5 Tips for Creating Great Flashcards

Modified on by Andrew Cohen

5 Tips for Creating Great Flashcards

For hundreds of years, flashcards have been a popular, convenient, and easy way to study or memorize a wide variety of subjects.  Yet creating good flashcards is still an art that requires significant abstract thinking.  We have therefore compiled a list of flashcard-creation guidelines that will ensure that your decks conform to modern cognitive science. Consider these tips among the golden rules for flashcards.

5 Golden Rules for Creating Great Flashcards

1. Keep it simple.

Your flashcard should contain the smallest possible amount of information that still meets the flashcard’s learning objective.  So if the question is “What are the six most heavily consumed alcoholic spirits?”, you should include only the spirits’ names in the answer, rather than adding the ingredients that each spirit is made from.  If you do need to know things like “What is the fermented ingredient in Gin?” etc., then these facts are best kept in separate flashcards.

2. Keep it relevant.

Just because something is a simple fact does not make it important as a stand-alone flashcard.   Historical dates are a classic example of this.  Unless you have a teacher demanding that you memorize dates, there is generally no need to have a flashcard like “On what date was Harry S. Truman born?”  Much more relevant would be a flashcard asking you to “Describe the historical context in which Harry S. Truman was born.”

3. Chunk your content.

Sometimes you might need to know a huge number of related but individual facts, such as a list of all the U.S. presidents.  In these cases it could be useful to break the content into chunks.  “List the presidents between 1876 and 1912”, or “Spell and pronounce the Spanish numbers 1-10”, are perfectly acceptable flashcards.  Creating a separate flashcard for each president or Spanish number would be optional, depending on how important it is for you (or your learners) to learn each one individually.

4. Use bullets.

When you have a large amount of text in paragraph format, it is usually helpful to break it into bullets for easy referencing.  The answer to the question “What are the symptoms of hypothermia” would be much more digestible when listed as individual bulleted items (Shivering, Weak Pulse, Shallow Breathing, etc.).

5. Vary your question format.

The real world does not always present us with simple, consistent Q&A lists.  Flashcards are therefore often best when they force us to think in different ways.  For example, the questions “What was the definitive event that prompted the entry of the United States into World War II?” and “What is the historical significance of the American military base at Pearl Harbor?” are different ways of asking the same piece of information.  That said, if your subject matter is something simple like U.S. State Capitals, you might be limited to only one or two simple ways of asking the question without unnecessarily confusing the learner.

Whether you are creating flashcards for yourself, for your students, for your classmates, or for a public online community like Brainscape, following the above guidelines will help optimize the efficiency with which your flashcards are digested in the brain. Make sure to check out the Brainscape Marketplace for dozens of flashcard decks that can help you learn subjects like languages, science, psychology, test prep, and more!

Brainscape is a web & mobile education platform that helps you learn anything faster, using cognitive science. Join the millions of students, teachers, language learners, test-takers, and corporate trainees who are doubling their learning results. Visit brainscape.com or find us on the App Store .


Wturpin1 8 years ago

I have looked as hard as I can but I can't find actual instructions for creating content: I realize a lot is intuitive, which is great, but a lot isn't, and I really don't want to put the time in if there is going to be some problem down the road.

So PLEASE someone write good, basic (assume nothing) step by step instructions.

vcummins 5 years ago

I agree. many issues trying to create content. Trying to find specfic help- How to add images., how to add sound, a need to use non standard formats.

Courtney@Brainscape 5 years ago

Hi vcummins,

Are you looking to create cards with images and/or audio on Brainscape? You can do so by using the Advanced editor on Brainscape.com. If you encounter any issues while creating your cards, please let us know and we'll be here to assist you. OR you can email us directly info@brainscape.com.

Shabhegg 8 years ago

A friend has shared cards with me buy sending me a notifacation. I click on the hyperlink and its the regular brainscape page. I cant find the flash cards anywhere. can anyone tell me step by step how to access the shared cards that my friend sent me twice.

John Borup 7 years ago

To Brainscape with admiration!
I'm now 73, and I always believed that I was the inventor to this system of genius.
In my 13-14th I wrote down Q&A's on either side of small scraps of paper, which I kept in a matchbox. This repetition system helped me be best in class. I kept the system as my secret - in fact I was a little ashamed to be such an eager beaver - but now I realize, that I should have developed it to Brainscape level and maybe become a millionaire.
My suggestion to you is, that you add a feature to automatically reverse Q&A on a complementing card. This would double the number of cards and almost double benefit for the learner.

Amanda Moritz 7 years ago

Hi John!!

We're working on reverse cards. Thanks for the comment and thanks for checking us out!
Amanda Moritz

Kapple 7 years ago

Can I have audio feedback in answer field?

Amanda Moritz 7 years ago

Hi Kapple,

Yes! You can create your own cards with audio on either side online. *Creating cards in the app will improve over time, but for now our website offers you more control and speed in your card creation--you can even share your decks!

Rick Yonker 7 years ago

How do we keep the cards decks we have students create from being added to the actual subject. We had students create a vocab list and when students downloaded the subject, ALL the cards that students had created downloaded into their library.

Rick Yonker 7 years ago

To the iPad users. We have had several students that can now login with the iPad through Safari, but when they go in through the app, it asks them to login but then promptly shuts down. We have tried removing the app and reinstalling, and removing them from the class and putting them back in. Nothing has seemed to work yet.

