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The Leitner system: How to maximise flashcards

The Leitner system: How to maximise flashcards

3 min read
  • Retrieval Practice
  • Study skills & exam prep

During the midst of revision, it is easy to lose sight and focus on what really works, so what is a better way to revise? Working hard but not smart is a sure fire way to misuse your revision time. To combat this, we have to make sure our students are using techniques backed up by science. One such strategy is the Leitner System.

What is the Leitner system?

This approach to revision uses a concept called spaced repetition. Simply, when we repeatedly encounter the same pieces of information we remember them better. We start to forget information when we encounter it less and less. We constantly need to refresh our memory over different time-periods dependent on how familiar we are with the information we are trying to remember. To find out more on spaced revision, check out our blog on spacing.

How did Leitner achieve this?

The Leitner System uses a 5-step process using flashcards and a “learning box”. The box is separated into 5 different compartments and labelled 1-5. All the flashcards start in compartment 1. When all the information is remembered from the card and the student can answer questions about it, the card moves to the next compartment.  This 1st compartment is reviewed daily, with compartment two being reviewed every other day, compartment three being reviewed every third day and so on.

Each time a flashcard is answered correctly, it moves to the next compartment. Each time it is answered incorrectly it moves back to the beginning (i.e. compartment number 1). This allows students to regularly quiz themselves on information that they have not yet embedded into their long term memory.How the Leitner system works for revision

Accelerate academic growth at your school with one of the most effective Teaching & Learning strategies.

A practical guide to the Leitner system

We can summarise this system into 4 clear steps:

  1. Accurately answered flashcards move into the next compartment. 
  2. When the compartment gets higher the longer the repetition break is. 
  3. Flashcards that are incorrectly answered are moved back to the 1st
  4. The idea is that when you know the information well, the less frequently you encounter them to make room for new information.

What are the benefits of the Leitner system?

  1. It’s easy to use – Flashcards can be carried anywhere and they’re a cheap alternative to huge ring binders or folders. Our blog on 5 proven hacks to help students tackle revision also provides some more clever alternatives.
  2. Helps with chunking – This tool can help you break your workload up into sizeable chunks that are easier to remember. See our blog for 15 more ways to maximise memory.
  3. Feedback – You receive immediate feedback on the validity of your answers which provides the learner with a sense of control. See our blog on how to receive feedback better.
  4. It tests you – Testing yourself is a great revision technique that reduces procrastination and forces you to generate an answer to the question. It has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to improve your memory Have a look at our “testing effect”.
  5. Spaces out your revision – This avoids cramming and helps ingrain it into your long term memory. Essentially, forgetting things and re-learning it is key to memory. Check out our blog on the 10 best ways to revise for more tips on this

 For more information on great revision techniques visit our page ‘Best Ways to Revise‘.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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