So you’re studying with Anki… You’re trying to use flashcards to help yourself get better grades but right now you just want to pull your hair out. What should you do?
In this post, I’ll be talking about how to make Anki work for you and how to make sure that you don’t fall for those common pitfalls most med students fall for. Here are my top tips and keys to studying with Anki.
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Key Tips To Using Anki
I want to give a little bit of an overview as well as answers to questions I often receive with regards to Anki.
One of the most common questions I receive is usually from students who have loads of flashcards left to review. It becomes overwhelming and difficult for the student to be consistent with their flashcards.
I want to talk about two tips I’ve previously given in some of my previous posts to help explain how to use Anki more effectively.
Tip #1: Time Yourself
The first tip I’d give you on studying with Anki and how to use Anki better is to have a mental or actual physical timer for your flashcards.
Essentially, instead of just saying, “Well, I’m going to have to answer this flashcard and then I can move on,” give yourself a very brief timer, maybe like ten seconds, and ask yourself, “Can I answer this flashcard or not?”
What is the key benefit here? You get to make corrections early.
What I’ve found through my own experience, as well as through working with other med students and coaching, is that you find the most benefit from Anki cards by making the mistakes.
If you have a flashcard that you’re not exactly sure how to approach… Instead of spending two minutes trying to answer, try probably spending ten seconds on it saying, “I don’t know the answer. Let me look at it and move forward and review.”
“And when I see the answer, I’m going to give myself another ten to twenty seconds to review and then click that one minute button so I can see it again pretty soon.”
Imagine you had two students. One spends about a minute per flashcard or even more just to make sure they perfectly get all the information, and the second gives themselves that timer about ten to fifteen seconds.
Student A will be able to get through all the material and maybe have comfort for their initial phase. Unfortunately, the retention will go down.
If you compare that to Student B, this student is going to have so many more opportunities for repetition.
In fact, you’ll find that Student B will notice the easy topics – maybe they repeat and get it right on the first try or their second. That way they can spend the remaining amounts of time dedicated specifically to the topics they are weaker on.
Student B will not only have more repetition, but they’ll also ideally have better retention.
Finally, they’ll have more time dedicated to their weaker topics compared to Student A who was spending about the same amount of time, regardless of whether the flashcard was hard or not.
Tip #2: Screenshot Flashcards To Save Time
Tip number two on studying with Anki and how to use Anki cards a little bit more effectively is to try using screenshot tools in order to be able to expedite your creation phase.
Usually, it takes so much time to actually create the flashcards, so you want to expedite that process as best as possible.
If you’re using a PowerPoint slide, a syllabus, or even an online resource to create your Anki cards, maybe see if you can actually use a snipping tool or a screenshot tool on your laptop to just be able to replace the typing of questions or the actual answer of the slide.
If there’s a PowerPoint slide in your lecture, that basically explains what you would have typed anyways, so you might as well just go ahead, screenshot that, and use it as your flashcard.
How To Use Anki
Now let’s transition to some things I get questions about all the time, one of which is my Anki settings.
If you’re unfamiliar, Anki basically has its own default settings on how it goes by its spaced repetition algorithm. But if you click on the Options setting of any deck, you can go ahead and choose how many new flashcards you want, how many review flashcards you want, and basically what period of time would you want.
It’s definitely useful if some things come very easy to you versus some things that you have a little more difficulty with.
Use Default Settings
Spoiler alert: Nine times out of ten, I’m usually not going to make any changes to the default settings that Anki gives me. Usually, the default alone does the trick.
A few times where I will make some adjustments is if I have a deck that’s been made.
For example, if I’m studying for Step 1 or Step 2 and those Anki cards are just enormous in terms of the deck size, I want to make sure that I’m able to get through enough of the new material as well as review as possible.
In this case, I will go ahead and change the numbers.
Twenty flashcards per day of new material for a thousand-plus flashcard deck isn’t really realistic. So you may change that to fifty or more depending on your capabilities.
Or in another case where it’s a really small deck with a lot of pieces of information, I’d maybe then change that number to ten a day.
So it’s really up to you. I just usually stick by the default on the majority of the things for Anki.
Review Both Weak And Strong Points From Old Lectures
Now, if you’re using the step-by-step method on how I used Anki, one of the things I do is that I use a cramming method through Anki to review old flashcards.
I want to make sure that I’m not only getting the weak points, but that my strengths stay as my strengths.
For that, I’d actually go to the Custom Study option. If you click down the Study by Card state, you will actually see “all cards in a random order”.
Basically, it’ll show you every single card that needs to be in that deck. Now you can make sure that when you’re reviewing all the flashcards, both the easy and harder ones will show up at once.
And if you’re somebody who ends up with a really large deck of old cards that you need for review, I would recommend using this cramming function that way.
I’ve used this cramming function when I would review an old lecture for an upcoming quiz.
When I say I’m studying chapter one, I’ll review all of those lectures from chapter one, not just the ones that Anki will recommend on that specific day.
Another one of the features I do enjoy using is the Stats function.
Now, if you’re going through a very large deck or if you’re preparing for an upcoming exam, sometimes it’s important to understand how many flashcards you still haven’t gone through.
