The Leitner Method

Using the Leitner Method for GCSE/A-Level Revision

When learning a variety of subjects, many of us like to make to flashcards as part of our revision plan. Indeed, in previous articles, we have talked about the benefits of using flashcards in revision. One further problem remains for some, however, which is how to use flashcards in different ways to ensure sufficient variety. Using the cards can become repetitive, dull and possibly ineffective should we start to associate the cards by their order or some other characteristic of appearance (e.g. that word has a small tear in the corner, or an inkblot visible from the other side). 

To shake up your flashcard revision, why not consider employing the Leitner Method? This fantastic system was proposed by German science journalist Sebastian Leitner in the 1970s. In short, it is a systematic and straightforward way to prioritise your flashcards, putting them into an order of need. After the first day, your cards are organised by how well you know them, and in the subsequent days will move up and down the “ladder” of familiarity until you have all the words in the “top” pile.

How does the system work exactly?

All you need to get started in the Leitner system is a set of at least three containers (you might use more if you want to) in which to place your flashcards. In our example below, we will be demonstrating how the method can be used on weekdays, allowing students the weekend to rest and process their learning.

Your three containers might be small boxes, envelopes, clear-plastic folders; anything will do, as long as it keeps flashcards safely together. Each container should be given a name and labelled as such. We suggest calling one “Every Day,” the second “Tuesday & Thursday” and the third one “Friday.” If you label in this way, then it’s a good idea to start the process on a Monday. An alternative labelling system for those who can’t guarantee which days they can study every week would be to use “Every Day,” “Days 2 & 4” and “Day 5” or some similar system, so they don’t have to abide by specific days of the week.

Starting on Monday, you should go through your flashcards one by one. The ones that you know perfectly without any hitch or hesitation should be placed in the “Tuesday & Thursday” container. Any that you hesitated on or weren’t sure (even a little) should go into the “Every Day” container. Once Monday’s initial foundation is laid, you can proceed as follows:

Tuesday: Start with the “Tuesday & Thursday” cards, ‘promoting’ those you still remember clearly and without hesitation to the “Friday” container. Those on which you hesitate on or can’t remember should be ‘demoted’ to the “Every Day” container. Repeat the “Every Day” box with Monday’s set and promote any you now remember better to the “Tuesday & Thursday” container for later review.

Wednesday: Practice the “Everyday” cards only, ‘promoting’ those you still remember clearly to “Tuesday & Thursday” and leaving any you are still unsure about in the “Everyday” pile.

Thursday: Return to the “Tuesday & Thursday” box and repeat the process as you did it on Tuesday. Do the same for the “Every Day” container.

Friday: Start with any and all cards that have been promoted to “Friday” through the week. Any you don’t remember at all should go back to “Every Day.” Any that you only half-remember or hesitate for some time should return to “Tuesday & Thursday” (or back to “Every Day” if you’re feeling strict with yourself).

Weekend: Rest and process before repeating the process during the following week.

First – it’s a simple, orderly system that can be executed efficiently

Because the system is easy to master and covers things logically and helpfully, it can be conducted quickly and simply allowing students to use their time efficiently. Revision time is precious, and the Leitner system requires little or no additional preparation outside of preparing the flashcards, which many students will already have done.

Second – it helps keep your flashcards shuffled and varied

One of the main issues with flashcards is that some students don’t shuffle them well and they start to remember them by their order rather than because they genuinely know the answer. The Leitner system helps this to some degree by moving the cards to different containers each day. A minimal amount of extra shuffling is needed to keep the cards in a different order every day.

Third – easy to stick to as a realistic weekly study goal

Effective revision is about establishing and sticking to realistic goals. The Leitner system allows students to cover what they need in a reasonable time and without making commitments to study time that are overly ambitious. Dedicating 20-30 minutes per day is easy for almost any student in any situation.

Advantages of the Leitner System:

To verdict

The Leitner Method is perfect for those looking to add variety to their flashcard activities, as well as for those who are unsure about how to proceed with ordering and organising their flashcards. Furthermore, it will allow all learners to cover a great deal of material in a relatively short space of time. Good luck to all GCSE and A-Level students in their revision and exams!