Sketchy Medical, although less than a decade old, has already established itself as one of the most well-known learning resources used by medical students in the United States.
Many students would argue that microbiology, pharmacology, and other topics within the USMLE Step 1 curriculum would not be manageable without Sketchy Medical or another similar study aid.
We have provided an overview of Sketchy Medical, evaluated its strengths and weaknesses, and addressed its close competitors.
Our hope is that you can use our opinions as balanced insight to make a decision regarding whether or Sketchy Medical would be a good fit for your unique study strategy and needs.
Note that this article focuses on Sketchy Medical, a Sketchy program specifically developed for medical school. Sketchy also has programs for PA, pharmacy, and nursing students, and pre-medical students preparing for the MCAT.
Though we focus on Sketchy Medical, our thoughts could be helpful to anyone interested in learning more about Sketchy in general.
What is Sketchy Medical?
For many students, medical school is challenging not because content is difficult to digest but rather because immense knowledge must be acquired and mastered in limited periods of time.
From the fine details of numerous medications to obscure anatomical terms, the amount of information covered in the medical school curriculum and tested on the USMLE exams is extensive.
Fortunately, the past decade has seen the addition of multiple new study tools to the medical student repertoire, one of which is Sketchy Medical.
Sketchy has established itself as one of the most well-known memorization aids for the medical student.
The resource works by consolidating information into animated memory palaces, or “sketches”, that boost the memorization process by associating medical names and facts with memorable imagery.
Memory palaces are not a recent invention. Since at least Roman times, people have recognized that information can be easier to store and recall when associated with images and emotions.
Instead of remembering dozens of microbes and their unique characteristics by rote memorization, Sketchy makes the learning process much easier with humorous and vivid images that convey hidden meanings.
Need to remember that Neisseria meningitidis, a gram-negative bacteria, grows in pairs of cocci and commonly causes meningitis?
Imagine a man holding two red balloons and clutching his head (we made this up, by the way, it is not from Sketchy).
Sketchy Medical consists of numerous topic-specific sketches with associated animated videos.
Collectively, the sketches cover topics across the spectrum of medicine, from microbiology to pharmacology and more.
The video corresponding to each sketch explains its contents with engaging and often humorous narration. (Watch the below video for a taste.)
This image-based approach to learning is helpful not only for test day, when recalling facts can be a challenge amidst the stress of a timed exam, but also for long-term recall months and even years down the road.
The contents of lecture slides and review books do not seem to “stick” in the Mind’s Eye as robustly as the vivid images of Sketchy. Don’t believe us? Ask your upperclassmen if they can still remember the sketches.
How is Sketchy Medical Used?
Sketchy has grown tremendously over the past five years, and there are now many hours of video content.
Thus, it is difficult (if not impossible) to “cram” all of the Sketchy content in a week.
Many medical students use Sketchy bit-by-bit throughout the pre-clinical curriculum, learning the sketches relevant to each module and maintaining a subscription from the first day of the pre-clinical curriculum until their Step 1 test day.
Others only use Sketchy for the microbiology module (or another single module), meaning that a shorter subscription could suffice.
A few even use the resource until their graduation from medical school, since there are now Sketchy videos dedicated to the content of clinical rotations and Step 2.
Some students insist that the videos alone are sufficient for long-term memorization of content. Others use Anki cards to drive-home the information.
Anki can integrate with Sketchy. Watch this video to see the integration in action.
Sketchy offers a few additional resources on their website that are helpful for content review.
Each video has an associated quiz and also a review card with labels that point out salient facts.
A hard-copy workbook, for additional practice, is available for purchase on Amazon.
Some students recommend printing out the sketches with typed-up bullet points outlining key facts from each sketch, storing the pages in a three-ring binder, and then using the print-outs to study for module exams (and eventually Step 1).
Keep in mind that Sketchy is a memorization aid. While it covers content to a considerable depth, it is not as detailed as your school’s lectures or many of the textbooks commonly used by medical students.
You should use Sketchy as an accompaniment to coursework and not your go-to learning tool. You will not acquire a satisfactory conceptual understanding of medical school content using Sketchy alone. (Many students fall into this trap with First Aid, too.)
That said, Sketchy provides a solid foundation that can be expanded upon by other learning tools including question banks.
