Flashcard App Showdown: Quizlet vs. Anki vs. Memrise

As a long-time user of flashcards to study vocabulary, I am always looking for easier and better flashcard techniques.  Back in my high school days I created a huge stack of paper cards to study for the SAT, and I had an intricate system of sorting the cards into piles based on how familiar I was with each word and thus how frequently I needed to study it.  I would carry piles of cards in my pocket whenever I went for a walk or was stuck riding in a car, so I could pull them out and practice a little at a time.   Fortunately flashcards have come a long way since the paper days, and there are several excellent websites and smartphone apps that make it easy and fun for a language learner to learn and study vocabulary, both written and audio.  A good flashcard app on a smartphone is a wonderful modern replacement for carrying piles of paper cards everywhere.   As part of my vocabulary study during the Couch to Korean Challenge, I have been using three of the most popular flashcard programs, and today I will talk about my experience with Quizlet, Anki, and Memrise.  Full details are below, but after extensive testing the overall scores I assigned to each of the three are:

  • Quizlet: 55/70

  • Anki: 37/70

  • Memrise: 53/70


My desiderata for a flashcard app for language learning:

  1. Simple app interface: I like simple flashcards, with the word to learn on one side and the English translation on the other; audio is also extremely nice, if not a must-have.  Similarly, I like simple app interfaces, without a lot of extraneous buttons and icons and sounds.   A good flashcard app should make it easy to plan your study sessions, to create and organize your card decks, and to track your progress. (Quizlet 9/10, Memrise 6/10, Anki 6/10)
  2. Variety of study modes: Flipping through a large deck of flashcards can get boring after a while.  Luckily, good apps offer study modes like multiple choice, matching games, and other challenges to break up the monotony. (Quizlet 7/10,  Memrise 6/10, Anki 3/10)
  3. Built-in spaced repetition:   Back when I was manually sorting my paper cards into frequency and recency piles, I didn’t know about the research in spaced repetition, a learning technique that optimizes the interval of time between reviewing an item to be learned.  But now algorithms for spaced repetition are built into many flashcard apps, which saves the learner the trouble of managing the mechanics of card decks. (Memrise 10/10, Anki 8/10, Quizlet 0/10)
  4. Synchronization with web interface: There are many things that are much easier to do in a web interface on a computer vs. on the tiny smartphone screen.  Good flashcard apps have seamless integration of web and app versions so you can use both as needed and maintain a synchronized progress. (Quizlet 10/10, Memrise 9/10, Anki  2/10)
  5. Easy to create and edit new card decks:  As I come across new words, I want to be able to add them to my “New words to study” deck.  And as I master words, I want to easily remove them and still maintain the status of the other words. (Quizlet 11/10, Memrise 10/10, Anki 1/10)
  6. Easy to find and access card decks created by other people: Thousands of card decks have been created and made public by students and teachers.  I want to be able to easily find the most useful ones and study them as if they were my own. (Quizlet 10/10, Anki 8/10, Memrise 5/10)
  7. Free:  There are a lot of free flashcard apps to choose from, and I am not willing to pay for fancy bells and whistles that I don’t need nor want. (Anki 9/10, Quizlet 8/10, Memrise 7/10)


The Quizlet homepage advertises that Quizlet provides  “Simple tools for learning anything.  Search millions of study sets or create your own. Improve your grades by studying with flashcards, games and more. 194,597,000 Study Sets and Counting.”   Which seems to meet most of our flashcard app desiderata.  The Quizlet website has an impressive selection of flashcard search, creation, and study options.  They offer free iOS and Android apps.  I have been extensively testing the Quizlet website and the Android app.

I like Quizlet a lot.  It is easy to use for everyone from elementary school kids through adult independent learners.  It has a huge database of available card decks, and it has a nice variety of easy-to-use features.  My detailed Quizlet review is below.

Overall score for Quizlet: 55/70

Quizlet App

App interface:  9/10  The Quizlet Android App is well-designed and easy to use.    Cards are easy to view, with intuitive icons for navigation, study modes, audio, and card organization.

Study modes:  7/10  The Quizlet App has basic study modes ranging from simple card review through matching games and various types of tests.  My favorites are simple flashcard mode and auto-play mode of a card deck, in which the audio for the Korean word is spoken, then after a pause the English equivalent is spoken.  This is perfect for studying vocabulary while walking or anytime I don’t have hands free to navigate the cards themselves.  The only mode that I found not at all useful for my purposes was “Write” mode, where you need to type the exact characters on a card;  I found this a waste of time (for example, if you type “region” and the answer is “area / region” then you can’t advance to the next card until you retype the exact answer with all spaces and punctuation exactly as on the card).

