How to Best Use Flashcards for the MCAT (Anki and Beyond)

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Session 55

Flashcards are a great tool to utilize as a premed. Whether you’re using Anki, Quizlet, Brainscape, or your own handwritten flashcards, they can be a very effective study method.

Today, I chat with Bryan from Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep) about how to use flashcards for the MCAT to maximize your study time!

[01:31] Buying MCAT Flashcards versus Making Them

Flashcards are one of the most popular study tools out there. There are many 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. Sometimes just the act of making them helps you learn the material better than any result you can get with flashcards you buy.

The act of making your own flashcards really helps solidify the information on them.Click To Tweet

[02:57] Paper MCAT Flashcards vs Digital Flashcards

The AAMC sells flashcards. For $10, you can buy flashcards direct from the AAMC. But you want to be real clear about 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 out first. But the AAMC flashcards are just 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 fifty discrete science questions, go ahead and buy the card deck. But spending $10 for a hundred fifty discrete science questions, Bryan says, is a pretty bad deal. For $30, you can get 2,000 science questions from something like the Next Step MCAT QBook.

Alternatives to the AAMC Flashcards

So, Bryan warns you not to be fooled into expecting the AAMC flashcards to be anything remarkable. You can also 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.

For most students nowadays, flashcards 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 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, passages, and strategies.

So, it struck Bryan as really weird when the AAMC says they’re offering flash cards. He was totally psyched. Then what we got is this weird little collection of practice problems. But that’s what you use an online question bank for.

Bryan prefers digital flashcards because they can use 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.

Bryan prefers digital flashcards because they can use spaced repetition as a learning technique.Click To Tweet

[06:35] Brainscape and Anki Apps for MCAT Studying

Brainscape is the company that Blueprint MCAT (formerly 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, Brainscape is smart enough to show you any card you rated one, two, or three more frequently. Then the threes and fours are shown less frequently, and the fives even less often. So if you just sit down and keep working with these flashcards until you’ve turned all of them from ones to threes, and then to fives, then you really know you’ve mastered the content.

Using Anki for MCAT flashcards

Another hugely popular option is the Anki App, 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 Anki deck of MCAT flashcards. But be careful since you’re relying on the quality created by other users. It’s a free app to use on your computer, but you have the option to upgrade to the premium version if you like, and then you can use it on your phone, too.

[09:03] When to Start Using MCAT Flashcards

If you’re thinking of being premed, then start using a flashcard app to study as early as freshman year. 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, much more of it will still be in your head.

Bryan recalls being in his second year of college. He was taking a class, and the professor asked a question. Bryan remembers raising his hand and bringing up something from the previous semester. The professor was 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 their final exams. Unfortunately, this really hurts you when the MCAT rolls around. So the sooner you can start learning on a permanent basis, the better.

The sooner you can start learning on a permanent basis, the better.Click To Tweet

Links and Other Resources