How to Make Great Anki Cards (Which You’ll Actually Remember)

In this article, I will discuss tips for making cards which you’ll remember for years.

Quick Summary

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

Here are the main points for making effective Anki cards:

  • Attack from multiple angles

Check out this list of free Anki articles that I have written.

Introduction

I want to mention a few important points before getting into the detail of making amazing Anki flashcards.

How to Get the Best Out of This Article

I have created this article to help you make the best Anki cards possible. It isn’t as easy as it seems.

There are loads of good tips and techniques that are packed into a concise format, to ensure you aren’t wasting any precious time.

However, this article should be something you bookmark. Unless you are already an expert and are just brushing up on your card-making abilities, you won’t be able to use all of the presented information straight away.

Sometimes, you need to get the basics down before using advanced techniques. As there are both basic and advanced techniques are provided here, you should come back when you feel you can take advantage of everything.

Manipulate the Information for Your Needs

A lot of the information here is dependent on why you are making cards and who they are meant for.

If you intend to never release your cards to anyone else, you can get away with having words and sentences that only you understand.

Therefore, use the information that I give in this article and bend it to fit with your needs.

There Are No Hard Rules

The reason I say this is because there are no rules when it comes to learning information.

You should use whatever technique best suits you.

Now let’s start with the first tip I have for you.

Keep the Cards Simple

The biggest mistake you can make is to make intricate cards that have loads of detail on them.

If you have too much information on a card, you might as well not write it.

It will take you too much effort to understand what is going on when you review the material.

There are a few different ways of messing this up:

  • Having too much information on the back of a card
  • Putting loads of images and unnecessary information in the “extra info” section
  • Having multiple answers for each question

Let’s go through these to understand what you can do to prevent these mistakes from occurring.

Too Much Info on the Back of a Card

Let’s take the following example:

Front of a card
Back of a card

You can see here that the back of the card has a lot of information on it. This makes it difficult to answer the question fully.

This technique is good if you already knew the content well.

For example, if you knew what Kallman syndrome was, then having a lot of the information presented on the back would be a good way of refreshing your memory.

However, that is not how a lot of us use Anki.

Rather, we try and learn things with Anki. That is where the issue lies.

Trying to learn all of that information will be challenging, likely resulting in a reduced recall of the topic you want to learn. So what do you do?

You break up the back into different lines, each with a distinct answer.

Front of card
Back of card

Now the card has been changed to a Cloze-Overlapper card (an add-on is required for this) where each line has been broken into separate cards.

This allows each line to be learnt individually.

This is also how you solve the issue of having multiple answers per question. You simply split the question up into sections and learn them one at a time.

Too Much “Extra Info”

The extra info section on a cloze card is great for providing a small amount of context to what you have just answered.

However, making cards that have a tonne of information on the back of the card is a waste of time. After a few times of seeing the card, you rarely ever look at the extra info section making it most useful if you learning it.

Having too much extra info is mostly a waste of time

There are two times when having lots of information in this section is advantageous:

  • You have entirely forgotten the card and need to relearn it
  • You plan on sharing the deck with other people who will use it as a primary source of information
    • The above card is taken from the AnKing deck. As this has been made publically available, it is important to have enough information so that anyone looking at this card for the first time can understand the surrounding context.

Don’t Be Ambiguous

Try to make cards which are specific and to the point. This is similar to the point made earlier about having multiple answers for one question.

If you are ambiguous with your question, you won’t be able to answer it well and you will keep on forgetting it.

This will put you into a cycle of having loads of cards which you can frustratingly never remember.

Take the below example:


[…] is a drug used for headaches


What would you think the answer is? If it were me, I would say Paracetamol (aka Tylenol). However, that isn’t the answer.


Ibuprofen (aka Advil) is a drug used for headaches


When you are learning this card for the first time, you might be able to answer it. However, it gets extremely challenging when you haven’t seen the card in over 6 months.

You might read the question and think Paracetamol, only to realise it was Ibuprofen.

That is when you end up pressing “again” and starting over from the beginning.

You could make this card a lot better by being more specific.


[…] is a drug used for headaches and reducing inflammation (like in swollen ankles)


This is a much better card as you narrow down the possibilities.

However, don’t be so specific that you would give away the answer. For example, the below card would be too easy for most people:


[Ibu] is a drug used for headaches and reducing inflammation (like in swollen ankles)


I have added the clue “Ibu”, thereby making the answer way too easy.

If you want to know how I did this, I used the clue function in Anki.


{{c1::Ibuprofen (aka Advil)::Ibu}} is a drug used for headaches and reducing inflammation (like in swollen ankles)


Adding “::” after the answer makes a clue.

Use Cloze Flashcards

Cloze flashcards are by far the best cards. You can even use them as “basic” cards if you like.

Cloze cards are much better than “basic” cards.

