How do you Make Flashcards and Print Flashcards?
Updated: Jul 19
Flash cards are proven study tool that encourage active recall — which can help our brain learn and memorize. Many students use flash cards but making them can be quite inefficient - until now.
There are four main ways to make and print flashcards - each has their Pros and Cons. 1) Using Paper 2) Using Microsoft Word or Google Docs. 3) Using a basic flashcard app like Anki or Quizlet 4) Using an advanced flashcard app maker like NoteDex. If you want to make handwritten flashcards that have the best of both worlds (paper and digital), and want to keep your flashcards with you on your phone, then the best choice is NoteDex. In this article we will explain each method of creating flashcards and why we come to this conclusion.
In this article we will cover:
What Makes a Good Flashcard
Making Flashcards using Paper Index Cards and your Own Handwriting
Making Flashcards using Paper Index Cards and Microsoft Word (or Google Docs)
Making Flashcards using Quizlet or Anki
Making and Printing Flashcards using NoteDex
Did you know you can print index cards with NoteDex? Learn More
What Makes a Good Flashcard?
It's not enough to just make flashcards, you want to make good flashcards! If you are putting in effort to create flashcards it helps to know what makes a good flashcard for studying, and it also helps to know the advantages about making your own cards. If you are a tutor these tips may be helpful to share with your students.
Make your Own Flashcards
There is no denying it is very tempting to buy/download existing flashcards. Many of the basic flashcard apps like Quizlet and Anki offer this. For 'standard' subjects this is not that bad, for instance for vocabulary words. For 'High School' type classes then this is fine.
However, if you are in College or University, or studying an advanced, complex, subject then you really should try to create your own. There are two main reasons for this:
1) Your course may not be the same as someone else's, so you need to make sure your make your study flashcards based on your study class notes. The risk of learning cards that are not relevant - or worse, not studying cards that are unique to your class - is too high at advanced study levels. Trust us - the effort can be worth it and might be the difference between a B and an A grade!
2) It has been widely researched and documented that creating your own handwritten flashcards as part of the learning process dramatically improves retention and active recall. 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. You can read more about this in this article that references their paper.
You may also like to read our article How to Ace your Studies with Handwritten Digital Flashcards
Hopefully we have convinced you to make at least some of your own cards. Now the next important topic before we show you how to actually make flash cards is to understand what 'makes' a good flashcard.
Elements of a Good Study Flashcard
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. And your hand drawn images will really help you to both visualize and tap into that brain-hand connection so you 'draw it into your memory'! This is why if you are going to use a digital flashcard app is must support handwriting.
Next in line - images - yes, insert photos or stock drawings. For example, if you are creating anatomy flashcards it might be that in some cases you might use photos/images of body anatomy. If you have a flashcard app that supports handwriting you can also draw and annotate over an image - see this example.
Not all flashcard apps can do this but we'll mention one at the end that can. :) Another good example of inserting an image might be for chemistry and you might insert a picture of the periodic table.
If you want to read more about creating Medical or Anatomy flashcards you can read out blog article Learning in Medical School
3) One Question per Card
Remember that your study flashcards are not your study notes! I know some people like to highlight almost everything in a text book (not looking at you!) but remember that your 'flashcards' are meant to be quick question / answer devices. I'm not sure, but perhaps the word 'flash' either comes from 'quick' or to 'flash' quickly. Either way, if your question that you are testing yourself on is too big to fit on one card then think again and break it down into a couple of cards. Keep it Simple! One Card - One Thought.
4) Answers on the Back
Put your 'answer' on the back - and it's ok to have 'answers' in moderation - say some bullet points. For instance, if you are studying the periodic table you might just have the symbol of an element on the front:
'H' (for Hydrogen):
Then on the back of the card you would have 3 bullets points:
Tip: If you are choosing to use paper flashcards then be careful in choosing the thickness of the index card. If it is too thin you might see your answers through the card! You can learn more about flashcard / index card sizes in our article 'The Ultimate Guide to Index Card Sizes'
5) Make it a Multi Sensory Learning Process
When you have created your cards expect to be speaking out loud when creating them, and when read them. It can also be a great idea when studying to write the answers on a piece of paper before you turn over your flash cards.
The next three points are less about the actual process of making them but about using them, but we include them here since they leverage some of the efforts you put in to making flashcards:
6) Test and use Answer Buckets
When you are testing yourself you might find that you get the answer right, wrong or are not sure. As you study you will do well do put them into different 'buckets' or piles of cards. Then you can come back to the cards the next day or study session and learn the harder ones. This is also what is known as basic spaced repetition and you may want to learn more about the Leitner process. We have an article that talks about Leitner if you are interested.