RM 7 years ago

I did something to my computer settings where I cannot import cvs file from my desktop, please someone help.

artstudent13 6 years ago

How do i put a picture on my flashcards? I've tried copy and paste as well as dragging the picture icon from my desktop to my card.
Nothing is happening and I cant find instructions via google or youtube
someone please help a girl out?

Joysa@Brainscape 6 years ago

Hi Artstudent13,

Thank you for reaching out to us! You can add images to your cards using the advanced editor (on the website). Once you're on the 'add/edit card' page, you'll see the "Upload Image" and "Import Image from URL" at the lower left corner of each card. You can click those options and upload your image.

I hope this helps and if you have further questions regarding this, just let us know. We're just here to assist you! Thank you!


Luis Miguel Hernández 6 years ago

Hello! I've got a problem with the editor, I wonder if you could help me.

I'd been creating flashcards on the basic editor but accidentally i clicked on the advanced editor and now it's become difficult for me to créate new flashcards, I'd like to get back to the basic one but i cannot find an option to do so. The flashcards i've been creating are really basic with just text on them.

Thank you all!

Joysa@Brainscape 6 years ago

Hi Luis Miguel,

Thank you for contacting us and sorry that you've run into this issue with Brainscape. Unfortunately, once you switched to 'Advanced Editor', there is no way to move back to basic editor. However, for any NEW deck, you can start with the basic editor. We're sorry for this inconvenience.

If you need more assistance on this or have any other questions, please let us know.


Scott 6 years ago

I would like to add 200+ students to a module. Two questions: 1) Can multiple accounts be linked to the same generic email address that I would share w/ students OR 2) if I use the direct URL, how can one use Brainscape on a smartphone (since registration requests an email and not URL). The reason I ask is because I do not have the list of 200 email addresses yet, but would like to enable the group. Please advise regarding the best approach.

Jon Lund 6 years ago

How do I move a deck from my uncategorized subject to one of my other subjects?

Joysa@Brainscape 6 years ago

Hi Jon,

Thanks for contacting Brainscape! You can cut/paste cards from one deck into another. Just use the following hack (from Chrome or Firefox) using the Advanced Editor:

1.Open the original deck
2.In a separate browser tab, open your Library and create a new deck in the target subject
3.Open that new deck to its Edit Flashcards screen
4.Go back to the original deck's browser tab, and "select all" cards in the left-hand card list. In the drop-down menu, click "Copy" or "Cut"
5.Then go back to that new deck's browser tab and select "Paste Cards at End of Deck". This might take a few minutes, but it should work.

I hope this helps! If you need further assistance on this or have any other questions, please let us know. Thank you!

Best Regards,

Natalie 5 years ago

hello, I would like to make my own subject, but I don't know how make that. I really need it, please.

Joysa@Brainscape 5 years ago

Hi Natalie,

Thanks for contacting us! I'll be glad to help you start using Brainscape! If you want to start creating your own subject/decks/cards, please see below steps:

When using the App:
- Tap the '+' sign located at the upper right hand corner of the screen.
- Tap the option to create your own subject.
- Enter the 'New Subject's Name'
- Then tap the '+' button in the upper right to add a 'Deck'.
- Enter your New Deck's Name.
- Start adding your cards by tapping the button in the lower right of the screen.

When using the website (www.brainscape.com)
- Click 'Create Subject' located at the left corner of the page.
- Enter your subject name.
- Click the option to 'Create Deck'.
- Enter your deck name.
- Start adding your cards by clicking 'Add Cards' button.

I hope this helps! If you need further assistance or have any other questions, please let us know. We'll be happy to help! :)

Best Regards,

Anu Pasyavala 5 years ago

How do I change the order of the cards in my subject?

Joysa@Brainscape 5 years ago

Hi Anu,

The cards get re-ordered based on your rankings. Also, you can still re-order your cards through the app by selecting the deck, and then "edit deck". You'll select the icon on the bottom of the screen that looks like 3 horizontal lines. At that time, you'll be prompted to reorder the cards, as you like, by dragging them into position.

Online, you can also use the Advanced editor to change the order of your cards. A word of caution though, if you change a deck to Advanced, you will no longer able to edit your deck, via the simple editor, through the App.

Hope this helps! If you have any other questions, please let us know.


A'Lisa Wilhelmsen Andrade 5 years ago

I love Brainscape and it has helped through a number of graduate classes; however, recently I am having a tough time 'saving' the cards I have created. There is no response when 'save cards' is clicked. In fact, I am no longer getting those lovely reminder bars to save early and often. Is there a glitch with the server or have I overloaded my account?

Courtney@Brainscape 5 years ago

Hi there,

I'm so sorry to hear that you are running in to an issue with Brainscape. I have a couple questions and if you wouldn't mind please send us responses to info@brainscape.com.
1. What is the name of the deck where this occurs?
2. Or does it happen in ALL decks?
3. What editor are you using? Simple or Advanced?
4. Which web browser are you using?

Your response should help us pinpoint what's going on. Thanks!

Lukas 5 years ago

Hey, what is the optimal resolution for pictures on flashcards? Happens to me quite often that the picture becomes blurry.

comments powered by Disqus