How to Best Use Flashcards to Study for the MCAT

Session 55

Flashcards are a great tool to have for all your studying needs. Bryan and I discuss how to use flashcards for the MCAT to maximize your study time!  Also check out our other podcasts over at MedEdMedia.com including The Premed Years Podcast, Specialty Stories, The OldPreMeds Podcast, and much more.

[01:31] Buying Them versus Making Them

Flashcards are one of the most popular study tools out there. There are lots of different options and the first (and biggest) consideration is whether you should buy them or make them.

Bryan says he's contractually required as a teacher to say it's always better to make your own. The act of making your own flashcards really helps solidify the information on them. And sometimes just the act of making them helps you learn the material better than just buying the flashcards.

[02:57] Paper Flashcards versus Digital Flashcards

The AAMC sells flashcards. For $10, you can buy flashcards direct from the AAMC. But you want to be real clear on what the product is. The fact it's an official AAMC prep product means a lot of people are just going to buy it without checking it first. But the AAMC flashcards are little 3 x 5 cards. A science discrete question is printed on one side and the answer is printed on the other side. If what you want is a hundred discrete science questions, go ahead and buy the card deck. But spending $10 for a hundred discrete science questions, Bryan says, is a pretty bad deal. For $30, you can already get 2,000 science questions from something like the Next Step MCAT QBook.

So, Bryan warns you to not be fooled in the sense that the AAMC is not a series of science flashcards like you'd normally think of. You can go to one of the big publishing companies like the Barron's MCAT Flashcards you can pick up at Barnes and Noble. However, Bryan doesn't recommend them. In fact, the ones you can have on your phone are much better. But if you have an old-fashioned study style, then the print flashcards from Barron's are totally fine.

[04:50] AAMC Flashcards versus Digital Flashcards

When you think about how people would study with flashcards, they're meant for learning, drilling, and repeating content. For example, one side says “List all the hormones secreted by the anterior pituitary” and then the other side of the flashcard lists the answers. It's about drilling science facts, not practicing questions and passages and strategies. So, it struck Bryan as really weird when the AAMC says they're offering flash cards. He was totally psyched. But what we got instead is this weird little collection of practice problems. But that's what you use an online question bank for.

Bryan prefers the digital flashcards because it is spaced repetition as a learning technique. What a good flashcard app will do is provide you with a spaced repetition algorithm. The underlying idea is if it's something you're good at, you should repeat it very rarely. And if it's something you're bad at or you're still trying to master, you should repeat it more frequently.

[06:35] Brainscape and Anki Apps

Brainscape is the company that Next Step Test Prep partners with. They have an app that will show you your MCAT flashcards. Then as you answer each question on each flashcard, you push a little button in half a second. Rate it from one to five. Five is where you perfectly know the card and one is you've gotten it completely wrong. As you cycle through the cards, the app is smart enough to show you any card you rated one, two, or three more frequently. Then the three's and four's are shown less frequently and the five's even less. So, if you just sit down and keep turning on these flashcards until you've turned all of them from one to three ratings to five's then you really know that you've mastered the content.

Another hugely popular option is the AnkiApp, a flashcard display algorithm. It doesn't provide you with the completed flashcards itself. You can download Anki and make your own flashcards – which is the best.  Or they have this built-in function to share decks of flashcards with each other. You can look around online and find someone else's deck of MCAT flashcards. But be careful since you're relying on the quality created by other users. It's a free app but you have the option to upgrade to the premium version if you like.

[09:03] When to Start Using Flashcards

If you're thinking of being premed, then start using flashcard app style of studying your facts as early as freshman year of college. This makes sure all of the content you're learning just doesn't just disappear out of your head the second you take your exam. Because then when you get around to taking the MCAT when you're a junior in college, much more of it will have been stuck in your head.

Bryan recalls being second year of college. He was taking a class and the professor asked a question that brought up a point. He remembers raising his hand and bringing up something from the previous course. The professor got shocked since he never had a student bring up something from last semester's class before. It's depressing everyone just immediately forgets everything after the final exam. Unfortunately, this really hurts you when the MCAT rolls around. So the sooner you can start learning on a permanent basis, the better.

Links:

Next Step Test Prep

Next Step MCAT QBook

Brainscape

AnkiApp

MedEdMedia.com

Barron's MCAT Flashcards

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