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10 Useful Anki Tips for Both Beginners and Experts

Here are some of the best Anki tips that you probably haven’t heard of. There is almost certainly something in this list that you will find helpful.

Quick Summary

If you are in a rush then here is a quick summary of everything I talk about.

Here is a list of the 10 tips I mention in this article and a summary of what they mean:

  1. Be Consistent – The single most important thing in Anki is to be consistent.
  2. Cards Should Be Challenging, But Not Impossible – Don’t make cards too easy or difficult.
  3. Use the 80% Rule – The 80:20 rule states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. Trying to learn 100% of every card is a waste of time. Just focus on the 80%.
  4. Combine Anki With Other Resources – You should use question banks and other methods of learning to consolidate the material you learn in Anki.
  5. Turn Off Review Time and Card Count – These can be a real distraction so ensure you go into preferences -> scheduling and turn off the first two checkboxes.
  6. Use the “Clue” Feature – The clue feature enables you to elegantly add clues to your cloze flashcards by adding :: to the end of the answer.
  7. Attack Important Topics from Multiple Angles – Create flashcards which are similar and overlapping. This helps connect the dots between topics.
  8. Learn Cards Slowly, Review Cards Quickly – When learning cards for the first time, go slowly. Understand everything. However once you already know the card (i.e. when reviewing the card), then go quickly to save time.
  9. Don’t Buy the IOS App – Go to the AnkiWeb website and sign in to your account. You’ll save £24.
  10. Collaborate With Friends and Colleagues – Getting together with friends to create decks will save you time and make the process much more enjoyable.

Here is a list of the bonus tips I mentioned at the end of the article.

  • Know Your Keyboard Shortcuts
  • Put “a” and “an” Inside the Cloze
  • Use Pre-Made Decks Where Possible
  • Get the Right Add-ons

I have loads of other articles on Anki which you can check out here.

1 – Be Consistent

Staying consistent with Anki is one of the most important things that you can take away from this article and is why I have put it first on this list.

Consistency is one of the most important things in Anki.

If you don’t do it every single day, then you are not utilising Anki to its full potential.

However, if you find that you are struggling to do all your cards every day, then it is probably that you are doing too many new cards per day.

I would suggest to not do more than 20 cards per day unless you are nearing your exams and are prepared to do 90 minutes + of Anki every day.

How to Stay Consistent

Here are some ways you can stay consistent:

  • Build Anki into your routine – In the same way that you brush your teeth and have breakfast, if you can make Anki a second nature habit then it will ensure you never miss a day.
  • Push yourself on the hard days – If you can do Anki on the busiest, most frantic of days, then it is likely that you will always be able to do Anki. Therefore, don’t just give up on Anki just because you have a lot planned on one day.
  • Focus on reviews – If you aren’t able to finish all your cards, it might be because you are prioritising new cards over reviews. Get your reviews out the way first, then you can do your new cards later. Even if you can’t do your goal of 10/20 new cards a day, don’t worry about it. Reviews are more important.

2 – Cards Should Be Challenging, But Not Impossible

Try not to make cards that are too easy or too hard. You need to find that sweet middle ground.

If you find yourself pressing “again” repeatedly for a card, it is likely too difficult for you.

On the other hand, if you are breezing through cards at lightning pace then you need to make them more difficult.

A good way of spotting a card that is too challenging is if it has multiple answers.

Front of a card with multiple answers
Back of a card with multiple answers

You can see that three answers need to be given for this card. It would be better to split this up into three separate cards.

Front of card with a single answer

You may think this would take longer as now you have 3 times as many cards, but in fact, the opposite is true. You now have three cards which are much more digestible than one larger card.

There are several ways to deal with this. One of the easiest would be to flag any card that is too easy as green (use the shortcut Cmd + 3) and red if it too difficult (Cmd + 1).

Flag cards which you find too easy or difficult

Then, every few weeks you go through these easy and challenging cards by searching for them in the Browse section.

Find your flagged cards by selecting “filter” in the “Browse” section

3 – Use the 80% Rule

Don’t feel pressured to learn all your cards perfectly. This rule is a great guide to make sure you’re not spending too much time on niche cards.

You may have heard of the 80:20 rule. It says that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort.

Unfortunately, there is a perception that you need to learn your Anki cards extremely well for you to get any benefit. I disagree.

If you learn each card to an 8/10 level, then I think you get the best bang for your buck. To get that final 10/10 result takes a lot more effort than it’s worth.

Let me give an example to make this clear.

Let’s say you are reviewing the following card and haven’t seen it after a few months.

You are reviewing this card

If you can recall the answer is “Kruken-something tumour” (which means you are very close but have just forgotten the last bit of the word) then would you press “again”, “hard”, “good” or “easy”?

You remember some of the answer but not all of it

I would argue that you should press either “hard” or “good”.

