Flashcards: The Leitner Method of Studying

When you start to study a topic you must learn, there are two problems that quickly become apparent:

1. You have limited time to study, and
2. You need to prioritize what you study

Believe it or not, the humble flashcard is one of the most advanced learning technologies available. Our brains naturally store information in "chunks" that are ideally suited to the amount of information on a small card.

It gets even better: in the 1970's, a German psychologist named Sebastian Leitner developed a "learning machine" using flashcards that can supercharge your success by using the power of prioritization (so YOU don't waste time) and positive feedback (that is, turning studying into a game).

Here's how the Leitner system works: Get at least three boxes - shoeboxes are ideal for this, or perhaps a shoebox with dividers to make three sections. Label each of the sections or boxes in sequence: 1, 2, 3, etc.

You play the "game" like this: all of the cards start off in Box 1. You got through the deck for the first time. If you answer a card correctly, you put it in the next higher box, in this case Box 2. Study any you miss as you go through the cards, but any that you miss stay in Box 1. In your next study session (after a break, or the next day), study the cards in Box 2 only - any that you miss go back to Box 1, and any you answer correctly go to Box 3. Repeat this process until you have as many cards as possible in the last box. Then you should have two stack - one in the last box consisting of cards you have answered correctly at least twice, and one in the first box of cards you have missed at least once.

Then, repeat the whole process until you have moved the entire deck into the last box.

Depending on the time available, you could do as many as 5 or 6 boxes to ensure you repeat the information sufficiently. Research shows that at least 3 repetitions are necessary to guarantee memory retention beyond the short term.

To maximize your advantage, use the system in the weeks approaching the exam to train your long-term memory, then study the entire deck again on the same day of the exam to train your short-term memory. This gives you the best of both memory functions. Why take a test with half your brain tied behind your back??

Source: Morrison Media

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