If you got the card completely correct, say "YES", feel good about it, then set it aside in a "correct" pile.
    • If incorrect or only partially correct, "I'll get this next time" and set the card aside in the "incorrect" pile.
    • There is no beating yourself up or "dangit" allowed here. If you are incorrect. Say, "I'll get this next time" and put it in the "incorrect" pile. Own it. And own that you'll improve.
  8. Go until you run out of flashcards in your hand.

Step 3: Take a tiny break

  • Take a super quick break. Get your head out of the flashcards and take a breath of fresh air. Stand up, stretch, etc...
  • Stand up, take a deep breath

Step 4: Visuzalize

  • In your mind's eye, visualize the "correct" pile growing and the "incorrect" pile shrinking.
  • Remember, whenever you guess incorrectly, state to yourself the correct answer, out loud, and then say "I'll get this next time and it's going in the correct pile next time"
  • The visualization is the key to the process working effectively.
  • The repetition is another key to this process working effectively.

Step 5: More repetition (another 2 cycles)

  • Quickly, do another two cycles of flashcards, each time verbalizing and visualizing your improvement.

Step 6: Take another break

  • Breaks are good for the brain. Take a little bit longer break.


  • The goal here is active recall in the context of spaced repetition. By doing flashcards and doing them rapidly, you're telling your brain that the flashcards and their content is important.
  • Carry your flashcards with you and run through them when you have a few moments.
  • The vocalizaiton and visualization are the magic elements that make this work more effectively than any prior experience with flashcards you've had before.
Effective Practice with Flash Cards
Share this