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Better note card program

August 27, 2010

One of the things that medical students are notorious for is making their own flashcards.  You can always pick out a med student in a coffee shop because they will have the biggest stacks of note cards sitting in front of them and they will be flipping through them, looking off into space trying to remember what’s on the back side as they look at each one.

Why do med students make so many note cards?  It’s one of the easiest and most efficient ways to memorize information and whether or not we like it, medical school is mostly memorization.  Unfortunately, managing such huge stacks of note cards is not easy, especially as the year goes on and the numbers run well into the thousands.  The best way to deal with this is to use an electronic flashcard program.

I have been using Microsoft’s Ink Flash Cards program to make note cards for our musculoskeletal section.  It’s nice because I can clip pictures from PowerPoint slides and past them onto a note card.  Actual note cards would require me to draw structures out–too time consuming and inaccurate (I am, above all, NOT an artist).  You can also flip through the note cards in order of creation or a randomly selected order.  And the program allows you to tag unfamiliar note cards and only flip through those, a really great feature when you have limited time and don’t want the “thoroughness” of reviewing every single note card.

However, like most Microsoft products, there are about a dozen little things that absolutely drive me NUTS!

  • You can’t flip through the note cards by looking at the “back” of the card first.  The front always displays first.  This is really frustrating because to really have the content memorized you should be able to look at either side of the card and predict what’s on the other side.
  • You can’t change the default font style or size.  I’m not typing out books on these cards, therefore I want the text to be large and easy to read.  Unfortunately, that means I have to right click the text, choose the font submenu and manually change the settings for every. single. card.
  • When you paste a picture onto the card, it automatically sets it in the upper left corner.  For a program such as this, it should automatically center the image and make it as large as possible on the card (while keeping the original aspect ratio–e.g. don’t stretch the image to fill the whole note card).
  • You can’t navigate through the cards with keyboard shortcuts (at least I can’t figure out how to do it).  You can move from card to card using the arrow keys, but you can’t “flip” them over using the keyboard.  You have to click this tiny up-turned corner in the bottom right hand corner to see the back of the card.  MASSIVELY inefficient.
  • You can’t change the default “size” of the cards.  I use a 24″ wide-screen monitor.  I want the note cards to take as much space as they can, so I can consequently fit as much information on them as possible and still be able to read it.  Every time you start a new stack of cards or open an existing stack, it displays them as 3×5 cards.  Now, you can change this by dragging the edges of the program window to make them bigger, but it would be much, much more efficient if you could just tell the program that you want all of your note cards to be 4×6 or 10×15 or whatever and have them always displayed as that size.
  • You can’t change the color of your note cards.  If a specific concept is really important, I might want to make that single note card red.  Impossible with Ink Flash Cards.
  • If you paste an image onto the card and then use the highlighting function to highlight a word, you are unable to group the highlighting with the image.  So, if you move or re-size the image, the highlighting doesn’t move or change size.
  • There is no inherent organization or management system for multiple stack of cards.  You can only create individual stacks of cards.  There is no ability to link related, but separate stacks together.  This is less important than the other problems.

I could go on, but those are probably the biggest problems from my standpoint.  Programmers, you have your orders, now do your thing and create a better electronic note card application.  And if you really want to stand out, make it so I can sync them up with my iPhone (over-the-air, continual syncing would be ideal).  I would pay good money for a program that fixed all of these problems.

If anybody has any suggestions for better programs, they are greatly appreciated.  I googled “flash card programs” but that didn’t seem to turn up anything worthwhile.

ADDENDUM

I also just discovered that Microsoft’s Ink Flash Cards program creates GIGANTIC files.  I have a file with 15 cards that is 90.4 MB.  The same file “converted” to PowerPoint (I copied all the material onto slides, producing 30 slides) is a mere 645 KB (or 0.62988 MB).  Why does Ink Flash Cards do this?  I have no idea.

The best flash card program may, in fact, be PowerPoint.  The only advantage Ink Flash Cards gives you is the ability to review them in a randomized order.  This, however, can be overcome.  First, you must make your “flash cards” into a single slide (ie–the trick I use will not work if you have separate slides for the “prompt” and “answer”).  This requires adding an animation to the “answer” so that you don’t see the answer initially, but it appears when you click.  Then, create a macro (if you don’t already know how to create a macro, don’t try this) with the following code:

Sub sort_rand()

    Dim i As Integer
    Dim myvalue As Integer
    Dim islides As Integer
    islides = ActivePresentation.Slides.Count
    For i = 1 To ActivePresentation.Slides.Count
        myvalue = Int((i * Rnd) + 1)
        ActiveWindow.ViewType = ppViewSlideSorter
        ActivePresentation.Slides(myvalue).Select
        ActiveWindow.Selection.Cut
        ActivePresentation.Slides(islides - 1).Select
        ActiveWindow.View.Paste
    Next

End Sub

[source]

Your slides should now be in a random order.  You can then run this macro each time you want to quiz yourself in a different order.

Smaller files, review material full-screen, random order, more design options and flexibility, keyboard navigation–yes, PowerPoint may be the best flash card program already on your computer.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2010 12:32 pm

    My favorite flash card program is Mnemosyne (http://www.mnemosyne-proj.org/). I don’t know if it does everything you want, but it’s at least worth looking at.

  2. October 14, 2010 4:17 am

    In my opinion, nothing beats Anki (I’ve tried Mnemosyne–but only briefly). I think Anki does everything you want. You can organize the cards with tags, change the “priority” so that an important card will show up more frequently, and you can review a single set of tags in “cram” mode. The only thing you can’t do is resize images.

    Sigh… I could go on about how much I love this program–Anki and I spend several hours each day together… I’ll just give you the link though.

    http://ichi2.net/anki/

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