Five Reasons USMLE Flashcards Might Be a Good Fit for You

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • To date, I have spoken with over 780 students about preparing for their USMLE exams. Hence, I have grown quite used to asking people, “And do you ever use flashcards?” and hearing someone answer, “No… they are the worst” on the other end.

    In truth, flashcards have a bad rep. I get it — even the word flashcard in my mind drags up an old image of SAT vocabulary or first graders learning how to spell. Yet, they are one the most powerful and underutilized tools in preparing for the USMLEs — Steps 1, 2 CK and 3!

    Here’s five reasons why flashcards might be a good fit for you:

    1. You would rather get a hug, then study a bug or drug.

    Here at MST,  there are often two different types of students when it comes to content. 1) students that have an easier time with conceptual material (like the organ systems) and then struggle with more rote memorization topics (micro and pharm aka the bugs and drugs) AND 2) students that have a hard time with the conceptual material, and love the bugs and drugs.

    Most people belong in the first group and anyone who dreads pharm NEEDS TO BE USING FLASHCARDS. I get it — pharm is often boring. It’s a lot of brute memorization. Yet trying to learn it out of a book, or on a huge piece of paper, is only going to make it worse. Flashcards will help improve your retention of the material and you can even make studying drugs into a fun game. Don’t miss out on easy points because you avoided studying pharm!

    2. They Can Keep You on Track.

    Anyone who has ever experienced a dedicated study period knows that time is a tricky beast. What feels like hours and hours, will actually only be minutes! And when the way the heart works is finally clicking, a day of studying can feel like the blink of an eye. Hence, building in ways to track time through your studying can be vital to progress.

    By dividing up a day of studies by doing sets of flashcards (either by subject or a random set of 20 for example), you take control of organizing your time. Additionally, they are a great way to break up studying and help keep your interest. I am sure everyone has experienced some serious brain fatigue after reading a rather dense chapter (#StepUptoMedicine). By switching to flashcards after, you get to keep studying and also feel like a human again!

    3. You can take them on the go!

    The reality is, even if you have the most supportive family in the world that is happy to do your laundry, cook, and clean for you while you prepare, you will undoubtedly have to spend some time taking a train to a doctor’s appointment or running on a treadmill. As you may not want to horrify your neighbor on the elliptical by bringing your copy of First Aid, digital flashcards are the most portable form of studying!

    Companies like Memorang, dare I say it, have even managed to make their flashcards sexy! Hence, this tool can help you redirect the most mundane part of your days towards helping your excel on the USMLEs.

    4. You don’t need to make them by hand! In fact, you don’t need to make them period.

    As per my previous point, just like Beyonce keeps raising the bar, so do flashcard apps. Try your best to forget those 3 x 5 index cards from middle school. Flashcards no longer mean pouring over a textbook and copying as much writing as possible into those cramped lines!

    We get it — your time is limited! Let some USMLE rockstars help you out by purchasing complete decks that are already locked and loaded with the information you need to succeed. I can’t tell you how many students say they have a hard time discerning what is “high yield.” By purchasing Memorang’s Step 1 deck, they are giving you a headstart — as they have already underscored the most important information you will need for your exam.

    5. You are a human.

    The bottom line is med school is very hard and there is a lot of information to learn! Even for any superhumans out there, there are going to things (especially from M1) that will pop up on all three Steps (even Shelf exams) that you can’t possibly expect yourself to remember. Flashcards are an easy way to brush up on old material — especially if you opt to get a pre-made deck!

    The bottom line is… flashcards are an easy tool! Don’t let yourself miss out.