Some people would say you should press “again”. They say that it is better to be negative and see the card again to learn it 100%.

However, as I said before, to get to this 100% is harder than simply getting to 80%, and so you might press “again” and spend a huge amount of time of this card; and it may never even come up in your exams.

Therefore, try to be lenient on yourself. If you got the main part of the answer right, then there is no need to press “again”.

If you do want to get to that 100% retention, then I suggest you pay attention to my next tip as it’s one of the only ways you can get there.

4 – Combine Anki With Other Resources

Anki should only be one tool in your arsenal. You should be using other resources like question banks and past papers.

The reason we all love Anki is that it uses the tried and tested technique of active recall and spaced repetition. However, unfortunately, Anki on its own is not enough.

It allows you to memorise things that you may not be able to with other resources, but it does have some downsides:

  • It is difficult to connect concepts from separate cards
  • You can end up memorising cards without understanding them
  • Learning all topics to 100% capacity is extremely difficult (see the previous tip)

Given these points, it is prudent to use other resources that will counter the shortcomings of Anki. I suggest that you stick to question banks and past papers.

For medical students, there are tonnes of question banks available.

US Medical School Question Banks

  • UWorld
  • NBME
  • Pastest
  • Kaplan
  • Boardvitals

UK Medical School Question Banks

  • Passmedicine
  • Pastest
  • BMJ OnExamination
  • Quesmed

Now even if you aren’t a medical student, you can still get access to question banks from your class/degree. Just search it on Google and see what comes up.

You mustn’t just rely on Anki. These other resources will expand your knowledge base and help you connect the topics and concepts that you have learned in Anki.

5 – Turn Off Review Time and Card Count

You can find both of these in the preferences under “scheduling”. It will help you focus on the card that you are doing.

When I first started using Anki, I always got distracted by the review time and card count.

Card count can be seen here above the “Show Answer” button

Above you can see the number of cards remaining in the deck. This could be useful if you want to achieve a certain goal (e.g. you can say “If I get to 50 reviews I will take a break“).

However, I simply found myself staring at the numbers, frustrated at how long it was taking for me to do the cards.

Then there are the “next review time” numbers which would show up after revealing the answer.

The next review time can be seen above each of these buttons

The problem with these numbers was how they would influence my decisions on which button to press. For example, I would see that pressing “good” would result in seeing the cards after 2.5 months which made me more likely to press it just to get it out the way.

That’s why I disabled them both.

You can do this by going to your preferences -> scheduling, and then unchecking the first two checkboxes you see:

  • Show next review time above answer buttons
  • Show remaining card count during review
Preferences -> Scheduling -> First two checkboxes

Now, eventually, you could reactivate them. For example, once you have been doing Anki for a while and can not get distracted so easily. However, in the beginning, I suggest unchecking them.

6 – Use the “Clue” Feature

The clue feature is a little known but fantastic feature for easily and seamlessly creating clues for your cloze flashcards.

Let’s say you have a card that says:

{{c1::Meats}} are a good source of protein for the body

Now when you try and learn this, you will probably realise that the question is too general. You could say a lot of different things as the answer.

So what do you do?

Well, you could add a clue at the end of the sentence in a bracket:

{{c1::Meats}} are a good source of protein for the body (general)

This gives you the information you need. However, what if you wanted multiple cards for the same thing and clues for all of them? You would end up with a bit of a mess:

{{c1::Meats}} are a good source of {{c2::protein}} for the body (general, nutrition)

And that is where the clue function comes in!

All you do is add “::” to the end of your answer:

{{c1::Meats::general}} are a good source of {{c2::protein::nutrition}} for the body

When you see the card, it will look something like this:

Example of what a “clue” looks like in Anki (front of the card)

Pretty cool right!

7 – Attack Important Topics from Multiple Angles

Making similar cards allows you to form connections between cards.

One of the issues with Anki is how difficult it is to connect different topics in your head.

Other than using resources like question banks (see tip 4), you can solve this by making different cards which all attack the topic from unique angles.

For example, let’s say you are trying to memorise the treatment options for asthma. These are the sort of flashcards you would want to make in Anki to ensure you cover all the basics.

  1. Front: What is the first-line treatment of Asthma?
    Back: Salbutamol Inhaler
  2. Front: An inhaler is typically used as a treatment for what?
    Back: Asthma
  3. Front: Salbutamol inhalers are typically what dosage for adults?
    Back: 4mg
  4. Front: The drug used to treat asthma is of what class?
    Back: Beta agonist
  5. Front: What is the drug class of Salbutamol?
    Back: Beta agonist
  6. Front: Name three drugs that are Beta-agonists (A, M, S)
    Back: Albuterol, Metaproterenol, Salbutamol

By making cards like this you are effectively memorising the information in many overlapping ways.

