Anki is probably one of the most popular tools used by anyone wishing to memorize a lot of information fast.
A free (and powerful) digital flashcard app that syncs across multiple devices, tons of students of various disciplines (languages, programming, math, etc.) swear by it.
But does it lend itself well to med school prep? And can it help students score high on the MCAT?
That’s what this article aims to answer!
Here you’ll learn:
- If Anki is actually good for helping with the MCAT
- Pros and cons of using Anki for MCAT prep
- How best to use it
- Alternative apps/resources
As a medical student myself (who’s written dozens of articles about Anki), I hope I can help you better determine if this is the education tool for you.
Anki gets a lot of hype but is it worth it?
Let’s find out!
Is Anki good for MCAT?
Yes, Anki is good for MCAT. As a digital flashcard app, it can help you memorize key informational concepts of the exam. But its efficacy comes down to three things; how cards are formatted, if you make your own, and what decks you use.
But how intensively you use it and how you apply what you learn to actual questions, is important too!
That’s why most MCAT preppers strongly advise you to use varied resources.
Anki is no replacement for the AMCAS’ official MCAT study materials. You need to ensure you understand the concepts first!
Actual exam practice, coupled with Anki revision, is what you want to aim for.
Note: If want a real opinion on how good/bad Anki is for MCAT (or how effective a pre-made deck can be), I really suggest you dip into some of the reports on r/AnkiMCAT. It’s a great resource!
Cons of using Anki for MCAT
Weighing up the pros and cons of using Anki before you decide to dive into it is important.
If you’re unfamiliar or unsure when it comes to using new study tools, you need to be careful.
This last point is possibly one of the biggest cons of Anki; learning how to use the software can take a serious amount of time.
But here are some other downsides:
- Anki’s learning curve (modifying and adjusting settings is complicated, installing and using plugins is also tricky)
- Anki’s difficult interface (especially compared to alternatives – more on these later!)
- The time suck of making your own cards
- The difference between flashcard recall and answering MCAT-style question passages
- Your idea of what a “good” flashcard is (review SuperMemo’s Twenty Rules of Formulating Knowledge to learn the rules)
- The commitment of keeping up with reviews – sacrificing study time focused on question practice or learning new material
Of course, many of these drawbacks can be overcome by dedicating some time to learning how to use Anki effectively.
But something else to consider, especially when it comes to using the many pre-made Anki MCAT decks out there, is this…
Using pre-made Anki decks for MCAT can be risky.
The main reasons why pre-made decks can be ineffective include:
- Made by students (people who still haven’t reached mastery of the concepts)
- Go quickly out-of-date (they’re made once and rarely updated to reflect the MCAT’s changing content)
- Errata and mistakes
- Not 100% comprehensive (some are a mix and match of multiple decks)
- Varied quality (cards don’t present all the facts optimally)
So my own basic advice here (especially as someone who loves and advocates using pre-made decks), is to temper your expectations and use pre-made Anki decks with caution.
Rules for using pre-made decks
But if you do decide to use them, ensure you do the following…
- Run through (many) practice questions to check you correctly understand concepts
- Check what other students say about decks you consider using (Reddit is the best place to get feedback)
It’s important you find something that fits your learning style and the time you have available.
Pros of using Anki for MCAT
Clearly, Anki has a ton of pros when it comes to studying any information-intensive subject.
The MCAT, with its biology, chemistry, and physics heavy syllabus, lends itself excellently to the key features of the tool.
Recalling facts, due to the software’s spaced repetition algorithm, is massively effective.
Unlike expensive MCAT prep courses or lots of other specific resources, Anki is free too.
You only have to pay if you want it on an Apple phone or tablet (a $25 investment in that case).
Aside from these two major pros, Anki offers a lot more high points for MCAT study also.
Here’s a roundup of the key ones:
- Anki “self tests” you on facts and concepts critical to the MCAT (provided you make cards or download pre-made ones)
- The spaced repetition system (SRS) is based on the “forgetting curve” (ensuring you recall information right before you’re due to forget it)
- Its dynamic (plugins mean you can do things like occlude images, type in answers, see a heatmap of future reviews etc.)
- Saves time (reviewing your MCAT notes digitally avoids the chaos of paper)
- Integrates multimedia (you can add images, sounds and videos to your cards)
As mentioned before, you’ll get the most use out of Anki when using it as an accompanying resource for other study aids.
Learning and understanding concepts first, by reading or watching lectures, etc., is critical to the spaced repetition process.
The best practice would be to do something like running through the popular Khan Academy MCAT review series first, then making Anki flashcards as you go.
But you can also “unlock” cards from pre-made decks using similar resources. Meaning you can learn the concepts from review books like Kaplan and then do the flashcards.
Many of the MCAT Anki decks I review work on this exact principle!
