Brainscape Flashcards: Website and Mobile Apps

Brainscape is a website that offers flashcards on a variety of topics – more than just foreign language vocabulary – using graduated intervals for maximum repetition and reinforcement of least-known items.  This learning technique goes by many names (spaced repetition seems to be the most common among language learning sites) and it is indeed based on actual scientific research that you can read about in scholarly journals. Brainscape explains the cognitive science behind their system and cites their sources, which is extremely important to a researcher like me who values empirical data and facts over random anecdotes of personal failure or success.

The concept is simply to rate how well you felt you knew each item on a numerical scale, starting at 5 for perfectly down to 1 for not at all.  The items that you rate lower will reappear more often so that you can focus your attention on them rather than spending time on the ones you already know fairly well.  Currently there are flashcards available in the subjects of Test Prep (GRE & SAT vocabulary plus Driver’s Ed), Languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, ESL and survival Russian & Portuguese), and Knowledge Junkie (random facts for nerds like me). Audio is provided for many of the language cards and will be continually added for languages that do not already include it. Keyboard shortcuts are also available (spacebar and numbers) so you aren’t required to click constantly.

At this time, all of the flashcard sets are available for free on the website.  Just create an account or sign in with Facebook and add them to your library.  You can also create your own cards or import lists of items in XML or CSV format as well as share them with other users on the site. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, Brainscape also offers apps for each of the flashcard sets.  More than half are free through iTunes’ app store.  Eventually there will be a single app for accessing your library and syncing your progress between the website and app so that you can start learning on one platform and continue on the other with no interruption.

Even if flashcards are not your thing, Brainscape’s blog is still worth checking out for articles on learning, memory, cognition, education, etc. They update it quite frequently and have great guest bloggers and interviews.

Finally, I have five promo codes for the French Vocab Genius app for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch (normally $7.99) which includes nearly 3,000 audio flashcards. The first five people who e-mail me at ielanguages [at] gmail [dot] com requesting a code will receive one! [EDIT: All of the codes have been given away already!]

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  • Amanda Moritz

    Thanks for the review, Jennie! And, yes, the Brainscape blog is worth checking out :)

  • Andrew

    Your timing of this post wouldn’t have anything to do with’s recent demise, would it? Good call ;)

    But I’ll probably stick with Anki–do you prefer one over the other for any particular reason (that is, Anki over Brainscape)? In other words, can you give me a good reason to switch, because so far Anki has kicked ass, but I could always be missing something I don’t know about.


  • Jennie Wagner

    No, actually I never used and didn’t know they were shutting down till you mentioned it in your post. Brainscape just did a redesign of their site and I had been trying out their apps recently so that’s why I posted about them now.

    Anki offers more flashcards, but I don’t like their software (too slow and clunky, adding audio is kind of a pain) or website version (doesn’t work for me) and I haven’t tried their app because $25 is too expensive for an app that is basically a shell program with no content of its own. I do like their sharing and syncing features but Brainscape offers or will offer the same thing. I guess I’m just dissatisfied with Anki and have hope that Brainscape will improve upon the concept.

  • Andrew

    Ah ok, I didn’t know that. I haven’t tried the audio feature on Anki but it is a bit slow, though not enough that it really bothers me much. I’ll give brainscape a go, thanks for the tip.

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.


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