Physical flashcards vs flashcard software

If you guys are given a choice, would you prefer physical flash cards or some flashcard software(like anki) ?

Physical one requires writing which is itself a recalling method,and allows me to doodle and draw on them and practice them as I wish.

Software ones even if are easy to manage and study, are quite difficult to create.

For eg.

It is hard to find the exact image or equation you are looking for on the web and drawing and them uploading pictures of it is quite tiresome, especially if you are making lots of them.

Which one would you prefer? When and why?


As I said in another thread earlier today, give me a pack of postcards, a rubber band or two to keep them together and if the Nurse will let me have some big colour crayons so much the better.

I‘ve recently discovered the usefulness of Anki. (More specifically the combination of the desktop and mobile app that let’s you sync everything) It helps me learn terms and definitions for law school and review them when on the bus/train.

I would never carry physical cards with me to review on the bus. That way I can use the travel time that would otherwise just be lost.

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Flashcard software
When? Always.

Why? Essentially time-consumption and efficiency.

I can’t really schedule physical cards without manually sorting them and writing them does not help me remember them better than typing them (in my case anyways). I also have the odd days when I go through 1000 flash cards, I can’t physically do this with paper. Back when I was still using paper I had at-least 10000 sheets of paper in my room, it doesn’t really work well.

As for my handwriting, it won’t really compare to my typing. I can likely draw better diagrams using a mouse than a physical pen too. If I need sketches I can draw them inside one note then paste them into a flash card software. There are also those drawing pens for tablets, or even drawing tablets if a pen was more suitable.

It is almost always certain that I find the exact equation/image I am looking for, inside the information source I am using to learn. Perhaps this would be the book, in which case I can simply use a short cut to copy and paste the diagram/equation.


Ah but Silvio there is one great advantage to sitting on any public transport, mumbling to yourself over a pack of card flash cards or playing cards. “don’t make eye contact with the strange man, dear, I’m sure he is perfectly harmless” so not only do you get a double seat to yourself in rush hour but also none of the local neighbourhood muggers knows you have a brand new iphone in your pocket.


I like index cards myself. Haven’t used them for a few years but as above, mumbling like a crazy person in public places without a computer can be a pleasant way to spend time.

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I’m a big Anki fan (I’ve been using it over a decade now). SRS is designed to be more efficient than just repeatedly going through the set each time.

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It was in a recent post, where it was advised to make physical flashcards if you are dealing with a lot of material and are in a time crunch.

I had previously used Anki but gave it up since I found it hectic to type all of them since I don’t own a computer and use the onscreen keyboard.

Also I don’t carry my tablet everywhere with me so it was difficult for reviewing time to time.

I recently started using Anki again, any advice?

Can’t you go to the local library and use a computer there to type up whatever cards you need?

Do you not have a mobile phone?

If you draw your images playing card size, you could probably scan 4 or more at once and then split them up using Paint or something.

A deck of cards in my pocket would suit me better.

You can buy sheets of serrated index cards and print to them.
I used to create decks of backgammon positions.

I love this question! It makes us think about the different qualities of different media and reflect on what we like about each of them. That’s an opportunity to get the best of both worlds, because choosing one doesn’t exclude the other.

For me, a medium that involves multiple senses will have a strong effect. Anki supports images and audio as well as text. Physical flash cards, on the other hand, have the tactile element. I don’t know how it works for others, but for me handling the cards reinforces the learning experience. I like to have them in my hands. Actually, just looking at the pack sitting on my desk stimulates recall of their content.


It would be interesting to compare the learning times of 2 decks of equal difficulty, but having different cards.

One deck would be in Anki, the other deck would be paper cards. Or vice versa.

For example:

  • Find the 1,000 most frequent words in a foreign language, such as American.
  • Sort them in Excel.
  • Import all the odd numbers into Anki as a CSV.
  • Write all the even numbers on paper cards.

The Anki alogorithm will quickly push easy cards into the future. Difficult cards will be shown more frequently. Middling cards will be shown middlingly. Fairly quickly, the easy cards could have a “next review interval” of 1.5 years.

How does that happen with paper cards? How do you know what the next review date is for a card?

It seems to me that the possible inconvenience of preparing images for Anki is completely dwarfed by the saving in time of having many cards with a review interval that is measured in years.


You can dictate cards nowadays as well using google keyboard or siri


Here are some posts on flash cards from my old blog:

I guess there is something called the Leitner system for it, I think you should check that out.

So, Can anyone explain how to use both physical flashcards and software together to get the most out of them?

While I don’t really find much of ‘getting the most out of a combination of them’, if I wanted to gain the benefits of both :

I would use codes in my physical flash cards and exclusively codes in my software flash cards. I would do this so I can use my software flash cards as an indicator as to when to review my physical flash cards, this way I arguably get the largest benefit from having software flash cards while using physical flash cards. This would be even better if I had alarms on my software flash cards.

Any efficiency to this will depend on how organised I can keep it, which with a little bit of thinking is surely going to be very efficient.

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I downloaded Anki but it has a quirky philosophy about when to show you what cards. Basically, if you got the answer easily you won’t see that card again for 4 days; if you got it with some effort you’ll see it again in 10 minutes, and if you got it wrong you might see it again in 1 minute. I have been unable to find a way to change those values and a post I left on their support forum about that has gone unanswered.

The 4 day, 1 minute, 10 minute thing doesn’t work for me. I do one or two sessions a day, typically every day, so I want to see the cards randomly, but simply weighted according to how well I did last time I saw that card. I’d love to find a good, supported flash card app for Android that works that way, but so far, no luck.

I don’t want the “easy” ones to go that far away. I want the “easy” ones to be a LITTLE less likely to occur - maybe 25% as likely as the “hard” ones. The reason is that when beginners are learning something they may quickly learn easy examples only to lose them again when similar confusing examples start to show up as they progress.

For example, in learning musical chords, when beginners learn Sevenths they typically learn Major and Dominant Sevenths first But there are many kinds of Seventh chords so later when they start to see Diminished Sevenths, maj-min Sevenths, etc, etc, they start to get confused again about stuff they used to know solidly. So you need to keep seeing the “easy” stuff, just a little less frequently. The same thing happens in learning languages: beginners have a small vocabulary and a limited grammar so there’s not as much to get confused with. But as they learn more words, or more conjugations, things that used to seem easy can become confusing again. I think it’s better to weight the probability rather than just saying you won’t see this card at all for (x) days.

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