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How to Make Your Own Flashcards for the USMLEs

Are you looking for a time-efficient and effective way to get down all of those nitty gritty details in First Aid? Flashcards are one of the best tools you can use to memorize material. 

Here are some tips for making USMLE flashcards:

1. Buy small flashcards

Buy small flashcards or index cards (ex: 2″x3″) so you’re not tempted to put a lot of information on one card. Also, consider buying cards in a variety of colors so that you can color code different sections within a chapter (and make them more fun to study!).

2. Choose high-yield information

Some people will make flashcards for every single detail written in First Aid (or whatever review book they are studying from). This may be a good method for you if you have a lot of time to study and study best from your own writing. If you are in a time-crunch or prefer to study directly from your review book, then only choose high-yield information that you have trouble retaining.

3. Include prompts

The front of the card should only include one or two prompt words, such as “Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.” The back of the card should contain facts about the prompt in bullet-point format and/or simple drawings.

4. Use abbreviations and symbols

Come up with abbreviations and symbols to use for commonly used words (ex: and = +, inhibits = — l, headache = h/, causes = –>). This will not only allow you to fit more on the flashcard, but it will also make facts easier and quicker to memorize because your brain will have fewer filler words to recall. Additionally, this technique will make the most relevant details on the card stand out.

For example, see how a simplified version of these facts for Friedrich’s Ataxia (“b”) is easier to remember:

BEFORE

Front of card: Friedrich’s Ataxia

Back of card:

  • Inheritance: Autosomal Recessive
  • Trinucleotide repeat expansion of GAA on chromosome 9
  • Defective protein is frataxin
  • Symptoms: muscle weakness, clumsy gait, falling, nystagmus, loss of deep tendon reflexes, loss of proprioception and vibratory sensation, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, scoliosis, diabetes mellitus, pes cavus

AFTER

Front of card: Friedrich’s Ataxia

Back of card:

  • AR
  • X3nuc: GAA on chr. 9
  • 🙁 p.= frataxin
  • Sxn: muscle w/, clumsy gait, falling, nystagmus, LO DTRs, LO proprio./vibr. s., HOCM, scoliosis, DM, pes cavus

How to study your USMLE flashcards

Each time you review a flashcard, use the following method: First, read the front of the card and try to recall everything you can about the prompt. Next, read the back of the card and see what you got right and what you missed. Finally, read the prompt again on the front of the card and try to recall everything about it one more time, including the facts that you missed. Don’t make the common mistake of just reading the front and back of your flashcards without trying to actively recall the information contained.