Spaced repetition:  0/10   Spaced repetition, or “long-term learning” as they call it, is only available in Quizlet if you pay for Quizlet Plus for $20/year.  I did not pay for Quizlet Plus, so there is no spaced repetition in Quizlet, which is obviously a huge negative.

Web interface: 10/10  The Quizlet web interface is well-synchronized with the app.  If you log into your account on each, you can edit in one place and it immediately shows up on the other.   Search results on both web and app are identical.   The web interface also has additional study modes that work well in a large browser window but not in a small app screen.

Ease of creating new decks:   11/10 The ease of deck creation in Quizlet far exceeded my expectations, and I give Quizlet extra credit in this category.  To test deck creation in Quizlet, I created a set of 100 Korean-English word pairs in Google Translate and exported the resulting Phrasebook to Google Sheets.  I then clicked “Create” on the Quizlet site, cut and pasted the two columns of words from the Google Sheet into the new card set, gave it a title, selected Korean for the appropriate column, and saved the new set.  The new card deck appeared immediately in the Quizlet app.  I clicked the set to view the new cards, and what I saw blew my mind: each card not only had the Korean-English word pairs that I had created, but it also had audio for both the Korean and English words!  Quizlet had automatically added audio for each word without my having to do a thing.   Poking around the Quizlet site, I found that Quizlet audio is automatically provided by text-to-speech for 18 supported languages, including Korean.  It took a total of about 5 minutes, and I went from a word list in Google Translate to a brand new card deck in the Quizlet app, WITH AUDIO!  That is pretty awesome.

Access to other decks: 10/10  If anything, there are too many card decks to choose from within Quizlet, and the quality obviously varies based on the set creator.   I was looking for a particular set (the vocabulary from Unit 2 of the How To Study Korean site).  I found it immediately on both the Quizlet website and in the app.  In about 15 minutes of searching,  I found a lot of other excellent Korean card decks and saved them all to my Korean folder in the Quizlet app.

Free:  8/10  Quizlet operates on a Freemium model: the basic features are provided for free and advanced features are available if you pay for them.  Most of the features I am looking for are available in the free Quizlet version.   Spaced repetition and the ability to add images and your own audio to flashcards are the main features that are only available with Quizlet Plus for $20/year.   The free version has ads, but they are mostly not obnoxious.  If spaced repetition were available, Quizlet would be almost perfect for my needs.



Anki is the oldest of the major Flashcard systems, advertising itself as “Friendly, intelligent flash cards. Remembering things just became much easier.”   Anki is an open-source software project, and it is completely free to use.  However, like most open-source software projects, it is built and maintained by a committee of software engineers, without much consideration for user-friendly design and ease of use.  I like some features of Anki, but I find it extremely annoying to use.  I still have not figured out how to do some basic and essential things like create my own card deck and synchronize a deck between the app and the computer-based program.  I would definitely not recommend Anki for anyone who has not had experience wrestling with installing and using open-source software products.

My evaluation of the Anki features has been carried out using AnkiDroid, the Android Anki app.

Overall score for Anki: 37/70

AnkiDroid interface

App interface: 6/10  The Anki Android App is basic and uncluttered.  It shows you a list of your card decks, and when you select a deck it presents the first card for study.  Audio is nicely integrated with the cards, but there are no other features.  I like the simplicity of the interface, but the menu options are not at all intuitive (“Create filtered deck” and “Empty cards” and “Manage note types”).

Study modes: 3/10  The Anki App has one study mode: old fashioned card flipping.  You set a parameter for how many cards you want to study each day.   The app presents words one at a time, and you click the “Show Answer” button to see the flip side of the card.  You then select the interval of time you want to wait before reviewing this card again.  That’s the entire Anki flashcard study system.  You can’t even study extra cards without modifying the system parameter for cards per day. While card flipping is my favorite flashcard study mode, the Anki implementation is rigid to the extreme.  You can’t just pick a deck and study the whole thing.  You can’t flip through the cards one at a time without selecting the time interval for each card.

Spaced repetition: 8/10  Spaced repetition is the cornerstone of Anki, and it works very well.  The Anki spaced repetition requires manual input from the learner: for each card that you study, you must select the interval until the next time you study that card.  Anki keeps track of the timing for each card once you have specified this interval.

