Using flash cards

Using regular visualization methods, we can remember something for days, but we will forget the information eventually unless we review the information from variors perspectives or use additional methodology for long-term retention. When we need to remember something for years and years we have several choices. One of the more popular solutions are flash cards.

When do we use flash cards?

We use flash cards when we need to remember several unconnected facts and data pieces. Basically, if we cannot generate our own hands-on project or create a network of logical connection that allows recreating the information each time we need it, if we need to remember the facts rather than have a deep intuition about them, we will choose the flash cards as our main method. Typically it is best to use flash cards with some sort of mindmap or a similar menemonic device to capture various relationships between ideas.

Examples of using flash cards

Here are some situations when flash cards would be useful:

  1. Remembering medical information. For example, a name of a medical object (body part, disease name, medicine name), an image of this object, and a short list of attributes that apply (functionality, symptoms etc).
  2. Cues for legal information. For example, precedents, laws, accounting details and numbers.
  3. Words in foreign language. We may include the word, its translation, an image exemplifying the word, a phrase showing some usage of the word.
  4. Formulas. Math, physics or chemistry formulas and examples of their usage.

Flashcards are sort of a “shortcut” to save time instead of looking for the data. True understanding does not come from a flashcard, but from using the information to solve a problem or prove something. In the case of language learning, we need to immerse in the language, and we can use the flashcards only to remember specific words.

Own you flash cards

When creating flash cards, you should use your own words, understandings, and imagery. This is something you need to create and own, not something you can copy mindlessly. Quite often flashcards will be deeply personal, and the process of creating them is even more important that the way we use them. We remember much better the things we actively create, and we use flash cards for the things which we remember for a long time.


We are not very good remembering abstract information. To make flashcards more tangible we use imagery for visualization, examples of usage of the information on the card, colors, etc. Flashcards made of paper are more tangible and personal, so they may be more effective than their Anki representation, even though Anki is more portable and its timing algorithms are very useful.


Our intuition works best when the things we know are clearly and simply expressed. Add a short description or mnemonic to flash cards. The usage of image and description mnemonic is called dual coding and it improves memorization greatly. Even if later on you will forget one, you have a good chance to remember the other. The effort of generating these descriptions or mnemonics improves the memorization effectiveness afterward. Maybe formulate questions that are answered by the object on the card (we remember questions quite well). Do not add too much information to keep the cards simple. I use the rule of 4: up to 4 bullets with up to 4 words each per card.

Fun to use

You should review your flashcards quite often until you learn and overlearn all the relevant information. To achieve that you really need to love your flash cards, otherwise, you will not be motivated to review them. Be creative when generating the images and the description. If you do not like the card, replace it.

Reviewing the flashcards

There are several ways to review the flashcards. You can order them according to some inner logic (if you use them with mental palace), and then review them in forward and backward order. Alternatively, you may review them based on forgetting curve algorithms (e.g. if you forgot something, review it often). You may review them in random order, trying to find subtle connections and thinking of various new associations and understandings this may create.

Combining with mindmaps

Mindmaps are formed by ideas called nodes and the connections between them, capturing the logic of the subject.
When we use mindmaps, we try to use simple nodes and focus on the connections between these nodes. Some nodes of the mindmaps are intrinsically complex and we want to get “shortcut” access to them. These more complex nodes can be made into flash cards. When reviewing the flash cards, it makes sense to remember not only the information within the cards but also their connection with other ideas. Quite often we anchor the mindmaps in our mind using some elaborate entry points. These entry points could be preserved as flash cards.

Combining with immersion

When we build deep intuition by analyzing examples or get immersed in a linguistic environment, a large part of our effort is subliminal. Flashcards allow capturing the details we need to preserve and remember explicitly, such as specific words and examples. It makes sense not just to learn the flash cards, but to overlearn them, so they will become automatic arguments when we need to prove our line of thought.

Summary: Flash cards are useful for long term memorization. Use your combination of imagery and descriptions. Integrate with mindmaps, immersion, and other methods. Have fun reviewing your flashcards till you learn and overlearn them.

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