How to Make Flash Cards

Five Methods:Preparing to Make Flash CardsMaking Paper Flash CardsMaking Flash Cards on MS WordUsing Online Software or Apps to Make Flash CardsUsing Flash Cards Correctly

Want to make some killer flash cards? Using flash cards can be a great method to finally memorize the periodic table, understand the intricacies of the human anatomy, and learn vocabulary words. You can make flash cards for nearly any subject. In order to make flash cards, you’ll need to get your materials together, identify key information, and then physically make them.

Method 1
Preparing to Make Flash Cards

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    Find a place to work. Have a well lit working area where you are away from distractions and have all equipment ready. You want to devote your entire attention to your flash cards. Some people enjoy having a television on in the background or have music playing. If this is you, feel free to enjoy your preferred auditory stimuli, just make sure that they don’t distract you from your task.[1]
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    Collect your materials together. This means that you should have your flash cards and textbook ready. Have a good pen, markers, highlighters, and whatever other writing implements you’d like to use.
    • At this stage, you’ll also need to decide what medium you want to use to make your flash cards. Will you choose paper and pen or will you create digital flash cards? Ultimately, it is a matter of preference. Studies have shown that most students retain information better if they have to write out the materials.[2] Yet, the convenience of having your flash cards on your phone may outweigh other concerns.
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    Highlight the most important information. Identify salient information in your notes and text book. Distill them down into their key parts so that you can transfer them to your notecards — in a physical or a digital form. You can do this by highlighting your notes or the textbook. If you cannot write in your textbook, write on a separate sheet of paper or create a separate file in a word processor on your computer.
    • Eventually, you will develop a system of note-taking that will make flash cards easier to make. Some of the easiest ways of doing this are to highlight or underline key sections your teacher stresses. Some people use asterisks, dashes, or other symbols to set off important text from the rest of their notes.[3]

Method 2
Making Paper Flash Cards

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    Write the key term or concept on one side of the flash card. Write it in large letters so it will be easy for you to read. You don’t want to include any of the key information on this side. The point of flash cards is to see a basic concept and then be able to identify pertinent information about that topic. If your teacher has given you key questions to consider, you might just write out the question on this side. Keep this side of the card as simple as possible.
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    Write short, concise notes on the other side of the flash card. Your goal is to distill the key information on this side of the notecard. Don’t rewrite a professor’s entire lecture on Mongolian agrarian reform or bicameralism. Take the most important points your professor emphasizes and bullet point them on the notecard.
    • Write with pencil or light ink so that this information doesn't bleed to the other side of the card.
    • Draw diagrams if you need to. Don’t be afraid to include additional information on the back of your notecards, as long it is essential information to the studying process.
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    Make sure your writing is large, clear, and well-spaced. If your writing is small, you will not be able to read it easily and if it's crowded you will have too much to take in at one time. Writing clearly will enable you to read your notes easily.
    • If you find yourself including too much detail on your notecards, either try to distill it further or break it up into several notecards. In this case, you can place the key word on the first side with some kind of qualifier in parentheses. For example, if you wanted to remember the causes of the French Revolution, but couldn’t condense it onto a single card, you might make several cards. “French Revolution Origins (Political)”, “French Revolution Origins (Social)”, and “French Revolution Origins (Economic)” might be possible cards for this subject.
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    Write in bright colors. Colors are your friend. Feel free to color code particular information. For example, if you are studying for a French verb test, you might write the infinitive verb on one side of the card and then on the other, you could write the definition in black and then the conjugated forms in a different color. Get creative. Color can be used to help further organize the salient information on the flash card. Just make sure that you can still read it. Yellow ink on a yellow flash card won’t work.
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    Use shorthand to save space. Sometimes, you might have a lot of information on a single flashcard. In this case, you might consider adopting a form of shorthand. Most people develop their own that makes sense to them. In general, people use shorthand to highlight essential information and de-emphasize non-essential words. Turn “and” into “&” and “for example” into “e.g.”.[4]

