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How to Use Flashcards Effectively for Grad School

I’m definitely not an expert on this, and I might be the Queen of wasting time by ineffectively making and studying flashcards. I’ve used Quizlet since high school and throughout undergrad, so I thought I knew everything about flashcards.

However, your time is much more limited in physical therapy school, so it’s important to figure out what study methods work well for you. I know that flashcards were really useful for certain classes, but I could have used them better throughout my first semester.

I’m doing research on how to use flashcards better. I haven’t tried everything in this post, so my goal is to learn how to study better. Hopefully this will help you out too!

When are flashcards useful?

I used flashcards to learn muscle attachments, remember specific details for physiology, and remember dates and bold terms from my patient care textbook.

Flashcards are not useful for large concepts that take a paragraph to explain. You shouldn’t write more than a couple sentences for each flashcard. Otherwise making flashcards will become too time consuming and less effective than other studying methods.

How do you write good flashcards?

The best flashcards are quick and straight to the point. Instead of making one flashcard for each muscle, I broke it down into 4 separate flashcards.

I also tried to keep my flashcard sets to a smaller size of about 30-40 flashcards, so studying them did not become overwhelming. I broke down powerpoints into more than one set, or anatomy flashcards into areas of the body. The anterior, medial, and posterior thigh muscles all had separate flashcard sets, even though they were all in the same area.

How can you learn while making flashcards?

Making flashcards usually ends up taking longer than anticipated and are usually made while mindlessly typing, so you haven’t retained any of the information. It’s far too easy to include every single word on each powerpoint slide, but typing this way is passive and not a good way to study.

Instead, try making shorter flashcards. Rewrite the information in your own words. Use shorthand and abbreviations. Add arrows, numbers, and bulletpoints to organize the information. Be as active as possible while you’re making flashcards.

Does something not make any sense to you? Don’t type up the information word-for-word and tell yourself that you’ll learn it later. That’s a waste of time, and chances are you’ll just skip over that flashcard later and never truly learn the information.

Rather, try to understand the concepts instead of making a flashcard. I spent a lot of time making flashcards for information I had yet to learn, when I realized that the concepts weren’t difficult and didn’t actually require flashcards to begin with. I just needed to slow down, instead of mindlessly typing everything on the slides and into the flashcard app.

How do you study flashcards?

The best way to study flashcards depends on how you study. Figure out what works best for you, and what interests you enough so that you study flashcards often.

Study flashcards often! Making flashcards can be incredibly time consuming, so it’s a shame if you only use them the night before the test. Study during commercial breaks, on your commute, while you’re waiting for your food to cook, when you’re laying down in bed, when you’re brushing your teeth, or when you’re at the gym.

Spaced Repetition is the most effective way to study flashcards. You won’t waste time on the flashcards that you already know, but instead you can review them every 3-4 days instead of every day. The flashcards that you don’t know as well will be reviewed more often.

Anki and Memorang use Spaced Repetition Software, so I recommend those if you want to make flashcards. You can also used spaced repetition with index cards by keeping them in separate piles.

For anatomy flashcards, I often studied them with a textbook or my laptop nearby. If I couldn’t picture the muscle or diagram in my head, I found it in the book or looked on Google for a photo.

I also liked talking out loud when I studied flashcards. I said the answer instead of just thinking of it, and that seemed to help me.

Where can you make flashcards?

  1. Quizlet

I’ve used Quizlet for years and years. Many of my classmates also use Quizlet, so I was able to study their flashcards too.

When studying Quizlet flashcards, I recommend using the phone app. When you study on the phone (at least on Android, I’m not sure about iPhones), the app will test you on a small set of about 10 flashcards. Once you go through 10, you can review the ones you got right and wrong, and then you’ll have another set of 10. The flashcards you missed the first time are asked again in this new set, so you’re able to see the information again within a short amount of time.

Studying Quizlet online isn’t as effective as I had hoped. When you study online, you’re tested on the entire set. If you miss a flashcard, you might not see it again for 20 minutes. You’ve probably forgotten the information by then. The flashcards that you already know will also keep coming up every time you study, further wasting your time.

Here are the apps for phones:

Quizlet for Android
Quizlet for iPhone

2. Anki

I loved using Anki. Anki uses Spaced Repetition, which is a much more efficient way of studying than Quizlet. Flashcards that you miss often will show up more often, and flashcards that you know well will only show up once every couple of days. This way you can weed out the cards that you know and focus on learning the information that you don’t know yet.

You can import your flashcards from Quizlet directly into Anki through an add-on. There also phone apps:

Anki for Android
Anki for iPhone – Paid

3. Memorang

Memorang also uses Spaced Repetition like Anki. I’ve never used this software, but it looks more user-friendly than Anki. It also has a free version for iPhones:

Memorang for Android 
Memorang for iPhone

4. Index Cards

Most people can benefit from writing information instead of typing. However, I didn’t use index cards because I didn’t want to carry them around with me. Several classmates used index cards, though.

Final Notes

I hope this post helped you. Please remember that this was one small way that I studied in school. It is not required to do well, nor is it the most effective way to study. Flashcards are great for information that I needed to memorize, not for bigger picture things.

Try to focus on understanding the concepts and bigger picture before you try to make hundreds of flashcards. I’ve fallen into that trap more times than I can count, and it’s always been a waste of time. Spending hours making flashcards from an entire powerpoint can seem productive, but it’s not as productive as you would think.

Try different study methods and see what works best for you! Best of luck with your studies.

How do you study with flashcards? Share your tips & tricks below!

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  1. Matt Boom

    Hi Katie,
    Thanks for sharing your insights and past mistakes. The point about deciding what actually needs to be on a flashcard is particularly useful, as some concepts can be learned in less time than it takes to create a flashcard!
    FYI, Quizlet has recently introduced a ‘Long Term Learning’ feature, which uses spaced repetition, so it looks like they’re trying to adapt.

    I am currently studying PT in Australia, and can relate to the time shortage.



    • Katie - My Road to PT

      Hey Matt! Glad you found some useful tips from this post!

      Yeah, I actually tried it out once or twice this past summer! It used to only be on the paid version, so I’m really glad that they made it available for everyone. I like it a lot, and actually stopped using Anki.

      Cool! Hope everything is going well in Australia! 🙂 Please let me know if you have any other apps/websites that you use, I’d love to check them out!