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Is Anki a Good Resource for Medical School?

In this article written by Cynthia Kamweru, I go through if Anki is the best resource for medical school or if it’s a waste of time.

Quick Answer

If you are in a rush, here is a quick answer to the question.

Anki can help you save a massive amount of time and can help you remember things that are otherwise incredibly hard to learn from using lectures and videos.

On top of that it is free and there are loads of online resources that can help you learn it properly. 

You can check out all my Anki-related articles here. I have loads!

What is Anki?

Before we dive into if Anki is good for medical school, we need to know what Anki actually is.

Anki is a free flashcard app that uses active recall and spaced repetition. This could be if you’re learning a new language, studying for exams or simply love learning. 

It has helped countless medical students worldwide and is particularly popular within the US as medical students use it to study for their USMLE exams. Its popularity within the US can be attributed to the countless pre-made Anki decks that are supported by various USMLE courses that students can buy.

Unfortunately, here in the UK that has simply not been an option until Flashfinals was put together a few years ago. Recently, the Rubyfinals decks have also been created which can also help UK medical students (you can also find the Flashfinals decks here).

If you would like to know more about what Anki is and why it’s so amazing, then I suggest you check out this blog post about what Anki is and why everyone uses it. You can also check out all of Revising Rubies’ blogs about Anki here.

In this blog post, I’ll be answering the question, “Is Anki good for medical school?” and what the best ways are to make it work for you.

Is Anki Any Good for Medical School?

Is Anki actually good for medical students or is it just a load of waffle?

If you were just looking for a simple, straight to the point answer, you’ve found it. The answer is yes; it is great for medical school!

Anki is an incredible tool that has helped millions of students around the world to not only study but understand their subjects, be it law, psychology or engineering. In addition, it has been scientifically proven to be effective.

However, it is a tool. That means you need to know how to use it for it to be effective. Once mastered though, it is something that can take your grades to the next level.

So, if you just needed one small push to give it a try, this is it and you can start reading our article on how to use Anki. But if you need a little more convincing, keep reading.

Why Modern Teaching Methods Are Suited for Anki

This section discusses how newer teaching methods involve the integration of multiple medical disciplines into one and how this lends itself to using Anki.

Traditional Teaching Methods

Teaching methods in high school and until recently, medical school have been largely based on a traditional ‘block’ system. For example, modules like pharmacology, anatomy and physiology are taught in isolation.

Whilst this method of teaching was good for the basics, it doesn’t allow students to learn medicine in the manner in which they present in life: real, raw and complicated, and ultimately is what really matters. 

Modern Curriculums

New curriculums, which have been adopted by some medical schools (and more are transitioning to doing so), allow the interweaving of various aspects of a condition in that the anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology and pharmacology of x condition are taught simultaneously. This allows students to grasp how a condition deviates from the norm and how it is managed based on the understanding of its pathophysiology. 

Of course, the advantage of this method is that students become clinically competent from an early stage and thus more likely to make better clinical decisions.

However, the major disadvantage is that it is incredibly difficult due to the vast amounts of knowledge and skill it requires from the outset.

As a by-product of block teaching, student’s overtime have resorted to “copying out” notes over and over again as a form of passive revision. However, an integrated curriculum does not provide the space nor time for students to spend countless hours doing so. 

How Anki Can Help

An integrated curriculum requires the utilisation of active recall and spaced repetition which Anki employs.

Active recall allows you to solidify the knowledge by testing yourself once a day over a set number of weeks as opposed to re-reading the same passage over and over again. Whilst spaced repetition allows you to retain the content, combining it with active recall provides better results in the long term.

Furthermore, as students progress through the clinical years and come across niche specialities with teeny tiny details (looking at you immunology), passive studying methods will no longer cut it. 

Does Anki Have Any Downsides?

This section explores how learning Anki isn’t as bad to learn as you think and what the downsides to Anki are.

So, this all sounds lovely but Anki can be daunting especially when picked up too close to exams.

However, it actually isn’t too complicated. You need to get comfortable with it, build your subject-specific decks and know what settings work for you

In addition, with everything moving online now due to the pandemic and lecturers uploading tons of “supportive” information for your modules, it can be difficult to pick out what actually matters. This runs the risk of creating too many cards due to the fear of missing out on “important” information.

However, creating large decks will result in you not doing as many cards as often as you should to stay on top of it. Just looking at the number of cards that you have to do will make you scared. This leaves you with hundreds (maybe thousands) of reviews to complete and you’re back to square one. 

