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How to Use Tags in Anki to Organise Your Cards

In this article, I go through a feature that is often left in a nebulous cloud of mystery: tags. This is hopefully the first and last article you will ever need about Anki tags.

Quick Summary

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 useful 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.

Suitcase Labels

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.

Each tag on the suitcase helps to identify the owner as to what each suitcase contains

In the same way, Anki tags are useful in identifying which cards belong to which category. Each card can have multiple tags attached to it.

The insane way that some pre-made decks organise their tags (AnKing Step 1 deck)

The above image might be slightly hard to see, but it shows the way that tags are written in Anki. It looks complicated, but it results in a hierarchy which you can see below.

The previous image results in this well-organised hierarchy of tags

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 in the first place?

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 important when you are planning on sharing your decks with other people. They won’t have the luxury of knowing where all your cards are, so a good 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

Hierarchical Tags

Before we discuss the best way of structuring your cards, you need to know what hierarchical tags are.

Luckily for you, Anki developers are constantly updating their application. 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?

Well, 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.

This might look confusing, but it’s organised by hierarchy

It might be hard to see the hierarchy in the image above, so look below to see my colour-coded version.

In this image, you can see each hierarchy separated out

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 that 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 we are all on the same page, let’s finally discuss the best ways of structuring 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 am going to 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.

Where you add tags in Anki

What Do You Write in the Tag Box?

The way you write tags is in the following syntax:

Anatomy::Muscles::Upper_Limb

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.

The tags created from “Anatomy::Muscles::Upper_Limb”

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:

  • Anatomy::Muscles::Upper_Limb
  • Deltoid
  • Step_1::UWorld_Anatomy

The only thing that separates them is a 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 results in a new tag being created.

Therefore, the below example does not work as intended.

Step 1 Anatomy of the Upper Limb

This will create 7 different flashcards

  • Step
  • 1
  • Anatomy
  • of
  • the
  • Upper
  • Limb

Instead, you want to have an underscore between each word.

Step_1_Anatomy_of_the_Upper_Limb

This will create a single flashcard:

  • Step_1_Anatomy_of_the_Upper_Limb

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, ever 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.

This tag will remain here even after you click “add”. Therefore, every card you add will have this tag.

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.

A drop-down menu appears because I have already created the 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 always delete tags later if you feel. However, adding too few cards could mean you don’t have the organisation that 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 then have that be the next level down and so on.

You may end up with a tag structure like this:

UWorld::Cardiology:Myocardial_Infarction

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:

  • UWorld::Cardiology:Myocardial_Infarction
  • Cardiac
  • Step_1::Cardiology::Chest_Pain

And that’s all there is to structuring 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.

Editing Tags

There are a few ways you can edit tags after they have been made.

All of the following take place in the “Browse” section of Anki.

Renaming Tags

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.

The rename option comes up when you right-click a tag

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 which had it.

The delete option comes up when you right-click a tag

Changing a Tags Structure

You can easily change the structure of a tag by simply 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 important thing in the world, you don’t want to make a dumb mistake and accidentally remove all your cards.

See the below gif.

Dragging and dropping a tag allows you to change the structure

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.

Right-clicking on a group of cards allows you to edit the tags for them as a whole

You may want to select the “clear unused tags” button if you have made significant changes to your tags recently. 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 search in the top left corner. There, you can search for any tag that you want.

Search for tags in the top-left search bar

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.

If you select any deck from the home screen, then the following page will appear (see image). At the bottom, you will see an option for “custom study”.

Custom study button

If you select this, then the following window appears (image below). The important thing to do here is to select the “study by card state or tag”. This will allow you to study a particular tag.

The window opens after you click “custom study”. Here you can select the option which is highlighted to study a particular tag.

You can experiment with which box option in the bottom box you should pick. I suggest that 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 bellow window come up. You need to tick the box at the top and then select a tag you want to study.

You should able to study those specific tags.


That’s everything! I hope you enjoyed it.

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