Who should use Anki for MCAT?
Many students do well on the MCAT avoiding Anki entirely. Others make only light use of it to memorize key equations and formulas.
Personally, I feel you should only use Anki for MCAT if you fit the following criteria:
- You’ve used (and are familiar with) Anki before
- You have plenty of study/prep time to find decks right for you/make your own cards
- You feel flashcards are an absolute necessity to helping you recall/memorize information
Because of many of the cons mentioned, I do feel that those unfamiliar with the software should probably avoid Anki if they simply don’t have the time available to play around and get comfortable using it.
If it eats into more critical uses of your time like CARS practice, general MCAT-style questions, etc., then there’s serious opportunity cost!
How to use Anki for MCAT
If you feel confident using Anki (or you’re at least willing to spend some time with tutorials), here’s how I feel you could best use it for the MCAT…
Give yourself leeway
If you’re close to getting a concept right, hit “good”.
This will make your reviews lighter and hopefully, if you’re balancing your study with regular question practice, it won’t lead to you missing the concept!
Learn MCAT concepts forwards and backwards
Keep one fact to a single card and ensure you learn it both forwards and backward.
E.G. Forwards: “….. is an amino acid with a sulfhydryl group” / Backward: “Cysteine is an amino acid with a …… group”
Use images and mnemonics
These can help with difficult/tricky concepts to help boost recall.
I like what Austin Nguyen has to say about how to improve your MCAT score with Anki.
Check out his tips below…
I’ve also put together an article on some more unusual or uncommon Anki tips that could lend themselves well to MCAT prep below…
How do I study for the MCAT with Anki?
Again, I’d emphasize using Anki alongside other primary study materials.
That ensures you grasp and understand the concepts first before blindly memorizing.
Because of the way MCAT vignettes are worded, and the fact they rely on arriving at the correct multiple choice answer via the application of logic, it’s doubly important.
A flashcard is no substitution for the types of questions the exam actually asks.
How many cards a day for the MCAT?
This depends on several factors:
- The size of the deck you’re using to make reviews (the bigger, the more reviews you’ll have etc.)
- The speed at which you review a card (I prefer anything between 10-15 seconds – lots of cards but fast reviews)
- Your interval settings (the number of days between seeing a repeated card set by the “good”, “easy” or “hard” buttons)
- Your own diligence and comfort
If you don’t do your reviews every day, they’ll add up.
But if you’re consistent but not allowing enough spacing, your reviews can also add up!
You’ll need to be as consistent as possible to get the most use out of Anki.
200-300 cards a day maximum
For something as intensive as the MCAT, I feel daily reviews should probably max out at somewhere like the 200-300 card mark.
Judging by my own estimations, doing single fact cards in med school, that can take up to an hour and a half of your time.
All your other time should go toward covering new material, practice questions, and troubleshooting/revisiting anything else from the exam you’re not entirely 100%.
Should I make my own Anki cards for MCAT?
This is the million-dollar question.
Here’s how I feel you should look at it:
Low on study time but familiar with Anki? Use pre-made decks!
Lots of study time and 100% confident Anki is the tool for you? Make your own cards!
Making your own cards has positive benefits over pre-made decks.
You can “personalize” cards in ways that can help you better recall them. And you can tailor them to your own weaknesses.
Alternative MCAT flashcard/study resources
Skipping out on Anki entirely to help you study for the MCAT is no big deal.
Thousands of students do this every year!
Thanks to the following alternatives, you don’t have to use Anki to help you memorize the mountain of content that makes up the MCAT.
Here are some popular alternatives
- Memm: A more intuitive flashcard application that prides itself on delivering only the most high yield MCAT content without the review pile-up and common stressors of Anki.
- Official MCAT Flashcards: The AAMC’s official analog cards with 150 independent practice questions written by actual MCAT developers.
- MCAT prep by MedSchoolCoach: A fully comprehensive MCAT study guide mobile app with podcast audio content, video tutorials and a progress tracker.
Best MCAT Anki Decks
Because I’m very much in favor of using pre-made decks as a medical student (I’ve made a lot of Anki deck guides for different subjects), I’m keen on providing strong, impartial, and up-to-date deck recommendations as much as possible when it comes to the MCAT.
The article below (generally updated several times a year) is a good resource.
Obviously, all of these recommendations are free but please do consider all the pros and cons discussed above!
Also, take your time learning about what each deck offers, review the styling, and see what other students studying for the MCAT say about them.
Committing to one deck is better than dipping into several and leaving each unfinished!
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a huge fan of Anki.
I’ve been using it for almost a decade!
Despite my bias, however, I do appreciate that it’s not always the best option.
Sure it’s free but it’s not without drawbacks.
Have a skim over the suggestions in this article and see if you feel this tool is truly right for you.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.