Web interface: 2/10  Anki has a website at ankiweb.net, but you can’t do anything on the site unless you separately install a standalone program on your computer.  “AnkiWeb is intended to be used in conjunction with the computer version of Anki. While it is possible to create basic text-only cards and review them using only AnkiWeb, to download shared decks, take advantage of multimedia features and so on, you will need to use the free computer version as well.”   This is an unnecessarily complicated process, especially in 2017 when the rest of the world is running as a browser-based web service.

Anki import message

Ease of creating new decks: 1/10  Creating a new deck in Anki and viewing it in the AnkiDroid app is next to impossible.  I gave up.  There is no simple cut and paste capability when creating a new card deck in the Anki program, so I could not repeat the 100 word experiment that worked so well with Quizlet.  I tried pasting the 100 word pairs into a text document (UTF-8, tab delimited) and adding it to a new deck.  But Anki does not recognize the text encoding and the Korean characters show up as “????”.   Just for completeness I tried to get the new deck to show up in the AnkiDroid app, but the synchronization did not work.  And importing a deck directly to the Anki app requires manually placing a file on the file system of the mobile device.   Clearly a lot of people have successfully created large Anki card decks and shared them publicly, but I was not able to create and share a simple 100 card deck like I had in Quizlet and Memrise (each of which was so easy that it only took 5 minutes).

Anki search results

Access to other decks: 8/10  Anki has a large database of card decks created by users and shared publicly.  The search results show user ratings, number of cards, and whether the cards contain audio and images.  These features are very useful.  I was not able to find a card deck for How To Study Korean Unit 2, which I had found in both Quizlet and Memrise.  But I did find some  large decks with very useful grammar and vocabulary cards.  One of my favorite Anki decks is Korean Grammar Sentences by Evita, which has over 2000 sentences in both Korean and English, with Korean audio and detailed grammar notes.

Free: 9/10  Anki is free, both the computer version and the Android AnkiDroid app.  However, the iOS AnkiMobile app costs $25.



We have already written up two detailed reviews of the Memrise website and app, and the pros and cons we earlier presented still hold for the most part.   The Memrise app is mostly very good, but after many months of using the app, I have a love-hate relationship with it.  I love some of the features, and I have found it very useful for learning a lot of new vocabulary fast.  At the same time, the Memrise app drives me absolutely crazy with its annoying gamification, as well as its inflexibility, inconsistencies, bugs, and limitations that prioritize the gamification over the actual learning.  For example, one study option presents a written word and three audio clips of words, and you need to select the correct audio;  however, often all three audio clips are exactly the same.  You are guaranteed to get the answer correct, but that doesn’t mean you actually know the answer.   Another study option presents an English word and a set of Korean syllables, and you need to spell the correct Korean word using the correct syllables from within the given set; but the Korean syllables are often not even scrambled, and the correct syllables are just the last ones in the list.  These are minor complaints given the range of study options, which are excellent for the most part.  My detailed ratings of the Memrise app for the flashcard app desiderata are below.

Memrise App

Overall score for Memrise: 53/70

App interface: 6/10  The Memrise Android App is slick and flashy, but it is not necessarily always easy to use.   Cards can’t be viewed (or studied) as simple cards,  with Korean words on one side of the card and English words on the flip side.  There are a lot of unnecessary and distracting icons, buttons, and noises.   Even after using the app for a few months, I’m not sure what all the bells and whistles mean.

Study modes: 6/10  The (free version of the) Memrise App has three study “games”: Learn New Words, Classic Review, and Speed Review.  Each provides a nice variety of study options using the text and audio on the cards.  However, there is no simple study mode, where you can flip through the cards in a deck.  You just can’t do it.  You can only study using one of the games.  Additional study games are available with Memrise Pro for $59/year.  I use the Learn New Words mode for the first pass through a new card deck, then Classic Review for further study.  I don’t find Speed Review extremely helpful because I can’t stop and study the words I need to when they come up.

Spaced repetition: 10/10  Spaced repetition is very well done in Memrise, and it is standard in the free version of the app.  The app tracks your answers to all words studied, and missed words are thrown back into the mix more frequently.  Spaced repetition is invisible to the user, so you do not need to worry about putting the flashcards into the correct pile for later study.   Memrise also nicely breaks down large sets of cards so that you can work your way through the deck incrementally.

Web interface: 9/10  The Memrise web interface is well-synchronized with the app.  Study progress is sync’ed so that if you study a deck in one place it is updated in the other.   Search results on both web and app are not identical, which is a problem (see “Access to other decks” below).   The web interface has a study mode with full Korean character typing, vs. syllable tapping in the app, so the website is better for practicing typing.