By making similar cards, you have overlapping information in each one, helping you broaden your understanding of the topic

The big downside of this is that you run the risk of not being able to cover all the topics you want as you create too many cards.

Therefore I suggest only to be in-depth like the example above when the topic is particularly important for you to know.

8 – Learn Cards Slowly, Review Cards Quickly

Ensuring you are efficient with your time is incredibly important, especially if you want to get through a lot of cards.

This 7th tip is something that you are probably already doing when using Anki, but this will help ensure that you explicitly and intentionally do it from now on.

When you are first learning a card, you will almost certainly not know it (if you do then you should just delete the card – no point having stuff you already know!).

Therefore, it is prudent for you to go slowly, understanding all aspects of the card. Don’t learn it half-heartedly.

That’s because there will be a point in the future where you wouldn’t have seen the card for months, and if you didn’t learn it properly, you will likely have to press “again” and start again from zero.

However, that doesn’t mean to say you always spend 100+ seconds on each card.

When you start reviewing your cards (i.e. after they have graduated), you should go through your cards at a much faster pace. This will ensure you:

  • Aren’t doing Anki for longer than you need to
  • Can spend more time learning cards

So when you start, try and be patient with yourself. It can take time to learn a card well. However, once you know it, you can breeze through it with lightning speed.

9 – Don’t Buy the IOS App

Don’t waste £24 on the App unless you want to support the developers (or just have cash to burn)

The IOS app is a great piece of software.

However, as all the other platforms which Anki is located have it for free, it might be a bit on the expensive side for some. Especially if all you want to do is review some cards in your free time.

Don’t worry, I have a solution.

What you can do is go to the AnkiWeb page on Chrome/Safari and do Anki on that. Here is the link if you want to give it a go now.

AnkiWeb on Chrome
AnkiWeb – Doing a card on a phone

It might not be as fully featured as the app, but it works if you just want to review cards.

Definitely give it a try!

10 – Collaborate With Friends and Colleagues

If you can’t find a pre-made deck to suit your needs, then get together with your friends and make your own deck.

Working together with friends and making something that people across the world would find useful sounds like a dream for some people.

Well, it’s not a dream. You can easily do that for Anki!

If you find that there is an exam that you are going to sit or a subject you are taking that doesn’t have a pre-made deck, then get together and make one together.

It is best if you assign roles to each person and then have weekly updates on how each of you is doing.

If one of you is slacking, then kick them out.

You can’t have lazy people in your group.

Here are some things to keep in mind when collaborating with friends:

  • Only pick people who you know will work smoothly and effectively as part of the group
  • Have a WhatsApp group to keep tabs on everyone
  • One or two people need to take the lead or nothing will get done
  • Ensure people aren’t making too many cards – that can be worse than having too few cards
  • Look at your teammate’s cards near the beginning to see if their cards are similar to everyone else’s
  • Aim to finish your deck(s) well before the exam

Bonus Tips and Tricks

Here are some extra tips that you will find useful if nothing else in this article satisfied you.

Know Your Keyboard Shortcuts

Shortcuts will speed up your workflow significantly, so know them and get used to them.

Here are the shortcuts you need to know:

d – goes to the “decks” menu (the homepage)
a – goes to the “add” page
b – goes to the “browse” page
t – goes to the “stats” page
y – syncs your decks

Some other useful shortcuts:

⌘ + , (command plus comma) – goes to the “preferences” page
e (while viewing a card) – edits a card
! (while viewing a card) – suspends the note

Put “a” and “an” Inside the Cloze

Put the “a” and “an” before words inside the cloze

For example this:

All magnets have {{c1::a north}} and south pole

Is better than this:

All magnets have a {{c1::north}} and south pole

That’s because the “a” can give away if the next word begins with a vowel or not, like in the following example:

An {{c1::experiment}} is where you test a hypothesis

An […] is where you test a hypothesis

The “an” gives you an idea that the next word must begin with a vowel, therefore making the card much easier than it needs to be.

Use Pre-Made Decks Where Possible

Pre-made decks are fantastic.

They save time and can be made by people who are much more passionate and invested in the subject than you might be.

For example. the AnKing deck is a deck made for the USMLE. However, it is used by people across the world because of how well made it is (it has taken hundreds of man-hours to make).

Therefore, if there is a pre-made deck for something, then take advantage of it.

I have a list of the 22 best Anki decks of all time which you can check out.

Get the Right Add-ons

Depending on what kind of student you are, you need to get the right add-ons for you.

If you are a medical student, I have already made an article on the 10 essential add-ons for medical students.

However, no matter which student you are, you will find some add-ons on that list which may be of use to you. Therefore, definitely check it out.

If you enjoyed this article, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. It takes a lot of effort to make these and as a busy medical student, I can use all the help I can get to make this venture worthwhile.

You can have a look at this article I wrote on the 22 Best Anki Decks of All Time.

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