If you don’t know, cloze cards are fill in the blank cards while basic cards are your standard flashcards with a “front” and “back”.

Cloze cards are better because:

  • They allow you to make multiple flashcards from one sentence
  • Can make lots of cards very quickly
  • You can have more context around the card
  • Can add “clues”
  • You can still make standard flashcards with them

However, be warned that cloze cards can sometimes lead to you memorising sentences rather than the concept at hand.

This is very important to understand as this can significantly reduce the amount you end up retaining.

In my experience, I have found that memorising sentences isn’t as bad as everyone says. If you end up memorising sentences, you can just recall those sentence sentences at a later date and use the information contained within the sentence. Let me give you an example:

What is the difference between knowing that London is the capital of England and memorising the sentence “The capital of England is London”.

If you have the later memorised, it means you can “work out” that the capital of England is London. The only time this gets tricky is if you have complex, interconnected concepts that are supposed to be deeply understood.

However, if that is the case, you should probably be using other resources on top of Anki to support your learning (see my 10 tips for Anki beginners and experts where I dive into this topic more deeply).

Attack From Multiple Angles

The individual card is sometimes not as important as the related cards which surround it.

Now, this article is about how you can make amazing Anki flashcards.

However, it is just as important to have a good collection of cards that are related to the topic. These cards can then support your understanding of the content and help you build those all-important neural connections.

I have gone over this in other blog posts, but let me share with it for you here too. Here is an example of the types of cards you could make which would attack a topic from different angles.

  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.

Make Up Mnemonic, Acronyms and Words

You can spice up your cards by creating mnemonics and acronyms.

Making up acronyms and acronyms are some of the most powerful ways of remembering things in the long term.

If used properly, they will help you recall information well after you stop using Anki.

For example, these are some cards that I have used an acronym to memorise. I have used the acronym “CLOT” to memorise what Antiphospholipid syndrome causes.

Acronym example (front of card)
Acronym example (back of card)
Acronym example (after selecting “reveal all”)

I also use made-up mnemonics as can be seen in the example given below.

The adverse effects of isotretinoin can be remembered with “The Dragon Lord Really Hates Noisy Insufferable Peasants”

I used a mnemonic to remember this card

The beginning of each word corresponds to the first letter of each word. Therefore I use the mnemonic to help me remember the first letter of the list, making the entire list easier to memorise.

The Dragon Lord Really Hates Noisy Insufferable Peasants corresponds to:

  • Teratogenicity
  • Dry skin
  • Low mood
  • Raised triglycerides
  • Hair thinning
  • Nose bleeds
  • Intracranial hypertension
  • Photosensitivity

Doing weird and wonderful things like this can make the whole process of making Anki cards much more enjoyable.

Stay Away From Yes/No Cards

These might be some of the easiest cards to make, but they aren’t the best for learning information.

Yes/no and true/false cards don’t work in Anki.

There is no harm in making them if you genuinely think they will help you, however, in my experience, they don’t test yourself enough.

Is a human cell a eukaryote?

The problem is that by having limited options to choose from, your brain is prevented from exploring other possibilities.

If you find that you have forgotten the answer, you will be more likely to reveal the answer without thinking about it.

A better way of wording the question given above is:

A human cell is under what domain? (biological taxonomy)

Now that you know about this phenomenon, maybe you can stop yourself from falling into this trap.

Other Tips for Making Incredible Cards

Here are some other tips that you can use for making great Anki cards.

Use Tags to Organise Cards

Tags are a great way to organise cards in Anki.

They are relatively simple to use.

When adding a card, you should see a section near the bottom of the page with the label “tags”. Here you can add any tags you want which you can then sort in the “Browse” window.

Check out this video for a basic introduction to tags.

Download the Image Occlusion Add-on

The image occlusion add-on is a fantastic add-on that allows you to effectively learn anatomy.

For example, if you want to cover up the labels of an image which shows the muscles of the arm, you can do that with this add-on!

If you want to learn more about add-ons that you should use in medical school, check out this article I made about that very topic!

Don’t Make Too Many Cards

My last tip is this: it doesn’t matter how amazing your cards are; if you never see them then all that effort will go to waste.

And that is exactly what is likely to happen if you make too many cards.

You can only do 20-30 cards a day before you start to max hour how much you can learn. Even 30 cards a day isn’t sustainable for more than a few months.

So you should use this to calculate how many cards you should make.

If you do 20 new cards a day, then that is 600 cards a month. If you have 6 months till your exam, you could do 3600 cards.

Therefore, you should not be making more than 3600 cards over the entire year (if you start doing Anki 6 months before your exams). Any more than this and you will just be wasting your time.

Of course, this is just an estimate, so calculate for yourself how many cards you think you can do.


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.

Check out the other articles which I have written on Anki here.

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