Ease of creating new decks: 10/10  Creating a new deck in Memrise is just as easy as in Quizlet.   To test deck creation in Memrise, I repeated the experiment with the 100 Korean-English word pairs that I had created in Google Translate for the Quizlet experiment.  I clicked the “Create a course” button on the Memrise site, filled in the required descriptor fields,  cut and pasted the two columns of words from the Google Sheet into the new card set, and saved the new set.  The new card deck appeared immediately in the Memrise app, and I was able to start studying the words.  As with Quizlet, it took a total of about 5 minutes to go from a word list in Google Translate to a brand new card deck (“Course”) in the Memrise app.   Memrise did not automatically add audio like Quizlet did, but that was an unexpected bonus of the Quizlet deck creation.

Access to other decks: 5/10  There are a lot of card decks (“courses” as they call them) in Memrise, but the search function is downright terrible.   The most relevant “course” often shows up several pages into the search results.    I was looking for the vocabulary from Unit 2 of the How To Study Korean site, and it is was nearly impossible to find.  I searched (both in the app and on the website) for “howtostudykorean.com Unit 2” and “How to Study Korean Unit 2” and several other combinations.  All the other units for howtostudykorean.com showed up at one point or another, mixed in with other courses that did not contain the actual search terms I entered.  Even when I clicked on the creator of Unit 1, I got the spurious message “howtostudykorean.com hasn’t created any courses yet.”  After over 15 minutes of searching, I stumbled upon HowtoStudyKorean.com Unit 2 in one of the search result lists.  When I added this Course to my list of courses on the website, it immediately showed up in the app as well, and I was able to start studying the words.

Free: 7/10  Like Quizlet, Memrise operates on a Freemium model.  The free version of the app has been fine for all my vocabulary study needs.   I won’t be paying the $59/year for Memrise Pro, which adds a few Study Modes like “Difficult Words” and “Listening Skills.”   The free app constantly nags you to upgrade to Memrise Pro, often routing you toward one of the Pro study modes (like “Difficult Words”), forcing you to manually back out and select one of the free modes.  This is unnecessary and obnoxious.


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14 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    I like flashcards on https://www.word-party.com/ It takes an idea of tracking status of words to a completely new level offering content recommendations based on your vocabulary. Previously were using Anki and were not happy with their poor sync features.

  2. Thomas says:

    Hi. I have been using ANKI and have to admit it´s a learning curve to adjust all the settings – though in terms of building my sets and practising, synchronisation between windows and android is no problem.

    I would add a mention in this list for ReadLang – it translates text inside your browser while you read, then adds words you translated to a flashcard list. pretty awesome! The free version can get you far as well. http://readlang.com/

    • David says:

      It is good to hear you have had success building sets. Anki is definitely flexible for creating a wide range of different sets, and I have enjoying working with sets other people have made. I still have not successfully made my own.

      Readlang sounds really cool. I will definitely check it out and add it to my list of resources.

  3. John says:

    Anki is the EVE Online of flashcard systems. It doesn’t really have a learning curve so much as a learning cliff. Why it’s called “friendly” is a complete mystery, because it’s anything *but.*

    However, once you’ve climbed over that cliff, it’s an incredibly flexible and customizable tool. Virtually everything you complained that it lacked is totally doable, and more, including importing from a spreadsheet. The reason it requires you to use the desktop interface for many functions is because it has so many options and so much customizability on the back end that it would be essentially unusable on a mobile platform.

    It’s definitely a system meant for people who enjoy tinkering.

  4. man says:

    The interface of Anki is not that hard to master and once you’ve done it, it becomes very easy and logical. I have given a shot to Memrise and Quizlet after reading this article and was really disappointed you rated them over anki. They’re nice tools, but not for ‘serious’ approach in learning something (not only languages btw).
    By the way, all you said is impossible to do with Anki is kind of quite easy to do

    • pam says:

      Anki supports Latex which makes not just a too for learning language.

      i don’t know why David finds it hard to synch. i installed AnkiDroid & anki for windows. it starting synch no problem.

      the built-in editor is not that great.
      instead i just import from an Excel sheet into a deck. i am able to build hundreds of cards in a day or 2.

      (i never tried quizlet; i did try memrise. but did not like it at all)


  5. June says:

    Where Anki excels is the flexibility of card creation – you can literally program you own custom cards – so I was surprised that you couldn’t make a deck. It’s actually extremely easy to do. (Your problem with the importing is that you did not save the text file correctly.) For ease of use, you can also import directly from Memrise, so you can have both Anki pre-made decks and Memrise pre-made decks.

