How to Use Anki | Complete Guide
This is a guide on using Anki, one of the best ways of revising and memorising anything. It can be used for anything from learning languages to memorising facts for your history GCSE!
What is Anki, and Why do Medical Students Use It?
Anki is one of the best tools out there. It is a piece of software that helps you memorise words or facts by using flashcards; it then spaces them out over time to help make sure you never forget them. In other words, it is a flashcard app. There are other flashcard tools which you can use, like Quizlet, but in my opinion, Anki is much more powerful.
That is because it uses a concept of spaced repetition and active recall, which is shown to be the best way of revising.
Anki has a significant learning curve. However, it is used by medical students worldwide, and this article aims to bring this incredible software to the masses so that you don’t have to be a medical student to use it.
It can also be used for learning languages, making your Spanish GCSE feel like a breeze!
The main thing with Anki is you have to do it every day.
If you would like a deep and excellent dive into the world of Anki, then feel free to look at their official manual.
I have an entire article which is dedicated to explaining what Anki is, so make sure you check that out.
Go to the Anki website and download the latest version of Anki available.
After you have done this and you open up the app for the first time, you will have something that looks like this
There are a few different options for you at this point. Either you could download a deck from online and get started straight away (which is quicker initially but may require you to edit a lot of cards over time) or you can start adding your own new cards. Either way, you should understand and change the settings according to what you deem is appropriate.
The first thing you will have to do is make some decks and adjust the settings of these decks. Decks are simply where your Anki cards will live. The “default” deck is where all of your cards will sit unless you rename it or add more decks
There is no need to make it more complicated than it is, and so I would start by putting all of your cards into the default deck which you can change the name of if you like (to change the name of a deck click on the gear icon and click on the rename deck option)
There are lots of different types of decks that you can make. For example, you can have a school deck for all the facts that you need to learn from classes, a Spanish deck as you wanted to learn Spanish since you were a kid, and also a geography deck because you need to learn all the capitals of the world for general knowledge quizzes.
Making Anki Cards
A question-and-answer pair is called a card. There are two main types of cards that you want to be familiar with. Basic and Cloze. We will go through what these both mean.
Let’s say you are studying a card. You get the question, “How tall is the tree?” you don’t know the answer. After thinking about it and deciding you still don’t know the answer, you can click the “show” button (see later in the article for pictures). Look at the example of a basic card below to understand the concept in more detail.
If you want to add cards, click on the “Add” button at the top. You will get a page that looks something like this.
It looks like a lot, but you only need to focus on the main writing sections. Everything else is extra.
Making Anki Cards: Basic
Basic cards are your standard, everyday flashcards. They have a front and a back.
Front of card: How tall is the tree?
Back of card: 248m
Making Anki Cards: Cloze
Cloze cards are “fill in the blank” cards. You can have one or more blanks in a sentence. An example is given below.
An example of how cloze cards look:
Front of card: The tree is […] and tall
Back of card: The tree is nice and tall
Note: There is no actual “front” or “back” in cloze cards. It is just a fill-in-the-blank where the answer gets revealed.
Anki makes creating clozes easy. To create this unique card type, select “Cloze” in the top left of the “add” page. See the red arrow below.
Type some text and then highlight over the text you want to blank out and click the […] button or press “command shift c” (for mac).
This is the show button:
It is what you click to reveal the back of a card.
Once you have revealed the answer, you can move on to the next card.
However, before you do this, you need to decide how well you did on the current card (how easy it was to remember the answer on the back of the card). You will get an option as shown below.
You can tell Anki how well you remembered, and Anki will choose the next time to show you again. As you can see from above, if you hit “good”, you will see the card in less than 10 minutes.
There is a lot we could say about the settings of Anki, and I will link further resources below if you would like to have a look. However, the main stuff I will mention here.
Above are the standard settings that come out of the box.
The main things that I would change are the “Steps (in minutes)”. This means at what intervals you will see your card when you are learning it for the first time. I recommend changing it to 10, 1440, 5760, 14400.
This will ensure that when you learn the card for the first time, you learn it well.
This AnKing YouTube video is an excellent start to learning more about the settings.
The following are screenshots of my settings. You may wish to copy these, however, feel free to tinker around with them as you wish.
Downloading decks from online (premade decks)
If you use Anki then you should be optimising and customising it for what you want it to do. Add-ons are the perfect way of doing that.
Here are the top three free add-ons:
- Frozen Fields (code: 516643804) – for adding similar cards quickly
- Image Occlusion Enhanced (code: 1374772155) – perfect for anatomy cards
- Review Heatmap (code: see page for instructions) – for staying consistent and general motivation
To use these add-ons, copy and paste the code into the “Add-ons” section. See this video if you are stuck.