On the other hand, cards that are straight to the point are great (and are recommended) but this requires a level of understanding of the content itself.

Furthermore, as with any resource, Anki on its own simply is not enough. Notably, as you commence the clinical years (and to an extent, pre-clinical years in the new curriculum), the ability to apply the knowledge is far more important than simply remembering memorised facts.

Why These Downsides Aren’t As Bad As You Think

Having said all of that, Anki is an underestimated and misunderstood resource that will change your life. The level of understanding required to make cards and thus effective decks is not something that should stop you from using Anki in the first place.

If anything, Anki will aid your understanding, push you to the next level, and make you stand out amongst the crowd. 

In addition, with the hours of online content available now and the unlimited resources at your fingertips, using Anki alongside these resources will only make your life at medical school that much easier.

Say goodbye to the endless pages of ‘summary’ notes and use Anki to pick out and highlight what is necessary. You can do this by adding new cards to already established decks as you complete practice questions on your favourite question bank (ours is Quesmed) or after a long day on the ward. 

Whichever way you choose to implement Anki into your daily study routine, you will be much better off.

Is There a ‘Right’ Time to Use Anki? (Pre-Clinical vs Clinical)

If you haven’t already started using Anki, when should you start? Is there a “right” time to begin?

Short answer: There’s no “right” time! The best time is now.

Starting Anki in Pre-Clinical Years

As highlighted earlier, preclinical medicine is largely based on the traditional method of teaching and thus students over utilise memorisation to pass their exams and undervalue understanding the content.

As medical schools integrate clinical teaching earlier into their teaching and transition more towards ‘spiral’ curricula, medical students can no longer depend on memorisation techniques to get by. 

Getting by is exactly what memorisation is. It only allows students to learn skills in isolation without the ability to apply that knowledge within a wider context (which is what is required in clinical years). With the benefit of spaced repetition and active recall, Anki creates the path for students to learn, understand and apply anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology and pharmacology in one go. 

Starting Anki in Clinical Years

So, what about clinical years?

Do you still have the time to do Anki every day? Absolutely.

If I could summarise clinical years in one sentence it would be this: there’s so much information to know and yet, so little time (you could apply this for pre-clinical years too!). 

The majority of clinical years are spent within the hospital where patients are real, complicated and right in front of you. This means that the skill to link all of that information learnt in the past 2-3 years is necessary now more than ever.

As you merge all of that knowledge and incorporate it into your patient’s story, you will find gaps in your knowledge, and this is where the beauty of Anki comes in. As you further grasp conditions, this information can be added onto the ‘extra’ section of an already made card or you can simply create new cards within that deck.

This means that at the end of a long day on the ward, you don’t need to spend countless hours re-reading notes or passively revising. Instead, that time can be spent wisely sleeping, eating and actively revising. 

And why stop there?

As life as a junior doctor is filled with endless amounts of discharge paperwork (sorry, not the excitement we all thought), Anki decks can be revisited as you rotate through your foundation year jobs thus allowing you to make the most of your time gaining the much-needed experience. 

Conclusion

Here’s a conclusion to everything in the article.

If you are still undecided about whether to use Anki, ponder this. Anki will allow you to save a massive amount of time in medical school.

Through my use of Anki for the past 2 years, I have become more confident in my clinical knowledge more than any other tool I have used in the past. Using my time more effectively has created the space that I have needed to do things that I actually enjoy doing despite all the hours of online learning this past year.

A combination of Anki, Passmedicine, Quesmed and my lectures has enabled me to build on my understanding continuously through these years.

Undoubtedly, using Anki requires patience and discipline, but the rewards reaped are incomparable to any other study tool. I know for a fact that I will continue to make use of Anki as I transition into life as a junior doctor in a year. 

So, what are you waiting for?

The desktop version is free and with our amazing articles and videos here on Revising Rubies, you’re armed with the tools to make the most of it.

What do you have to lose?

Author: Cynthia Kamweru
Editor: Husein Essaji


Thank you to Cynthia Kamweru for creating this article. Find her on Instagram & LinkedIn @cynthiakamweru. She really pulled off an amazing job especially considering this was her first article! It’s only upwards from here :).

If you want more from me, then subscribe to my newsletter. Whenever I come across interesting apps/study tips/productivity advice, that is where I share it.

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