With exam season rapidly approaching, I wanted to write a blog post just listing the best resources and apps that you can use to improve your productivity and efficiency and hopefully help with revision or even just daily life.
Flashcards – Anki, Quizlet
As you’ve probably heard me talking about before, the main flashcard software I use is an app called Anki. Anki is a very powerful flashcard program that allows you to make your own cards or download decks created by other people. Crucially it uses an algorithm built around active recall and spaced repetition and learns as you progress through your studies and revision. I cannot emphasise enough how important active recall and spaced repetition are for studying and so to have it built into this app really is fantastic. Personally, I found Anki particularly useful for two key things:
1. Firstly, memorising particular facts – for example, as a medical student I used it a lot for pharmacology – learning the names of drugs and what they do.
2. Secondly, I also used it to help memorise particular paragraphs that I could slot into appropriate essays.
One of my friends from university actually switched from making notes in lectures to going straight to making flashcards with Anki and he managed to finish top in our end of year exams. Perhaps one of the downsides of Anki is that it does require more work to create your cards but the spaced repetition algorithm that it uses, which you can customise, is absolutely fantastic.
Although I have less experience using it, Quizlet is an equally effective flashcard app for using across multiple platforms. One advantage that it can claim to hold over Anki is its superior user interface. It’s really simple to set-up and navigate, allowing you to easily create your own cards or download appropriate ‘decks’ that have been made by other students. The app is used by over 50 million students and teachers worldwide, so you’ll have access to literally millions of sets before you’ve even made your own. The downside is that the app is supported by ads – you can upgrade at a reasonably low cost but it means it’s not entirely free like Anki.
As you can see, they each have their pros and cons – I would perhaps try using both and see which one works better for you. Ultimately, they both do very similar things – I preferred Anki but 50 million students who use Quizlet each month can’t all be wrong!
Note-Taking – Evernote, OneNote, Notion, Notability
Although evidence suggests that note-taking isn’t the best way to study, we can still derive benefit from taking notes to supplement our revision (which should be based around active recall and spaced repetition!). I’ve used a range of note-taking apps during my time as a student and as a doctor, below are just a few that I’ve found particularly helpful.
Evernote has been a really popular resource for students (and adults alike) for a number of years now which means that it’s a developed and trusted note-taking app. It’s packed full of different functions that enable you to consolidate your work in one place as well as categorise different subjects. One other useful feature is the ability to instantly (and easily) search for anything in your notes or files. This might seem simple but so often this is more difficult than it should be with these sorts of apps! Finally, it works across multiple devices which is always helpful and convenient as your information is always with you. Once again, it’s not actually an app that I’ve used extensively but that’s got nothing to do with the quality of Evernote.
OneNote is often the forgotten sibling of the Microsoft Office applications – it’s often in the shadow of its more well-known relatives – Word, Excel and PowerPoint. But it shouldn’t be. OneNote is a very powerful tool for capturing and organising your notes within an interface which is relatively simple to use. Personally, I relied on OneNote extensively when I was a student in order to keep track of all my handwritten notes which I would scan in and then add to using the infinite horizontal canvas provided by OneNote. If you haven’t checked it out before and you’ve got a Microsoft Account, then it’s definitely worth having a look.
One of the main reasons I don’t really use OneNote as much anymore is because I found Notion. Notion really changed the note-taking and organisational game for me. It really is a multi-functional and incredibly useful app allowing you to categorise topics, break down subjects into series of toggles and it’s probably become the all-in-one workspace for everything in my life – from planning YouTube videos to organising notes to keeping track of to-do lists – in fact, I’m trying to transform Notion almost into my ‘second brain’. I really cannot speak highly enough of Notion and I’ve done a number of specific videos about how I use Notion which you can find here and here. If there is one app that you decide to download from this list, then make it Notion…
Unlike the previous suggestions, Notability is a handwritten note-taking app. I’ve done a series of videos on how I took notes on an iPad using Notability and I still use the app today for both work-related things as well as planning videos for my YouTube channel or writing down ideas for blog articles like this. If you want a good note-taking app for your tablet, then Notability is certainly the one I’d recommend.
To-Do Lists – Todoist
Todoist is perhaps the most popular task manager in the world. It’s used by over 20 million people and has a range of really simple but highly effective functions built into an interface that is really simple to use. Like the name suggests, you can input to-do lists, plan your day, keep track of deadlines, organise modules and generally keep track of your work all in one place.
Revision Timetables – Google Sheets
Once I began to appreciate the power of spaced repetition and realised that retrospective revision timetables are far superior to the standard timetables most people rely on, I came to rely upon Google Sheets as it provided the perfect platform for a retrospective timetable technique based around spaced repetition. I have discussed more about what this particular system is in this blog post and in this video where I explain why retrospective timetables are highly effective and I preferred using Google Sheets specifically because it gives you access across devices – removing unnecessary friction of having to rely on having the latest software to open certain files. The other major advantage is that it’s free.
Pomodoro Techniques – Focus, Forest
I've actually written a blog post examining this technique (here) and, as I say in that article, ultimately, the Pomodoro technique relies on a timer and so you could use something as simple as a watch to put this technique into practice. However, certain apps have built-in functionality to allow you to work to the Pomodoro rhythm of working for 20 minutes, resting for 5 minutes and repeating that process for four cycles. Below are two apps that I've come across in my studies using this method...
Forest is perhaps superior to other Pomodoro apps because it incorporates both the Pomodoro technique with another means of keeping you focussed and not distracted by your phone – namely, you plant a tree whenever the timer begins and if you go off the app during the 20/25 minute period, the tree dies. It’s an interesting way to help keep you focused through using the Pomodoro technique as well as working on overcoming the distractions emanating from your phone by making sure you stay on the Forest app. I found it helpful and it’s really satisfying to see a forest sort of grow up the more Pomodoros you successfully complete without getting distracted! The only disadvantage – it’ll set you back an eye-watering £1.99
Focus is another app that my friend has used which is simple but effective (and free).
Journaling – Day One
You may be wondering why you’d want to be writing anything else if you’re hard at work revising but there’s actually quite a lot of evidence to suggest that journaling can have some really positive effects. For instance, how simply writing down a small list of things that you are grateful or thankful for each day can do more to boost your personal happiness than increases in salary. When you’re revising, a positive frame of mind is invaluable in reducing the friction of working and, perhaps, might make revision something which is enjoyable…perhaps…certainly I got some benefits from writing my thoughts down on a daily basis. Whilst some people prefer to use a physical journal, the app that I’ve used is…
Easy to use and simple to keep track of your notes. I’ve got a number of different ‘journal streams’ – for instance one recording my daily thoughts and another which records positive comments that I’ve received on YouTube or Instagram for instance. I’ve certainly got some benefits out of keeping track of things in this way so why not give it a go yourself…
I hope that this list has provided you with some suggestions that you can use to help improve your productivity and your studying. If you have any other suggestions or feel like I've missed any, then please let me know!