Go follow glutanimate on Patreon, as he makes some awesome tags (you will have to pay, though).
My Tips for Using Anki
How to Memorise Lists
How do I memorise long, tiresome lists?
Cloze overlapper add-on!
It is a great tool, but unfortunately, you do have to pay for it.
However, it is worth it.
Just pay for one month, and you will have access to all of the add-ons.
See Mnemonic, Acronyms and Words for more details on how I use Cloze Overlapper to memorise lists.
Being Strict about Pressing “Again” and “Good”
This is a tricky one.
Although being strict is good in an absolute sense, it can increase your card load over time.
What do I mean by this?
I mean that if you press “again” too often, you will start to see cards way too often (due to “ease hell”).
This will not only be incredibly time-consuming in the long term, but it can be demotivating to the point where you stop doing Anki altogether.
To avoid this, you can:
- Learn the card properly in the first place
- Be generous about pressing “good” – if you get one small detail wrong, there’s no need to press “again.”
Do Loads of Practice Questions
Questions – you have to do past paper questions with Anki.
Anki on its own will not get you everything you dream of.
Instead, what I do is be consistent with Anki throughout the year, and then, when it comes to exam time, I ensure to do plenty of practice questions in the form of online question banks like Passmedicine.
Attack a Topic From Many Angles
Using multiple cards for one topic.
This is a good tip for anyone who finds it difficult to connect the dots. Have multiple flashcards that relate to one topic but are worded differently and come at it from different angles.
For example, let’s say you are trying to memorise the treatment options for asthma. These are the sort of flashcards you want to make in Anki to ensure you cover all the basics.
- Front: What is the first-line treatment of Asthma?
Back: Salbutamol Inhaler
- Front: An inhaler is typically used as a treatment for what?
- Front: Salbutamol inhalers are typically what dosage for adults?
- Front: The drug used to treat asthma is of what class?
Back: Beta agonist
- Front: What is the drug class of Salbutamol?
Back: Beta agonist
- Front: Name three drugs that are Beta-agonists (A, M, S)
Back: Albuterol, Metaproterenol, Salbutamol
The big downside of this is that you risk not being able to cover all the topics you want as you create too many cards.
Therefore I suggest only being in-depth, like the example above, when the topic is particularly important for you to know.
Mnemonic, Acronyms and Words
Making up acronyms and words helps.
For example, these are some cards that I have used the cloze overlapper + an acronym to memorise:
I have used the acronym “CLOT” to memorise what Antiphospholipid syndrome causes.
You then have the option to reveal the rest of the flashcards (they do not appear via default).
Revealing them can help you connect the dots between the different answers. This is shown in the image below.
I also use my own made-up mnemonics, as seen in the example given below.
The adverse effects of isotretinoin can be remembered with “The Dragon Lord Really Hates Noisy Insufferable Peasants”
Let me explain if you are a bit confused about what I mean.
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:
- Dry skin
- Low mood
- Raised triglycerides
- Hair thinning
- Nose bleeds
- Intracranial hypertension
Merge Your Decks
Rather than having many different decks, you should merge all of your decks into one overarching deck.
This is because it increases the effort that your brain has to make (by using a scientifically proven method of interleaving)
Why does interleaving work?
In Yana Weinstein’s paper, he states that interleaving works because it “allows students to acquire the ability to choose the right method for solving different types of problems rather than learning only the method itself”.
That essentially means that you are learning the topic rather than brute memorising.
As Anki has a lot of complicated settings, you may want to learn more. Therefore I have compiled a list of learning resources if you want to read about it.
- Anki Manual – for those that want to know everything (it is in-depth and maybe too much for a beginner)
- Anki and Medical School Anki Reddit pages (an excellent place to learn from other experienced users and can find all the premade Anki Decks)
- Revising Rubies Articles on Anki
- MedSchoolAnki – More geared to US students using Anki
- The AnkKing YouTube channel – His high-yield playlist is a must-watch!
- Prerak Juthani’s YouTube Channel – Loads of videos for those that want to know everything
- Shamin Ahmed’s Website – For great tutorials and in-depth explanations/tips and tricks
- Flashfinals – Has premade decks for UK Medical Students
- How to Use Anki: Anki Tutorial for Beginners (another Anki guide)
- Supermemos guide to effective learning (so that you don’t end up having terrible flashcards)
- Yousmle’s guide for medical students (for those medical students that want helpful tips and tricks)