How to Use Anki as a UK Medical Student
Are you tired of seeing Anki tips from US medical students? There are plenty of articles and websites dedicated to using Anki for the USMLE, but there seem to be very few aimed at the UK. Well, in this article I talk about everything a UK medical student needs from which decks you should be using to general Anki tips and tricks.
- Quick Summary
- The Best Way to Use Anki for UK Medical Students
- The Flashfinals Deck
- Using US Decks for UK Exams
- Flashfinals vs AnKing Comparison
- Should You Make Your Own Decks?
- Further Reading
In a rush? Here are the main things I talk about in this article:
- Use pre-made decks – they save a lot of time
- Try to get together with friends and make cards
- In pre-clinical years, create Anki cards using lectures
- Download the AnKing deck
- In clinical years, use lectures and Passmedicine to create your Anki cards
- Download the Flashfinals and AnKing Step 2 decks
The Best Way to Use Anki for UK Medical Students
Major update: I have published a brand new set of Anki decks called Rubyfinals that are made for UK medical students! (25/11/2020)
This article assumes some basic knowledge of Anki and how to use it. If you are not sure about Anki then check out this article on the fundamentals of Anki.
As medical students, we know that Anki is one of the best ways to revise.
It uses active recall and spaced repetition which are two of the best ways to study (see my active recall and spaced repetition blog).
One of the best ways of utilising Anki effectively is by using pre-made decks.
Pre-made decks are fantastic because they allow you to save the time needed to make the flashcards and focus on doing the flashcard itself.
Here are some of the reasons why pre-made decks are great:
Unfortunately, UK medical students are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to using Anki.
There are very few pre-made decks available.
In fact, there seems to only be one deck: the Flashfinals deck which I will discuss below.
Other than this, there are no pre-made decks for UK medical students.
So what should you do?
Well, you have a few options.
Either you could make your flashcards.
Or you could use the US pre-made decks.
There are pros and cons to both of these which I will go into later.
First, let’s discuss what this Flashfinals deck is and if it’s any good.
The Flashfinals Deck
Major update 1: I have published a brand new set of Anki decks called Rubyfinals! Don’t worry this is the last time I mention it. (25/11/2020)
Major update 2: The Flashfinals website has been taken down. Don’t worry, you can find the original decks on the Rubyfinals page. (07/02/2021)
The Flashfinals deck is a group of decks that cover the majority of clinical specialities.
Take a look at this example below of what a flashcard in the Flashfinals deck looks like:
The flashcards are very long. This is generally a bad thing as there is no way you can learn all of this content in one flashcard. There is a solution to this that I have found which includes using a cloze overlapper add-on and a lot of work (see below for more detail).
Another thing which makes this deck below-par is how it focusses mainly on clinical medicine.
This means, there is little-to-no mention of biochemistry, anatomy and physiology (only if it is clinically relevant is it mentioned).
For those in their clinical years, it is great. But for those still in their first few years of medicine, they have to find alternative solutions.
Here is a full list of the specialities that the Flashfinals deck contains:
- Emergency Medicine
- Infectious diseases
- Oncology and Palliative Care
- Emergency Surgery
- General Surgery
- Lab tests
- What’s the worst that could happen
Some specialities are notably absent, like obstetrics and gynaecology.
Before I tell you how to convert the long flashcards into nice, digestible chunks, let’s first discuss why having long cards is bad in the first place.
Why Are Long Flashcards Bad?
A fundamental principle of using Anki is trying to actively remember what a card says before revealing the answer.
Unfortunately though, if the card is too long, the amount that you can remember from it starts to dwindle. This can turn into a downwards spiral of you pressing “again” far too many times.
At best you will get frustrated that you can never remember anything on the card, at worst, you will lose motivation to do Anki and give up on it entirely.
Here is a reminder as to what a card in the Flashfinals deck looks like:
One final issue that I would like to mention is how to rate your card.
After the answer is revealed, you get the choice of “again”, “hard”, “good” and “easy”.
However, let’s say you remembered 70% of what is on the back of the card, what are you supposed to click?
If you want to only press “good” when you know a card well, you may end up spending way too long trying to learn a single card.
On the other hand, if you keep on pressing “good” regardless of a less than 100% recall, you will end up forgetting the card quickly, necessitating you to press “again” way too soon.
So as you can see, having long paragraphs as the answer to flashcards is a real dilemma. Lucky for you, I have an excellent solution.
How to Actually Use the Flashfinals Deck
What I do is use the cloze overlapper add-on (you currently have to subscribe to glutanimate’s Patreon to get access to it – I suggest just cancelling the subscription after the first month after downloading the add-on).
Cloze overlapper is an add-on by glutanimate that is similar to the “Cloze” card type but with one big difference.
It allows you to blank out all the cards at once. With the normal cloze, you only blank out the card you are trying to remember.
This is not ideal for long cloze flashcards as you start to remember the surrounding cards and end up memorising the “shape” of a card. You end up knowing the answer to the card without reading it, just because of what the card looked like.
Blanking out all the cards at once results in this problem being minimised.
Once you have downloaded the add-on, all you have to do is change the card to “cloze overlapper” and then create the flashcards you want.
See the gif below to understand what I mean.
I create cards around the important points. That means that all the sections I want to remember, I create a flashcard.
However, sometimes, if a card is particularly long, I leave out a lot of the card and only make a small amount of it into a flashcard.
This is because making too many cards is something you have to be aware of. Therefore, you should try and not have unnecessary flashcards if possible.
Below is an example of a finished card which I have used the cloze overlapper add-on for.
