How to Use Tags in Anki to Organise Your Cards
In this article, I go through a feature often left in a nebulous cloud of mystery: tags. This is hopefully the first and last article you will ever need about Anki tags.
If you are in a rush, here is a quick summary of everything I discuss in this article.
- Tags are similar to “labels” on luggage
- They are helpful for organising cards
- Perfect for using with “custom study“
You can check out all my Anki-related articles here. I have loads!
What Are Tags in Anki?
So what exactly are tags in Anki?
Tags are best thought of as labels that help identify cards.
Let’s take the following analogy.
Imagine you have a suitcase. Suitcases all look the same on the outside, so a way to distinguish one from the other is via labels.
By adding a colourful label to your suitcase, you can identify when it comes through the conveyer belt.
In the same way, Anki tags help identify which cards belong to which category. Each card can have multiple tags attached to it.
The above image might be slightly hard to see, but it shows how tags are written in Anki. It doesn’t look very easy, but it results in a hierarchy you can see below.
Don’t worry; you’ll be able to make your version of this by the end of this article. But we need to go step by step.
Now that you know what tags are, what’s the point of using them first?
Why Should You Use Tags in Anki?
So what’s the main benefit of using tags? Are they worth all the effort?
Every card you make should have some sort of tag attached.
It helps keep your cards organised and easily accessible for future use.
It’s even more critical when you plan to share your decks with others. They won’t have the luxury of knowing where all your cards are, so an excellent hierarchical structure is essential (see the later section on hierarchical tags).
However, if, for whatever reason, you know that you aren’t going to be using tags in the long term (i.e. for more than a couple of months) or you simply want to save some time when you are making cards, then you probably don’t need to worry about tags.
Here’s a summary of the reasons you should use tags:
- Organise cards in a well-defined structure
- Can have cards with multiple tags (this is an obvious advantage when compared to simply using decks to organise cards)
- Use custom study to specifically study cards of a particular tag
Before discussing the best way to structure your cards, you need to know what hierarchical tags are.
Luckily for you, Anki developers are constantly updating their applications. Previously, you would have had to download a special add-on to be able to use hierarchical tags in Anki. Now, it’s built-in.
But what is a hierarchy?
According to Google, a hierarchy is “a system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority“.
Look at the image below to see an example of what it means to have a hierarchy in Anki. The below images have been taken from the left-hand side of the browse section.
It might be hard to see the hierarchy in the image above, so look below to see my colour-coded version.
Now you should be able to see how “tags” is right at the top of the hierarchy, with tiers appearing at each level. This allows you to properly organise your cards in a way you were never able to previously (without the aforementioned add-on).
You can expand each of the sections and see the subsections within them.
Now that we are all on the same page let’s discuss the best ways to structure your tags.
How to Make and Structure Your Anki Tags
Let’s explore the best ways to structure your Anki tags so that you can more easily find cards in the future.
There is no set way to structure your tags, but I will show you a way that will work well for most people.
Adding Tags in Anki
When you add a card, you will see a box at the bottom which says “tags”. As you can probably imagine, this is where your tags go.
What Do You Write in the Tag Box?
The way you write tags is in the following syntax:
It might look almost code-like, but don’t worry, it’s not that complicated.
The double colon “::” tell Anki where you want your hierarchy to be. So the image below shows you the tags which have been created.
Creating Multiple Tags
It’s really easy if you want to add multiple tags. All you do is have a space.
Anatomy::Muscles::Upper_Limb Deltoid Step_1::UWorld_Anatomy
In the above example, there are three tags:
The only thing that separates them is space.
Tags Can’t Have Spaces Between Them
When you create a tag, you need to use the underscore “_” character between your words for it to count as a tag.
This is because leaving a space between words creates a new tag.
Therefore, the below example does not work as intended.
Step 1 Anatomy of the Upper Limb
This will create 7 different flashcards
Instead, you want to have an underscore between each word.
This will create a single flashcard:
Tags Don’t Move Once You Put Them in the Tag Box
Once you have created a set of cards, they will stay there regardless of the number of cards you add.
As long as you don’t exit out of the “add” window, every card you add will contain those cards. You can, of course, change the tags if you wish, but the idea is that all cards in that sitting will likely be of a similar grouping; Anki knows this, so keeps the tags there.
After You Have Created a Tag
After you have created a tag, you will see it in the drop-down when you want to create that same tag.
This helps you not make spelling mistakes when making the same card while also saving you time.
Structuring the Tags
There are several ways you can approach making your tag structure, but I stick to a basic principle: the more tags you can add to a card, the better.
There is no downside to adding too many tags. You can permanently delete tags later if you feel. However, adding too few cards could mean you don’t have the organisation you want.
Start General, Then Be Specific
Let’s say you are making cards from a questions bank; it’s probably a good idea to have that at the highest tag level. Then, you can be more specific with your tag; if it’s cardiology related, have that be the next level down.
You may end up with a tag structure like this:
You may also want to create tangential tags. This could be just reminders to yourself for the future. Remember, you can always change these in the future.
UWorld::Cardiology:Myocardial_Infarction Cardiac Step_1::Cardiology::Chest_Pain
You’ll therefore end up with these tags:
And that’s all there is to structure your tags! You can go as specific as you like.
However, try not to spend too much time making tags. They won’t help you remember things better! It’s just to help make things more organised.
You can edit tags after they have been made in a few ways.
All of the following occurs in Anki’s “Browse” section.
All you need to do to rename a rage is to right-click on the tag in the sidebar. An option to rename it will appear.
That’s it! This saves you from manually going through the cards and renaming the tag for each one.
Deleting a Tag
As you can see from the previous image, right-clicking on a tag brings up a “delete” option as well. If you click this, that tag will be removed from every card with it.
Changing a Tags Structure
You can easily change a tag’s structure by dragging and dropping it into the play you want it to go.
Note that you can’t do Cmnd/Ctrl + Z on these changes, so be careful! Although it’s not the most essential thing in the world, you don’t want to make a dumb mistake and accidentally remove all your cards.
See the below gif.
Another Method of Editing Tags
You can also right-click on a group of cards if you want to add/remove a tag to all of them.
You may want to select the “clear unused tags” button if you have recently made significant changes to your tags. It removes any tags which don’t have any cards associated with them (they are “empty”)
How to Search Tags in Anki
A good way to utilise tags effectively is to search for them.
It’s relatively easy to search for cards.
All you do is go to the sidebar and search in the top left corner. There, you can search for any tag that you want.
All the tags which have that word will appear in yellow.
How to Use Tags With “Custom Study”
One of the best ways to utilise tags is by using the custom study button. It allows you to study one (or more) tag(s) at a time.
The following page will appear if you select any deck from the home screen (see image). At the bottom, you will see an option for “custom study”.
If you select this, the following window appears (image below). The vital thing to do here is to select the “study by card state or tag”. This will allow you to study a particular tag.
You can experiment with which box option in the bottom box you should pick. I suggest you start with “All cards in random order (don’t reschedule)”. This will allow you to see any cards from a tag.
Once you click “choose tags”, you can see the below window. You need to tick the box at the top and select a tag you want to study.
You should be able to study those specific tags.
That’s everything! I hope you enjoyed it.