If you are considering using Sketchy, try to balance the cost of the resource with your needs. Carefully evaluate whether you will really need a subscription for a year or longer (versus a shorter period that would save you money).
What are the advantages of Sketchy Medical?
- The resource is well-made. It is clear that a great deal of thought was exerted by the Sketchy team into the planning and design of sketches and videos.
For example, themes are shared between sketches, such that they are easier to memorize in bulk. The series of sketches of positive-sense RNA viruses all contain a sun, while those of negative-sense RNA viruses contain a moon.
- In our opinion, the sketches and videos are not only visually-appealing and engaging (you may find yourself wanting to watch the next video in a series, instead of needing to force yourself to), but also actually helpful for mastering pre-clinical coursework.
- As compared to some other study aids, Sketchy has lots of tools on-hand to support learning the sketches.
- Anki decks, end-of-video quizzes and review cards, and a workbook are more than some other resources can boast.
- The breadth of content is extensive. There are now so many sketches that most of the high-yield Step 1 curriculum is covered.
- For many people, watching videos replete with memory hooks is a more palatable (and useful) memorization strategy than reading pages’ worth of content.
What are the disadvantages of Sketchy Medical?
- As compared to other third-party learning resources, Sketchy is (very) expensive.
- Sketchy videos are relatively long, some nearly 30 minutes in length. While sketches can be rich with information, for some students they are too detailed.
- Since Sketchy operates on a subscription model, when your subscription is no longer active, you lose access to the videos.
If you accidentally missed a few videos and your subscription expired, you will need to purchase another subscription to watch them.
Some students find that, with an appropriate study plan, a 6-month subscription can suffice for learning essential content.
- Sketchy does not provide the deep conceptual understanding that is conveyed by textbooks and lectures. It is, however, a useful accompaniment to these resources.
- Sketchy essentially doubles the amount of material that you need to learn, since for every medical fact you need to memorize an associated image from a sketch. Despite the upfront time investment, in the long-term, this can help with retention.
- The videos do not introduce the content of sketches in a left-to-right fashion. For some people, this may be confusing.
- Some students fall into the trap of believing that content not covered by Sketchy is irrelevant.
This is problematic when those students receive a Step 1 form that, for example, addresses obscure pathogens not covered by Sketchy Micro. Sketchy covers most of the high-yield content but it is not an all-in-one resource.
Who are Sketchy’s competitors, and how do they compare?
In brief, Sketchy is more costly than both but, in our opinion, also seems to be better-made.
Some students mix-and-match Sketchy with Pixorize, using Sketchy for microbiology and pharmacology content and Pixorize for biochemistry and immunology.
Other students avoid both Sketchy and Pixorize and exclusively use Picmonic for all of their study needs.
How much does Sketchy Medical cost?
Sketchy Medical currently offers three subscription plans: 6-months for $299.99, 12-months for $399.99, and 24-months for $599.99.
It is unfortunate that, to our knowledge, the company does not offer shorter subscription plans. For some students, a one-month or three-month subscription could suffice.
Other third-party medical school resources, such as Boards and Beyond, better suit the diverse needs of medical students by offering both short-term and long-term plans.
Occasionally, Sketchy offers subscriptions at a reduced price. Check their website to find out whether a deal on the program is currently being offered.
Check out our in-depth comparison of Sketchy, Pixorize, and Picmonic to learn more about how their prices compare.
Is Sketchy Medical Worth the Price?
Many students pay for Sketchy. If not for its financial valuation, the resource would not have been able to secure over $30 million in venture capital funding in 2020.
It is more expensive than its competitors. It also maintains high quality standards and a solid reputation that, some would argue, merit the cost.
There is no clear-cut path to success in medical school.
Ultimately, we are all unique learners, and the study tools that “click” well with some students might not with others.
You should take the time to gain exposure to each of the many study resources used by medical students in the United States and abroad.
Before you subscribe to any study resource, meet with your academic advisor to discuss your unique learning style and to decide whether it would be a good fit.
Consider trying the free trial offered by Sketchy to develop a better sense of how the resource works.
Also find out which (free) resources your school has on-hand and whether there are any Sketchy discounts available to students at your school.
We hope that this article provided you with balanced insight into Sketchy Medical.
Read about the latest research in the field of immunology from ImmunoFrontiers.