• Michael Dworkin, MD

How to use Anki for medical school

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

So you've heard about Anki - but how should you actually use Anki in medical school? Here is the MedSchoolGurus Anki medical school guide!


Contact us at info@medschoolgurus.com for a free 15 minute consultation to learn more about our tutoring services. Among many other things, we help all of our students set up Anki, get set with an Anki deck (such as the amazing MedSchoolGurus Anki Decks), and understand how to use Anki on a daily basis.



Download Anki


Go to the Anki website and download Anki.

Go to the app store on your smartphone and download the Anki App.



Create an AnkiWeb account


Go to the AnkiWeb website and create an AnkiWeb account.



Link an AnkiWeb account


On your desktop, open Anki. Click sync. Enter your AnkiWeb credentials. Click upload to AnkiWeb. Wait for the sync to complete.

On your phone, open Anki. Click the gear button. Click synching. Enter your credentials. Go back to the Anki home screen. Click synchronize. Click download from AnkiWeb. Wait for sync to complete.



Starting off with a pre-made deck


Many students begin with one of many pre-made decks. There are many decent decks available online. We recommend using the MedSchoolGurus Anki Decks.


First, suspend all the cards you haven't seen yet. Go to the Anki browser and sort by the date due column. Cards you've seen before will have a due date. Cards you have not seen yet will have a random long number in the due date column. Select/highlight all of the cards you have not yet seen and click suspend. The due date numbers of the suspended cards should now be surrounded by parenthesis. This is a very important step. Do not skip it.


If you're wondering how to import a quizlet deck into Anki, check out this blog post.



Anki settings for medical school


The default settings of Anki decks are not ideal and should be edited as follows. Go to the Anki home screen. You should see a list of your decks. Next to the name of your deck, click the gear button and click options from the dropdown menu. Change the new cards per day limit to 120. Click the reviews tab. Change the maximum reviews per day to 9999. Click ok.


Go back to the home screen with the list of your decks. From the menu bar, click Anki. From the dropdown menu, click preferences. From the second drop down menu, click "Show new cards before reviews".



Using Anki for all new learning


You should use Anki every day to capture all of the new high yield information you learn. Which information is high yield? Check out our blog posts on which resources to use to prepare for preclinicals and USMLE Step 1 and which resources to use for clinicals and USMLE Step 2 CK preparation.


If you just learned a new fact about myosin in the pathology of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, open the Anki browser on your computer and search for "myosin hypertrop". Note that you don't have to put in complete words for the search function to work. Browse the cards that pop up in the search results. Select the cards you want to study and click suspend. This will unsuspend the cards and you should see that the due date number or date should no longer be surrounded by parenthesis.


You might not always find a pre-made card that corresponds to the information you're trying to learn. That's ok. Make a new card by clicking Add. A good card will test one fact and provide one answer. It's helpful to add screenshots of useful images, tables, or other content, into the back of cards. E.g., if you just made a card asking what the accumulated substance in Tay-Sachs disease is, it'd be helpful to add a screenshot of a table of all the lysosomal storage diseases in the back of the card, just so you can review it if you want at any time after reviewing your card in the future.


Use this process to capture all the new info into Anki, either via unsuspending pre-made cards or creating your own new cards. Pause the video you are watching after learning something new and make sure to capture it into Anki. Take notes in the back of cards if you'd like as well. After getting a question wrong, make sure to capture the key fact you missed into Anki. At the end of your day on wards, look to see what you leaned and see if there's anything worth adding into Anki.


If you're going through a topic for the first time, you'll probably unsuspend or add a ton of new cards a day. Maybe even 300 or so. That's ok. It's hard to commit all of those facts to memory in a single day. The limit of 120 new cards per day is to prevent you from going crazy trying to learn new material. It is equally important to keep up with old reviews as it is to review new information.



Using Anki for review


Anki will assign you due cards every day. These are the cards you're most likely to have forgotten, so it's important to do all due cards every day. Typically, students can make it through about 120 review cards per hour and 50 new cards per hour. Completing your daily quota of multiple choice questions is more important than completing every single Anki review, however.


