What Is Anki?

What Is Anki and How Can It Help You?

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How can you study efficiently without sacrificing retention? Are you confident you’ll remember the material for the exam in a week, for finals in a couple months and for boards next year? What about the next set of boards in another year? What is Anki? Anki’s spaced repetition algorithm answers these questions to streamline your study process.

What is Anki?

Anki is a free downloadable flashcard app for your PC, Mac, tablet, iPhone or Android. You can make your own cards like you would with paper flash cards. Also, you can get decks of flashcards from friends and classmates tailored to the material in your school’s lectures. You can even download USMLE and COMLEX decks made by high-performing students from previous years that reference popular resources such as First Aid, Boards and Beyond and Sketchy Medical.

How is Anki unique?

Unlike many other digital flashcard apps, Anki uses a spaced repetition algorithm to determine when to show you cards. If you make or download a new deck of 50 cards for a lecture, you’ll review all of them on the first day. When you review each card, you tell the program whether you knew the answer or didn’t. Anki saves this information and won’t keep showing you cards that you already know the answer to. Instead, the algorithm will wait several days before showing you the card again. If you still know the answer, it won’t show you that card for several more days and so on. Eventually the algorithm will determine that you’ve learned the card and won’t show it to you until you’re just about to forget it, several months in the future.

If you tell the program you didn’t know the answer to a card, it will keep showing you that card until you tell it you knew the answer. This way you spend more time on cards you don’t know and you don’t waste time on cards that you’ve already learned. It takes the guesswork out of deciding when you need to review cards and dials in your time spent reviewing to the minimum you need to learn the material well.

The Anki algorithm also allows you to retain material for months and even years because it never lets you forget cards. Once it determines you’ve learned a card, it shows you that card every few months so you don’t forget it. If you don’t remember it, it will start showing you the card more frequently again so you can relearn it.

How does this help you?

Anki saves time. You don’t study material you’ve already learned and you don’t have to come up with a study schedule. The app also improves your long-term retention through active learning and spaced repetition.

Should you use Anki as your primary study method?

For the reasons described above, Anki has a cult following among medical students. Some students use Anki almost 100% of the time. However, some only use it for certain topics such as anatomy and histology. Still others never use Anki, finding it too technical, difficult to stay consistent or boring to spend all day doing flashcards. Experiment and find out what works for you. Consider Anki as well as other active learning strategies such as question banks, the Feynman technique or getting together with a classmate and quizzing each other.

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