Flashcards – The Secret to Memorization When Study Time is Limited

How to use flashcards to memorize when you don't have time to studyDo you find your day too busy for proper studying?

Do you find that memorizing a list of topics, definitions or concepts is not effective after a long day?

Do you need more time to study?

One simple solution will (help) solve all the above problems.


Picture this: you’re preparing for an upcoming history quiz or biology exam. You have a list of 25 names/concepts/definitions, and you devote an hour to cramming as a form of memorization.

Perhaps you remember 50% of the material the following day.

The problem with cramming as a form of memorization, is that you’re hitting your brain with too many new concepts in a very short time. If you don’t give your mind time to process, you will be less likely to remember.

Enter the Flashcards

Keep it simple, cut a sheet of paper into 8 or 10 pieces, or purchase a pack of blank index cards.
DO THIS EARLY! Minimum 2-3 days before your quiz or exam.

Write the concept or vocabulary word on the front of the card, and the explanation on the back. Keep these cards with you at all times. Perhaps in a front pocket, handbag or backpack.

Now picture an average busy day:

  • Morning routing
  • Travel to school
  • Learn / take notes
  • Lunch
  • More learning and note taking
  • Travel home
  • After school job or chores
  • Homework
  • TV
  • Bedtime routine

This is a pretty common day for most students. So full of primary duties and responsibilities, where do you have the time to study and memorize?
Actually, I count at least a full hour, hidden between the tasks.

On Your Way to School

As a passenger traveling to school, whether public transportation or carpooling, if you are the passenger, keep 5 flashcards handy and study them over and over on your ride to school.
Even as a driver, you can study enroute. Only AFTER coming to a complete stop at a red light, take out ONE card, read the front and back and replace the card. As you continue driving, you can repeat the information to yourself over and over. Peek at a new card at each red light.
(DISCLAIMER: Distracted driving leads to accidents, please don’t look at cards unless you are at a FULL STOP, and even then, determine if you are capable of studying while driving)

At School

Assuming you are seated well before the lesson starts. Pull out another flashcard and study its contents. Repeat this at the start of each class and maybe even on your lunch break.

After-School Job / Chores

Do you have a minute break here and there? If so, pull out a flashcard and study its contents. As you work, keep repeating the contents in your mind.

While Watching TV

Did you know that the average TV commercial break lasts 2-3 minutes? Multiply that by the 5 or so breaks in a one-hour show, and that’s another 10 flashcards studied.
At the end of the day, you potentially reviewed 25 – 50 cards, without actually taking the time to study!
Do this for 2-3 days, reviewing the same set of flashcards. You are likely to forget the contents initially, but by the third day you should know the material pretty well.
Flashcards alone are not enough. Do take the time to officially sit down and study your notes and the entire list of terms. After reviewing your flashcards for the past 2 days, you will find that not only is it easier to study and memorize, but that your retention rate is higher and faster.

The trick to long term memorization is to consume a small amount of information slowly over time. Flashcards, studied throughout a busy work/school day, allow you to absorb one bit of information at a time and commit it to memory before bombarding your mind with another concept or topic.

Do you have additional tricks for memorizing terms and definitions?

If so I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.


  1. I was looking for a way to integrate them in my study and this helps. Thanks Leah!

  2. What an awesome article. Thanks! A teacher taught me this, very effective.. take 10 flash cards, go through them rapidly. Don’t know it, move on. So spend 3 seconds on each card. Repeat each card 10 times. That’s about 300 seconds… 5 mins! Add that to Leah’s tricks for when to squeeze in that 5 mins and you’ve got a very effective strategy! I finally warmed up to flash cards after the teacher explains: “don’t understand to memorize. MEMORIZE to understand” so true!

    • Awesome! As a busy working mom this strategy is even more important for someone like yourself. So glad to help

    • I like the idea of the flash cards will try

    • Ive been using flash cards to learn alkene mechanisms. I fold a 3×5 card in half; on the front is the reactant and reagents, on the back is the product and reagents, and when you open the card up, you see the whole mechanism in detail. This has helped me quickly predict a product from a given reactant or a reactant from a product, as well as learn each step of the mechanism (intermediates, etc.).

  3. This is a greayt idea to study my alkene reactions!

  4. Great article, I totally agree. Studying in small spurts throughout the day has really helped me. I use and app call studyhive that reminds me to study my flashcards

  5. really helps, also you can use different colours. put a question on one side and answer on the other.

  6. I forgot to add my tip…before hitting send!
    I like to hole punch the flashcards and use a ring to put them on. You can buy these for around $2.00 for a pack of 5 at scrapbooking or hobby shops.

  7. Pnemonics,, for example, body systems include: nervous, endocrine, circularatory, respiratory, excretory: by using pnemonics N.E.C.R.E , easy to memorize this way

  8. Great idea, its so true we do have time that we just don’t see, Thanks!

Leave a Reply to lilly Cancel reply