Method 3
Making Flash Cards on MS Word

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    Open Microsoft Word and start a “New” document. No matter what version of Word you are using, you’ll need to open the program first. Then you’ll want to click on the “New” file button. This is found in the top bar.[5]
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    Choose a flash cards template. You can do this in two different ways. There is a search bar. Type “flash card” is that search bar and the template will appear. Or you can go and find the “flash card” template amongst all the other templates provided in MS Word. Typically, there are several different flash cards templates to choose from. Some are more colorful than others. Some are plain white. Some have decorations. Choose the one that is the most appealing to you, but keep in mind that your flash cards should be easy to read. If some sort of decoration or color makes them difficult for you to use, you’ll want to avoid that template.[6]
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    Fill them out with the necessary information. Each template will tell you where the key term, concept or question should go and where you should put the necessary information.[7]
    • Use color to organize your notecards further. Simply highlight the text that you’d like to recolor and then click on the text color tab at the top of your program. Use a color that is still easy to read, but distinguishable from the other color that you’re using. For example, use black for the primary information and green, blue, red, purple, or brown for subsequent particulars on the same card.
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    Print out and cut up the flash cards. Flash cards won't help you much if they're stuck on your hard drive. Print them out on sturdy cardstock and cut them apart.
    • You can punch a hole through one corner and string cards on a ring to keep them together. Then you can just flip through them as needed.

Method 4
Using Online Software or Apps to Make Flash Cards

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    Choose an online flash card creator. There are several to choose from. Some will even let you download their program to use offline.[8] Several sites like,,, and are great free resources.[9]
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    Create an account if prompted. Many online note card creation programs require you to create an account. This is essential so that you don’t lose the information you’ve put in. By creating an account, you’ll be able to access your flash cards from any computer with an internet connection. This means that you’ll be able to look at them on your desktops, laptops, and smartphones.
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    Insert all the relevant information. Each site has a place for the key term, concept, or question and then another place for the important information. Some websites like give you the option of personalizing the aesthetic of your flashcards — adding color or designs. Others like just have spaces for the information.
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    Finish your flash cards. Every website then has a button to click that says “create flashcards” or “process flashcards”. Click it and start using them.
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    Choose a mobile app to make flash cards. The biggest advantage to a mobile app is that you can take your flash cards with you wherever you go. There are many mobile apps out there that can help you make flash cards. Some are even tailored by subject, such as math and vocabulary.[10]
    • Most apps are free, so try out a couple to see what best suits your needs.

Method 5
Using Flash Cards Correctly

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    Take your time to make flash cards. This may be the biggest “no brainer” step of all, because you need to have good information on the card if it’s going to be helpful. Try to think of making flash cards as part of the study process, not just a step that allows you to study. It is oftentimes the first foray into the study process for you. Pay close attention to the material. Try to add your own insight while you are making them. It will help you remember the information later on.
    • Some researchers even think that hand-written flash cards work more effectively than those made on MS Word, with other software programs, or online. Princeton and UCLA psychologists found that information retention increases when students are forced to write it out on paper. Your brain is forced to process the new material in a different way than if you simply type it out verbatim.[11]
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    Test yourself frequently. Don’t just make the flash cards and look them over right before a test. Reference them frequently. Set aside a chunk of study time when you won’t be disturbed. Go through the notecards methodically. Keep them at hand throughout the day and reference a couple during television commercials, when you are sitting on the bus, or waiting in line at the grocery store. Your goal is to know the entire stack backwards, forwards, and mixed up. You can only do this if you test yourself frequently.[12]
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    Have someone test you. It doesn’t matter if the other person is in your class or not. All they have to do is be able to read to you what you’ve written on the card. Have them show you one side of the card. You then explain the material on the other side, making sure that you use key phrases.
    • If you are new to the information, you might even have your study helper show you the side with the information and then you say the key word.[13]
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    Keep your notecards until you are absolutely sure that you don’t need them. One of the biggest mistakes that students make is discarding their flash cards after the quiz or exam. Information compounds over the course of the semester and from one class to the next. If you are taking a course that has several parts, consider creating a much larger “bank” of flash cards to reference in the coming months.

Things You'll Need

  • Pen
  • Pencil
  • Rubber
  • Highlighter(s)
  • Page Markers
  • Flash Cards (Or an old cereal box cut into rectangles)
  • Textbook for notes
  • Brightly colored pens or pencils
  • Flash card software
  • Computer

Article Info

Categories: College and University Study Techniques