Imagine I had downloaded a Step 2 deck just now. It will show that I actually have 2000 cards that are if I was studying for Step 2.
This is a great way of being able to understand, do I need to increase how many new cards I’m shown on a daily basis or do I just need to do more flashcards on a daily basis?
For that, the Stats function really helps.
Should You Pay For Anki?
Another one of the related questions I do get is should you download the apps on your devices?
As of the moment, Anki is actually free for Android so there’s no doubt that the answer to that is a definite yes.
But for Apple devices like your iPhones or your iPads, there is a fee.
The last time I had to pay for it, I believe it came to about 20 to 30 dollars, but do bear in mind that this is just a one-time fee.
And the real question is, should you have to pay for that? Is it actually beneficial?
I honestly recommend that if you do have an iPhone or an iPad, go ahead and just spend that one-time charge. That way, if you ever do have your iPad or your iPhone near you and you’re going to need those flashcards, you can do it without having to wait to get to your computer or your Android device.
In my personal experience, I would use the app in between classes as well as for my rotations.
Bonus Tips On Studying With Anki
So to wrap up this post, I want to leave you a few other techniques you can use to make Anki more effective, as well as increase your retention when using the flashcards themselves.
Work in Focused Intervals
The first thing I would recommend doing is to work in focused intervals.
Often we’ll say, “I need to do 200 flashcards a day,” which may not seem like a lot looking at it per day, but if you do miss a day, then doing 400 flashcards the next day is kind of a little overwhelming. And the following day, it would be 600 cards.
If you were to miss two days in a row, it can basically just be a done deal. No. You’re not going to do it.
Have Mini Focus Sessions
So the best way to actually process getting through as many cards as you’ve assigned yourself is to try to break it into minifocus sessions.
Maybe you find that you could do 25 flashcards before starting your day or having breakfast or going to class.
Doing those 25 flashcards may only take you about 10 minutes to do, but you’re already about a fourth of the way done if you assigned yourself a hundred flashcards in a day.
If you have these mini focus sessions throughout the day where you’re able to do it during some downtime before a meal, after a meal, or before some transition in your med school schedule, you’ll be able to get through a lot of flashcards without feeling like it’s overbearing or that you’re doing tons of flashcards on a daily basis.
It will much more seem like a very manageable task, and it’s much more likely for you to do those individual small mini tasks instead of that big task in one sitting.
With that, these focus intervals can help you take a lot of flashcards and make them more manageable.
One of the questions I do get is how to go about your review.
Now we talked about the cramming function to be able to see all the flashcards in one place. But one of the things that many students have issues with is just the flashcards starting to gather up and not really knowing how to approach them.
Do you use the flashcards that Anki recommends or do you just go through the lectures? Personally, I like to have all my lectures assigned to a specific day of the week when I review them.
For example, if lecture one was today, then the second time I would review lecture one would probably be over the weekend.
I would also have a specific day of the week coming into an exam day when I would review it for the third or fourth time, if I’m allowed to.
I would specifically assign an hour block or a 30-minute block, depending on my comfort level for that lecture, to review those Anki cards and use that cram session.
How I go about planning the various lectures throughout my schedule before a week of an exam really differs from what most people do.
Most people will probably start from their first lecture and move down chronological order, but it’s very easy to get overwhelmed because it’s been a while since you’ve learned that initial material. And as you get towards the end, there’s also a likelihood that you’ll forget lecture one for the second time.
So what I actually like to do is go from the Outside-In Approach.
For example, if there were 20 lectures for an exam, and there is time to review three lectures a day, most people would go from one to three, four to six, then seven to nine.
What I’d actually do is study lecture one and two as well as the last lecture of that block.
So if there were 20 lectures for an exam. I would do lectures one, two, and twenty. On day two, I would do lectures three, four, and nineteen.
This way, I’m getting a little bit of old material and new material, and my confidence is still kind of there and not beaten up by old material that I may have forgotten.
At the same time I’m also making sure that each topic is being covered with a little bit of variety in the same way that it would show up on exam dates.
If you’re struggling to figure out how to review your flashcards on Anki for an exam, I encourage you to maybe get away from using the flashcards Anki gives you and instead try to basically assign specific times of the week coming into an exam for a specific lecture, trying to use that custom option to see all of your flashcards at one time.
And also using that outside-in approach to make sure you’re seeing each lecture in a very authentic way.
So those, my friends, are my tips on studying with Anki and how to use Anki better to make sure that they’re more effective for you. But I know you guys probably still have questions about Anki, so make sure you drop them in the comments.
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I hope you enjoyed this post about studying with Anki effectively. If you did, I suggest you go check out these posts below:
- How To Use Anki In Medical School
- Studying In Medical School No More Than 5 Hours A Day
- 5 Proven Study Methods For Medical School
- How To Study In Medical School [Ultimate Guide]
- The Best Step 1 Resources [How To Get 250+]
- Top 10 Best Resources For OSCE
- How To Remember What You Read in Med School
- How To Review Anki Cards Faster In Med School
- How To Study With Bad Lectures & Still Get Good Grades
- Best Anki Settings You Need To Know About [Full Breakdown]
Until the next one my friend…