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The Art of Writing Good Flash Cards

Flash cards are pretty straight forward, right? You put the term/answer on one side of the card and the definition/question on the other.

While StudyMate Author 2.0 makes it easy to create flash cards (and many other learning activities), there is a bit of art to writing good flash cards. Here are five tips we've learned along the way:

1) Have only one term or concept per card.
This sounds obvious, but it is often overlooked by those who are new to making flash cards. Avoid breaking this rule unless the learning objective requires a combination of facts (e.g. multiple symptoms for a disease).

2) Keep the content as short as possible.
They are called "flash" cards for a reason. You should be able to glance at the card and absorb the content in, well, a flash. Research shows that the faster a person can process information, the more likely they are to remember it.

3) If the material is entirely new, limit the deck to a maximum of 50-70 cards.
Our brains can absorb only a limited amount of new information in a single learning session. While this limit differs for each person, you'll want to avoid putting a large dictionary of terms into a single flash card deck. Memorization is more effective when multiple passes can be made through a deck in a single sitting.

4) Write content so that either side of the card can be used as a starting point.
Repetition is good for memorization, but forcing the brain to view the same information in different ways can result in even deeper learning. Take advantage of this approach by creating cards where either side can be used as a starting point.

For example, instead of using the following:


The year in which the Great Chicago Fire led to the economic transformation of the city

Try this instead:


5) Avoid using the same term/answer on more than one card.
It might be tempting to use the term "Pablo Picasso" on multiple flash cards, but this can be confusing to students if they go through the deck of cards and never know which description for "Pablo Picasso" is going to appear on the other side. Try to use a term/answer only once in the same deck of flash cards.

Remember, when you create Flash Cards in StudyMate Author, you are also creating items that will be used in other activities, such as Pick-A-Letter, Matching, Crosswords, Fill-in-the-Blank, and Glossary. The five tips listed above apply to these activities as well.

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Source: Respondus, Inc. (
Originally Published: April 1, 2008

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