During preclincials and your dedicated USMLE Step 1 review time, try to do at least three hours of Anki review every day and try to make significant progress at completing your reviews every day. During the peak of your dedicated study period, it can take 3-5 hours every day to complete these reviews. Try to finish all of the reviews even if it takes more time.


During wards, try to do at least 1 hour of Anki review every day on wards, and 3-5 hours during weekends/days off.



What to do if your Anki cards are piling up


What if your cards start to pile up and you have 1000+ cards to review? Your main study deck likely has many subdecks for various organ systems and topics. If you click your main study deck and click study now, you will complete these subdecks in alphabetical order. This is fine if you end up completing all the cards, but if you can't complete your daily reviews, you should complete the subdecks that are most important to your review right now. You can do that by clicking the subdeck from the Anki home screen and then clicking study now. For example, if you are really weak in respiratory but haven't been completing this subdeck on a daily basis, click your respiratory subdeck and try to complete all the reviews. Your MedSchoolGuru will help you figure out what to prioritize based on which of your current weaknesses are highest yield to review.



Synch Anki regularly


Make sure to periodically sync your Anki collection on your desktop once you've added a bunch of new cards on your desktop copy of Anki. Then sync your phone's Anki to make everything up to date.



Avoid filtered decks


Anki has the option to create filtered decks which are a quick option to study a bunch of selected cards at once as opposed to doing the cards in the order Anki presents them to you. If you would like to do this, just click on the subdeck of interest from the home screen and click "Study Now" if you'd want to do a more focused review.



Do not unsuspend a whole subdeck at once


It may be tempting to, all at once, unsuspend a whole subdeck. For example, you may be using a nice pre-made deck while studying hematology. You might choose to select all 700 premade hematology cards and click unsuspend at once. Don't do this. You should review hematology using Pathoma, First Aid, and UWorld, and other resources, and unsuspend facts you don't know as you encounter them. This is a much more manageable and memorable strategy. If you've completed your hematology review and want to see which hematology cards you haven't suspended, go to the Anki browser, click your hematology subdeck, click enter, and search for "-is:suspended". This will show you all of your unsuspended cards in your hematology subdeck. Click through these cards in the browser and see if you find anything that you think is high yield.



A possible exception to the avoid filtered decks rule (advanced)


One possible exception to the "avoid filtered decks rule" is the use of filtered decks to study your review cards each day in a random order. This is a more advanced technique, so if you're just getting started with Anki, skip to the next section, and revisit this later.


Anki presents reviews in order of the subdeck containing the review card. Since subdecks are alphabetically arranged by default, you'll always see reviews from your Anatomy subdeck before reviews from your Endocrine dubdeck, before reviews from your Renal subdeck, etc. One way to get around this is to, each day, rebuild a "filtered reviews deck".


To do this, go to the home screen (the one that lists all of your decks). In the menu-bar, click "Tools">"Create Filtered Deck...". In the menu that pops up, type the following into the "Search" box.

deck:"MedSchoolGurus"is:due

In the "Limit to" box, enter 9999. In the "cards selected by" dropdown menu, select "Random". Make sure the "Reschedule cards based on my answers in this deck" box is checked. This is important, as otherwise, reviewing cards in the filtered deck will not count as reviewing that card in your main deck. Click build. By default, this will create a new deck called "Filtered Deck 1". You can rename this in the home screen by clicking the gear button to the right of the "Filtered Deck 1" and clicking "Rename". Rename it to "MedSchoolGurusReviews", for example. Review the cards from the filtered deck.


The next day, when you're ready to review your cards again, go to the home screen. Click the gear button next to the name of the filtered deck. Click "Options". In the resulting menu, click "Rebuild". Now you're ready to do your day's worth of reviews in a totally random order!



Final thoughts


This is by no means a comprehensive guide to using Anki. Talk to your Guru to get yourself set up for success, inquire about our shelf exam and USMLE tutoring services, or set up a free 15 minute consultation session through our contact page, medschoolgurus.com/contact.