Unfortunately, this method is still not perfect.
There tends to be no context behind the cards. You don’t have a specific question which prompts you for what the answer is, rather you have to just “guess” what you think it might be.
Overall Thoughts on Flashfinals
I do believe it is a great deck for those willing to add cloze flashcards and do a significant amount of editing. If you work with friends then I’m sure you can get it done in no time.
Here is a summary of the positives and negatives of the Flashfinals deck:
Go to the Flashfinals website to download each deck individually. The website has been taken down. Go to the Rubyfinals page to download the original Flashfinals decks.
Or you could just download the Rubyfinals deck.
Using US Decks for UK Exams
There is certainly an argument that can be made as to why you should use US decks.
They are comprehensive, regularly updated and don’t require you to turn them all into different card types like Flashfinals.
However, they are not made for UK exams which means they sometimes contain relevant information or sometimes even wrong information (e.g. having the first-line treatment being a different drug than NICE recommends).
Even so, I believe there are scenarios where you want to be using the US pre-made decks.
Before we go into which scenarios they are, you should be aware of the main decks that all US students use. The King of decks if you will.
They are the AnKing Step 1 deck and 2 decks.
What is the difference between Step 1 and Step 2 I hear you ask?
Well, if you don’t know anything about the US medical school system (and I don’t blame you) then here is a brief explanation:
- US students sit the USMLE Step 1 exam after their first two years of medical school (meaning Step 1 is a basic science or “pre-clinical” exam).
- After another one or two years, they take the USMLE Step 2 exam
- This exam has two parts – Step 2 CS and CK
- Step 2 CK is the one the AnKing deck is based on because the other exam is essentially an OSCE style exam
How Should You Use These Decks?
One way of doing it is to download both decks, Step 1 and Step 2, and then search for relevant cards as you come by them.
For example, let’s say you are studying cardiology. You could do one of two things:
- Find the cards tagged “cardiology” and “heart” and place them into a new deck. You then slowly start going through them.
- Or, as topics come up in lectures, you search for the relevant cards and then place them in a new deck.
You could even combine these two methods.
Whatever you do, you should try and always double-check the cards. This may seem impossible as there are so many cards in each deck, but try to at least double-check the most important cards.
This way you can make sure you aren’t learning US-specific info that you don’t need to know.
Overall, I think using US decks can work well if you do it right. It can save a lot of time compared to using Flashfinals while still giving you a solid foundation on which to build your medical knowledge.
Here is a list of positives and negatives of using the AnKing deck:
Use AnKing Step 1 for pre-clinical years and AnKing Step 2 for clinical years.
To learn more about the AnKing decks and find out where to download them, check out these links:
Flashfinals vs AnKing Comparison
Here is a comparison of all the main ways of using Anki that we talked about:
|Relevant to the UK?||Yes||No|
|Main card type||Basic||Cloze|
|Is a lot of editing required?||Yes||No|
|How detailed are the cards?||Overly detailed||Simple cards|
As you can see there is no real answer as to which deck is the best. They both have their pros and cons.
It depends entirely on personal preference.
However, you could just cheat and get the best of both worlds by combining both decks.
Combining Flashfinals and AnKing
In all honesty, this might be the best option for most people.
There is no ideal UK deck which fits for all UK medical schools. Even when the UKMLA starts it will not be fully standardised like the US’s USMLE.
Therefore, until you have someone at your university who has created a deck specifically for your course, you will most likely have to mix and match to get the results you need.
There is one option that I have not touched upon but is one which may be the best option for some students.
That is making your decks.
Should You Make Your Own Decks?
There are many reasons you should make your cards and there are reasons why you should not.
For one, you are much more likely to remember the things you wrote in your card compared to what someone on the internet wrote.
Another is that you can create cards that are specific to what will come up in your exams. This is essential as each university in the UK has different rules and learning objectives. Having cards that are specific to your course can make you get to another level.
No matter how you make your cards though, make sure you share it.
Have a google sheets document where you have assigned every lecture to someone for them to create cards from. At the end of the week, you can get together and share your cards.
This will save you a huge amount of time while also getting to socialise with people you may not have known before.
If you want, you could even create an Anki society. Why not! It will bring together Anki lovers from across your university and medical school and help you collaborate much more efficiently than with people who only half care about Anki.
Making Cards From Lectures
One of the things you will have to think about is if you want to make cards from the lectures.
A lot of UK medical schools use lectures as the main way of learning new material.
Here is the main process that you should follow when making cards from lectures:
- Copy and paste the relevant phrases and words into Anki
- Include images where possible (use Cmd + Ctrl + Shift + 4 if on Mac)
- Use the “Cloze” type of flashcard
- Try not to make more than 20-40 flashcards per lecture
If your university doesn’t use lectures as the main source of learning, you could possibly increase the number of cards made per lecture.
You just have to be very careful that you don’t make too many cards. I have gotten into this problem before and it resulted in me being completely unmotivated to do the cards.
I spent so much time making the cards and didn’t end up doing them!
Don’t make the same mistake I did and ensure you only make cards from the most important points of the lecturer.
Using Passmedicine to Create Flashcards
Another way to create your flashcards is to use Passmedicine.
For those that don’t know what Passmedicine is, it is an online question bank that stores thousands of multiple-choice style questions.
It is generally used by students in their clinical years, but can certainly be used by those in their first few years as well.
The main way to make cards is by using the extra information at the bottom which is provided for each question. It is a great source of information and is something that I personally found very useful when combined with US Anki decks.
Again, the important thing is to not create too many cards.