    My biggest problem with Memrise is that it is simply awful for sentence creation. Like, next to useless. And sentences are the real meat of any language learning. I also do not care for the SRS, because it isn’t really SRS – Anki is the only one of these that has actual SRS.

    But, I really like Memrise for quick vocabulary, so I end up using Memrise for vocab words and Anki for sentences.

  6. Mark says:

    I have to agree with other comments here and to disagree with your anki rating. It is true, the interface is horrible and I would rate it 1/10 but once you understand the program and how you have to use it, anki easily excels the two other systems. You can create huge decks in less than 5 minutes, turn on TTS in the settings and you even have audio for every language. Without needing to import any audio files. With the use of JavaScript you can create any form of quiz style you’d like to have (of course this is not possible without any programming knowledge). You can style your cards esdily with css so that it is nice looking and only shows the information you want to see. Set synchronization to auto and you don’t need to worry about your decks on any platform anymore. The SRS rating of anki should be by far the highest since I found it pretty useless and horrible in Memrise which was the main reason I switched to Anki. And the best thing about ankibis the API which lets you create cards with just one click from many other apps like dictionaries (for example Takoboto Japanese, where you get translations, explanations, example sentences and more as an anki card with just one click).

  7. chimpanzee says:

    I agree with your article David. I’ve done a reasonable amount of programming and really like tinkering with computers. But I also find Anki to be really annoying to work with. Additionally, Quizlets algorithms for generating multiple choice questions are really really impressive — and this aspect of Quizlet is especially effective for me when used in the context of the “Learn” feature. <$2/month is nothing compared to the cost of med school.

  8. IggyJacRei says:

    Imagine you are writing an article comparing several cars, rating them on performances. Now suppose that one of the cars has a really elaborated safety mechanism, and you just can’t get the damn thing to open. Would it then make sense to give that car 0/10 on driveability, steering, breaking etc.? I think the right thing to do would be to mention in the article that said car is not included in the comparison because it wouldn’t open, so readers may know that this might be an issue, but you shouldn’t rate it as being terrible at steering.

    I’ve never used Memrise, so I won’t refer to it, but I have used Anki and Quizlet extensively, both as a student and as a teacher. And here are my two cents: Anki is much, much better. The only reason I use Quizlet at all is that it has some great features for school teachers. You can send out decks to your students and track how well they do, and how often they practice. It’s pretty neat, yes, but ultimately it’s good for me as a teacher, but is not the best option for my students themselves. When I teach privately, I use Quizlet with students who are younger than 16 or who are technologically challenged. The rest I push to use Anki, and spend about 15 minutes explaining to them everything they’ll need to know to use it. It’s not like they need to know how to create custom templates–not at that point, anyways. If you have someone to explain it to you properly, getting into Anki isn’t really all that hard, but I agree that it can seem daunting when you’re out there by yourself.

    So what makes Anki vastly superior to Quizlet? Well, the SRS, obviously, but you can pay to have that feature in Quizlet, too. The main thing for me is that Quizlet simply isn’t designed to work with large decks. There’s no easy way to manage them, search them, or tag them with anything more meaningful than a star (in Anki, you can star + add as many tags as you’d like, and that allows you to customize your reviews. This can be extremely helpful at times). I get frustrated with Quizlet when I have decks that go over 200 terms. I shudder to think what it’s like to use it for a deck that’s 5,000-term long. So instead you end up with lots of smaller decks, which leads to redundancies (learning the same words over multiple decks), forgetfulness (when you stop using a deck, because you grow bored of it, and never go back it) and a whole lot of clutter.

    And that’s just for the basics. Anki offers endless options for tinkering, and you can find things that people have made that are quite amazing, not to mention many add-ons that allow Anki to integrate with other software. But you really don’t need to go that far for Anki to be worth your while. Even if all you’ll ever use it for is straight up vocabulary, it still blows Quizlet out of the water.

    Anki takes some getting used to. It can get frustrating, at first. But so do other useful things, like driving. Still, learning to drive is worth the trouble, if you want to go long distances on a regular basis.

    • Beth T says:

      Thank you so much for this comment! I’ve been using Anki for years, both personally and as a teacher of small classes, and I was here precisely to figure out if I should switch away from Anki. Anki is certainly annoying (in fact, I do almost all the backstage work for my students myself), but it is also powerful.

  9. MCcommand says:

    I’ll disagree with the anki rating. You can create decks a whole lot quicker than in other apps. There are countless addons, and the question marks in your “korean words” is because you save the txt in UFT-8. There is actually a whole lot of other learning styles, from addons to js plugins.

  10. Daniel says:

    Spaced repetition is not available for Android app for any price in Quizlet

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