7) Review Cards also from the Back and Front
If you have made great flashcards with answers on the back side of the card then a good study method is to reverse the process. This works particularly well when say studying vocabulary words. This helps your brain to exercise the strength of it's new neural pathways in both directions and is a great method for flash card study to improve your active recall. If you are using an online flashcards app you should check it can do this and reverse the side of the card.
8) Shuffle Cards
Another good way to test yourself is to shuffle the flashcards in your flashcard set so you are not studying in the same sequence each time. Again, a simple idea but make sure if you are creating flashcards online that your app can support this.
We hope this section has helped you to understand how to make better flashcards and how to have a productive study session. Next we will go deeper into the 4 ways you can make your own flashcards.
1. Making Flashcards using Paper Index Cards and your Own Handwriting
Flashcard making is possible with the help of a hand made paper cards such as those you can get at your local office supplies store. Younger students do tend to make them often, simply because of the simplicity. They are also often used by teachers in classrooms since it can be a good group activity.
Assuming you are not at high school and want to make paper flashcards here are some guidelines
Get Good Paper Stock Index Cards
As we mentioned above if you are making paper flashcards you want to make sure your answers on the back don't show through! This is when getting a card with good thickness will help and they will also be a bit more rugged as we know you'll be stuffing them into your back jeans pocket ;-)
While the common index cards available on Amazon are either no name brand or from Oxford do try out a few and see which work best for you. Check out our article on index cards sizes that can help you choose the right index card size and thickness.
Write Big and Clear
While this obviously applies to all ways, since you are using your own handwriting you want to make sure the cards are easy to read. It will also help your mind to see 'simple' and 'clear' cards so it doesn't already look cluttered - even if the answers in your head might be!
If you are creating some advanced subjects flashcards you might add mnemonics or abbreviations to the cards to help you reference other topics or ideas.
Use different colors, different pen sizes and don't limit yourself on how many cards to use.
Blank or Lined - Up to You
Should you use blank or lined paper index cards? There is no simple answer for this since most people just draw all over the card. If you are doing a lot of diagrams then perhaps blank is better.
Organize and tie them up into Stacks
If you are creating cards for many different subjects then you certainly will want to have a way to hold them together - whether it's a rubber band, an index card holder case, or other method. This will be helpful so that you don't mix all your cards - especially if you have been separating out your correct answers from those cards you need to learn again.
2. Making Flashcards using Paper Index Cards and Microsoft Word (or Google Docs)
Writing flashcards by hand can be tedious. Microsoft Word and Google Docs allow you to make your own flashcards and print flashcards but it's not the easiest way (see our app recommendations below). However, if you are keen to do this we will give you some helpful tips. Learn how it's easier to print index cards using NoteDex
Although old Microsoft Word versions had a set of simple flash card templates, these templates appear to have disappeared after MS Word 2016.
The first work-around for this is that you can create a blank document, and then change the orientation of the page to Landscape. Then you can set the page size to 3 x 5 or whichever in the page setup options.
Then you could edit such a document to create your flashcards. The same principal applies to Google Docs.
There is also another work around. Avery make a paper index card label card stock template #5388 - these are thick paper pages, which have perforated cards on them of size 3" x 5", that you can put into a standard printer. This is a good method since it will also make it easy to print multiple cards and you don't need to figure out how to a) put small index cards into your printer b) how to print on the back of them and c) how to set the paper size! There can be many issues with double sided printing so be ready for some heartache when doing this.
They also provide a blank document Avery 5388 template document that you can use so this solves the template issue in MS Word.
Of course, you don't need to buy the Avery 5388 card stock - you could just use the template and print flashcards onto normal paper. You'll just need to cut out your flash cards.
If you use this method then you will use two rows - one for the front and one for the back of each card as you can see from this image - but you will want to put the 'answer' on card 4 of your template. I'll explain more in the next section about how to print flashcards and handing issues like printing settings in MS Word.
The only problem with using MS Word to create flashcards/index cards using the Avery 5388 card stock is that it can get very expensive. A packet of 150 cards (30 sheets) costs about $15 USD on Amazon. Compare that to a packet of Oxford brand Index Cards which you can get 300 for $2.99 on Amazon.
If you do this method, then you would download the right template, then open that template in Microsoft Word. Just make sure your text and images fit inside the boundaries of the label and check your page setup and printing settings.
