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Flash card software is a digital means of employing a well-documented and long-used study method, which is the use of cards bearing information on both sides, intended as an aid to memorization.

Sometimes written as one word (flashcards), the paper version of flash cards have been used at least since the 1800s, and probably before. Flash cards are a tried-and-true study tool. When trying to learn a language, historic dates, and facts, chemistry or, as I have used them, in studying for a paramedic exam, flash cards can help a student memorize information, retain details, and reinforce understanding of whatever it is they are trying to learn.

Traditionally, flash cards were written on 3x5 index cards, and commercially published versions were available for various subjects. The question would be written on one side of the card, with the answer on the other.

Flash card software brings flash cards to your computer. As with the paper versions, there are commercial flash card programs available for studying specific subjects, but there are also flash card applications that allow users to create their own study material on their computer as they once did on index cards.

Studying with flash cards can be as simple as writing a question on one side, with the answer on the other, and having these questions presented randomly (or in order), for the purpose of self-quizzing. However, organized methods of studying with flash cards have also been devised, and which have been carried on into the digital software applications that are available.

Devised by a German science journalist, Sebastian Leitner, in the 1970s, the Leitner system is a popular system of using flash cards. Prepared flash cards are sorted into groups according to how well the learner knows each one. The learner tries to recall the answer written on the flash card. If they respond correctly, the card is sent to the next group. If they fail, it is sent back to the first group. Each succeeding group has a longer period of time before the learner is required to revisit the cards. The Leitner method has been implemented in several flash card software applications and will be referred to as supporting the Leitner method.

A popular flash card application is the SuperMemo package, developed by SuperMemo World and SuperMemo R&D, and based on research into long-term memory. The application stores a database of questions and answers constructed by the user. When reviewing the information contained in the database, the program uses a proprietary algorithm to determine which questions to present to the user. The user answers the question and rates his or her own recall - did s/he able to answer the question easily, with hesitation, not at all, and so on - and this rating is used to determine how often or how soon they will be presented with the same question again. This is important because answers are sometimes answered correctly as a result of a guess. Generally, the questions that the user has the most trouble with are presented most often.

Several types of flash card applications are available, including commercial desktop programs for various platforms, open-source programs, and web-based services. In some of these, intended to be used in the study of specific topics, the questions are pre-prepared by the software developers, but many others allow users to prepare their own questions and answers. Where such a category exists, flash card applications created for a specific subject matter may be listed in the category representing that subject. For example, a flash card program designed to teach math will be listed in the Mathematics category rather than in this one, as that category would be more specific.

Software programs that emulate, in one form or another, the flash card system of study, are the focus of resources listed in this category.



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