There is a huge debate between medical students about which flashcard app is the best to use. Almost all the other medics I know use flashcards as one of their main study tools, so finding the perfect app is vital! There are three main apps that I see commonly being used and having used all three myself, I thought it would be useful to write a post comparing the pros and cons of each app. Of course, these are all my personal opinions based on my experiences of using the apps and I definitely recommend you try them all out for yourself, but hopefully this post can help you to decide on which ones you might prefer!
ANKI is probably the most popular app used by medical students, especially in the US. In my medical school, I would guess that around 50% of students use ANKI actively, myself included. There are many features that make ANKI the perfect flashcard app for learning the endless amounts of facts we need to know in medical school. I’ve written a whole blog post about my favourite ANKI add-ons for medical students, which you can check out here.
- Integrated spaced repetition – This is one of the best features of ANKI by FAR. If you do all your flashcards consistently, this is one of the most important
- More powerful – The power of ANKI lies in the statistics you can see with regards to your flashcards, the ability to customise it as much as you want and of course the integrated spaced repetition.
- Ability to install add-ons – For me, this is the one main reason why I could never imagine switching away from ANKI. There are so many things you can do that are impossible in all other flashcard apps. I’ve written a whole post about my top add ons for medical school, which you can see here.
- Easy to use offline – As someone who spends a lot of time on the London underground, I find this feature absolutely essential. It means that my flashcards are always accessible and I can study them anywhere and everywhere. This is vital as it means I can use ‘waiting time’ and commute time productively.
- Tags – Tags are especially useful if you have a lot of cards and want to be able to find information fast. I would recommend using tags for topics, rather than question type
- Custom study – This is yet another features that proves how powerful ANKI is! Custom study allows you to filter your decks to increase your new card limit, review ahead, preview new cards or study by card state or tag!
- Pre-made decks – Although it is usually better to make your own flashcards, the ability to easily import someone else’s flashcards is amazing! It also makes it incredibly simple to share your resources with your friends – sharing is caring!
- iOS app price – Many students are put off by the price of the iOS app as it is definitely not cheap! However, I would say that it was one of the best purchases I made during medical school – far more valuable than any textbook I bought.
- Need to remember to sync – This isn’t a huge con for me anymore because I’ve become used to syncing my ANKI account on whatever device I am as soon as I am finished with my flashcards, but it is definitely something that takes some getting used to!
- Not the prettiest design – Many people complain about the design of ANKI. It is very simple and is designed for functionality, rather than to look nice. For me, this isn’t a huge con. In fact, I find that the simple design allows me to focus more when studying! For those of you that prefer a flashcard app with better design, there are many ways of customising your ANKI app too!
Quizlet is probably the most popular flashcard app out there! There are hundreds of resources avaliable within the app from certified teachers and other students.
- Many different ways to study the same flashcard decks – Quizlet allows you to study the same deck of flashcards in multiple ways, including regular flashcards, quizzes, type the answer, multiple choice questions and even games! This can make studying a lot more fun and enjoyable!
- Clean and simple design – The design of Quizlet is definitely the best of the three apps on this list. The interface is clean and simple to avoid any distractions!
- Hundreds of pre-made decks – For me, the fact that Quizlet has so many decks made by other people avaliable is a huge benefit. It allows you to easily look up a topic you want to study and save time on making your own flashcard deck. Of course, you have to be careful as the information is not checked and there many be errors.
- Free version is fairly restrictive – the paid version gives you a lot of additional features, including spaced repetition, the ability to incorporate your own pictures, the ability to remove ads and the possibility of creating diagram flashcards. This is one of the main reasons why
- Hard to customise your study sessions – When reviewing your flashcards there are two main ways to view them, either in the order you added them or in random order. Personally, I don’t like either option because they both mean you are reviewing cards that you know very well. Of course, with spaced repetition this is no longer the case, but this involves upgrading!
I had never heard of Brainscape before starting medical school, but since first year it has quickly become a favourite of mine. Although I definitely don’t use it as much as ANKI, I’ve found it very useful as a secondary resource. Many students in years above me have made their own flashcard decks on Brainscape, which they share with us younger years. This means that I don’t need to waste time on making my own resources and can instead focus on studying!
- Integrated spaced repetition – In many ways, I prefer the spaced repetition in Brainscape to ANKI. It asks you to rate each card from 1 to 5 based on how well you knew the answer, which seems more intuitive to me than in ANKI where you answer with ‘Good’ or ‘Easy’ etc.. I also find it very satisfying to see the bar slowly fill in with more blue as you mark more cards as 5 i.e. you know them perfectly.
- Very user friendly – Brainscape is incredibly easy to use and there are no annoying ads disrupting your study sessions! It’s very nicely designed with bold colours, which makes it a joy to use!
- Many certified classes – Unlike ANKI and Quizlet, there are hundreds of classes that have been checked by professionals including a whole MCAT folder with many decks!
- Expensive – although the free version is more than enough if you want to make and study your own flashcards, there are many additional features you can unlock with a premium account. If you decide that Brainscape is the best app for you, I would definitely recommend getting an upgrade on your account!
- Cannot archive decks – Usually I’m focusing on a few decks, but would still like to have previous ones for future reference. With the way Brainscape organises your decks, you have to scroll through your entire library to find the relevant ones!
Overall, I think that all three apps have certain cases in which they excel and others where they fall behind, so they are all worth a try! As a medical student, I would have to say that ANKI is definitely the one I would recommend to anyone studying a content-heavy course or one that is very visual!
Which flashcard app is your favourite?