How to Print Flashcards
After making these cards, you need to print everything out. Depending on how you have laid out your cards you can print flashcards, one sided or two sided cards. Don't forget to check your page setup and also your printing settings.
If you are just making one sided flashcards then it will be easy and you can just print away.
If you want to make double sided cards then you will need to a little trick. Remember that your printer will print the first three cards on the card stock. So these will need to be the front of your first three cards - card 1-3.
Then you will take the paper out and put it in again into the printer - this time the reverse side. If you have a printer that handles double sided printing good for you! You can check this usually in the printing settings that appear after you click the print command.
Then it will want to print the back of the cards which will be the page 2 of the template - cards 4-6.
If you are lucky then this has all worked out and you have got your printed double sided flashcards!
We told you it wouldn't be easy but it's definitely possible. The only problem with all this is that it takes a lot of time, not to mention some potential strong words directed at your printer based on how nicely it speaks printing settings!. And it's quite expensive ($15 for making just 75 cards!) - and you've helped contribute to global warming by using paper to print flashcards. Perhaps there is a better way? :-)
Digital Online Flashcards
Of course, there are alternatives today to making paper flashcards. Online or Digital Flashcards have been around for a while but there has not been much innovation until recently. There are some old style online flashcard maker apps on the web that are simple and functional but not great for today's needs. There are some of the traditional well known flashcard maker apps like Anki and Quizlet - great for making simple flashcards, and which do have large established customer bases. And then there some newer entrants like NoteDex that aim to create the best index cards and flashcards. We'll review these 3 apps in the next section.
3. Making Flashcards using Quizlet or Anki.
Quizlet and Anki are some of the industry leading apps to create flashcards. They have been around for a while so have good user communities, but this also means that their apps are rather 'simple'. Functional for sure, and they both have features that make them distinct from each other. Of course there are many other flashcard apps, but again they fall into the simple category.
When we mean simple we mean simple interfaces - good for capturing short words or phrases, with little or no support for images, ink and other features to make good flashcards as described above.
Quizlet has a simple interface that allows you to create cards and they have a lot of good learning options and lots of community cards available. You can read more about them in our article.
Anki has a number of different app versions by different companies, but if we look at Anki App, it too has a pretty basic interface - primarily designed for text. Anki's claim to fame is the advanced spaced repetition algorithm - think of it as the Leitner model on steroids - very useful if you are needing to memorize a large quantity of vocabulary words for instance.
Depending on the app you are choosing there are some options for how to print flashcard or to print to a PDF file.
By now, if you are all the way down reading this article you will know that apps like Quizlet and Anki do not meet your needs - and that you need a more sophisticated flashcard app that can help you create and study more complex flashcards and print flashcards.
4. Making Flashcards using NoteDex
Unlike other flashcard apps, NoteDex provides the best user interface and card design options. Being cross-platform it also means you can create cards on your desktop computer and then view and study them on your phone. Also, unlike using an app like Microsoft Word, you won't need to use any flashcard templates. You will be able to create flashcards online easily and print them just as easily. Learn How to Print Flashcards.
You can learn more about NoteDex Flashcards on this page, but it's important to highlight why might choose NoteDex to make flashcards:
You can use your digital pen stylus to use handwriting to make flashcard sets. This is important and the only other way to do this is with paper. This is what makes NoteDex unique and extremely powerful for college students who need to create flashcards for their advanced subjects.
It allows you to insert images, manipulate font sizes, and organize your cards into groups
It has a dedicated Study Mode that allows you to study from the back of card first, and shuffle cards, and study your flashcards or using the mobile apps.
It allows you to print flashcards to a PDF file if you want printed copies (note you could also share your PDF file to friends).
Furthermore, unlike other apps NoteDex is more than just a flashcard app and you can use to keep your study notes, and work project notes and more after you finish studying!
We hope this article was helpful in explaining how to make flashcards, using apps like Microsoft Word or other methods. There are four main ways:
Each method has its good and bad aspects and that method you choose will depend on your needs.
Paper flashcards are obviously quick and easy. Using Microsoft Word or an app like Anki or Quizlet can be fine, but there are difficulties in either the process to print flashcards, or the design aspects of index cards.
Using a dedicated app like NoteDex can make the process simpler, having options to print flashcards or to a PDF file.
Do check your printer if you are looking to do double side printing from any digital app, getting the printing settings is actually not as easy sometimes as it sounds.
Either way we wish you well in your studies!