Learning Strategy 10: The Leitner Flash Card System 

Robert Harris
Version Date: February 27, 2014


Repeated study of vocabulary, concepts, events, or other items is still the most efficient way to learn them. For awhile, rote memorization was dismissed as "drill and kill," until it was realized the drill and kill really works. For that reason, flash cards remain a popular study aid. And flash cards are flexible: The table below shows some possibilities.

Type of Study Item
Example of Front SIde of Card
Example of Back SIde of Card
vowcabulary word
the nearest point to earth of an object orbiting the earth
math formula
area of a triangle
 A = 1/2 (Base times Height)
chemical formula
formula for sulphuric acid
Pause Icon
Pause icon

Name three vaccinations a 1-year-old dog should have
DHPPC (Distemper, Hepatitus, Parainflenze, Parvovirus, Corona Virus), Rabies, Bordatella
December 7, 1941
Attack on Pearl Harbor
Permanent Split Capacitor, a capacitor that remains in active in the circuist after motor start, allowing an electric motor to run more efficiently.

Benefits of Flash Cards

Among the benefits of flash cards are:

The Leitner System

Leitner Flashcard Method

In the 1970s, a Geman popularizer of science, Sebastian Leitner, developed a method of studying flash cards that makes learning the material much more efficient and effective. In this method, you use multiple boxes or stacks for your cards. The illustration below shows four boxes, but you can use three or five. (Two is probablly too few, more than five too many.)

The Method

All the cards start off in Box (or Stack) 1. As you review the cards, each card you answer correctly goes into Box 2. If you give the wrong answer, study the card and then replace it in Box 1. When you review the cards in Box 2, if you still get the answer right, the card is promoted to Box 3, and so on until all the cards are in the highest box.

If you get an answer wrong on a card in Box 2, 3, 4 or up the the highest box you are using, the card is demoted all the way down to Box 1.

The Key

The key to the efficiency and effectiveness of the Leitner system is that the cards in the lower boxes--the ones you know less well--are reviewed more frequently than the cards in the higher boxes. For example, in a four-box set up, the cards in Box 1 might be reviewed four times as often as those in Box 4. It's up to you to choose the frequency of review for each box. Here are some example review times for a four-box set up:

Review Box 1
Review Box 2
Review Box 3
Review Box 4
4 times a day
3 times a day
2 times  a day
1 time a day
3 times a day
2 times a day
1 time a day
every other day
2 times a day
1 time a day
every other day
2 times a week
1 time a day
every other day
twice a week
once a week

Here are some example review times for a three-box set up, including intense scheduling:

Review Box 1
Review Box 2
Review Box 3
10 times a day
5 times a day
3 times a day
8 times a day
4 times a day
2 times a day
5 times a day
3 times a day
2 times a day
3 times a day
2 times a day
1 time a day

High Performance Learning

1. Once all your cards have been promoted to the highest box, turn them over and learn them back to front. Start them all off in Box 1 and read the answer, definition, formula or whatever and see if you can supply the question or term. Continue until once again all cards are in the highest box.

2. After all cards are in the highest box, demote them all back down to Box one and review them again. Now you are reviewiing for speed, to reach fluency (also called automaticity). Deep learning is not only much longer lasting, but it allows faster recall.

VirtualSalt Home
Learning Strategy 1: Mnemonics
Learning Strategy 2: Paraphrasing
Learning Strategy 3: Summarizing
Learning Strategy 4: Self Monitoring
Learning Strategy 5: Self Explanation
Learning Strategy 6: Mental Rehearsal
Learning Strategy 7: Self Assessment
Learning Strategy 8: The SQ3R Reading Method
Learning Strategy 9: Note Taking
Learning Strategy 10: The Leitner Flash Card System
Learning Strategy 11: Maintaining Interest
Learning Strategy 12: Conversation
Learning Strategy 13: Group Interaction
Learning Strategy 14: Idea Mapping
Learning Strategy 15: Drawing Pictures
Learning Strategy 16: Study Cycles
Learning Strategy 17: Sleep and Rest
Learning Strategy 18: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 19: Learning Strategy Checklist
Learning Strategy 20: Asking Questions
Learning Strategy 21: Idea Linking
Learning Strategy 22: How to Use a Book
Learning Strategy 23: Active Listening
Learning Strategy 24: Close Reading
Learning Strategy 25: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 26: Power Thinking
Learning Strategy 27: Planning for Learning
Learning Strategy 28: Outlining
Learning Strategy 29: Analogies
Copyright 2013 by Robert Harris | How to cite this page
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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com