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Meet your New Best Friend: Anki

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

Anki is a popular professional healthcare student resource. You are likely to fall into one of two categories either you love it or you don't like it. Here are some of the best principles for making Anki simple and effective.

Spatial repetition software, similar to Anki, is one the most powerful learning tools for medical students. There are two types of people who use Anki as a tool: those who use it well and those who misuse it. These are the best methods for creating flashcards that work.

Keep Your Decks Simple

A sub-deck is not for each week of a class. This can make it difficult to review the information. Our recommendation is to make a single deck for large exams.

For example, your single deck can be Step 1 and include everything you learned in school. Your Step2CK deck can contain everything you learn in your third year. This method serves two primary purposes. You'll spend less time organizing and structuring deck. Sometimes simplicity is better.

You'll also be able to review the entire deck which will make it easier for larger exams such as the MCAT, DAT, PACAT, or GRE. This is impossible with a fragmented deck. Spaced repetition software such as Anki must be reviewed regularly in order to make it work well. Many students worry that they will waste time reviewing old information and neglect newer information. Spaced repetition is the key to success. The intervals for the previous subject have become longer by the time you move on to the next class. This means it takes less time to consolidate the information. You will still be able to recall most of the information on the big exam.

Lay the Foundations First

This tip is based upon the Pareto principle. Also known as the 80/20 Rule, this rule states that 80% effects are caused by 20% causes. It means that you should focus on the highest yield information so that you maximize your chances of scoring high on test day.

Students often get distracted by small details that have low yields. It is important to have a foundation and mental scaffolding. Simple models are simpler to understand and easier to review. As you work, you will be able to add details.

First Understand, Then Memorize

Surprisingly, many students make the error of trying to remember something they don't understand. It is not useful to memorize a list of information if you don't understand how to conceptualize it and place it in a mental framework.

You're less likely to recall and remember information if you don't understand it's context and how it can be applied. Thus, you'll be less likely to be able to apply the information on test day. Remember, achieving high scores on a test requires more than just knowing the information.

If you can organize each piece of information into a cohesive structure, it will dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to learn or memorize. It is not useful to remember loosely related facts.

Follow the Minimum Information Principle

The Minimum Information Principle reminds that simplicity is good. Simple cards are also easier to schedule and review. You need to continue to repeat the card if it has two sub-items. Splitting a single card into two cards will allow each to be done at its own pace. This saves you time and ultimately, you'll save money in the long-term.

This is the most common offense that students commit when they first start using Anki. Many students create very complicated cards that can be broken down into several dozen or more sub-items.

Some might argue that increasing the number of cards is ultimately less beneficial. Keep in mind that repetitions will decrease with time. If you stick with complex cards with multiple sub-items it is more likely that you will (1) forget to repeat the sub-item frequently, (2) repeat the card too often, (3) only remember a small portion of the complex card.

Use Images, Photos, & Figures

Your memory retains visual information better than text-based information. This makes sense, as we have evolved over millions of generations and only used written language for a small portion of our lives. Images can be especially beneficial in certain subjects like anatomy and chemistry. However, images are still necessary for subjects that are not text-based.

Try to find an image that will work for all your Anki cards when creating them. You don't have to make it directly related to the card. You can find an image of your card if the subject of the card causes you to think of something else. This may require some upfront investment and time, but it will greatly reduce your learning time over the long-term. To save time, use Anki to insert images generously. Google images search for relevant images and copy/paste the files or screenshots into Anki.

You can create cards by removing certain sections of an image from a diagram, such as the Kreb's Cycle. This is possible with the Image Occlusion enhanced plugin for Anki. I show you how to install it and use it in a previous video.

Mnemonic Techniques

This combination of mnemonic devices and spaced repetition in Anki flashcards is a great way to boost your memorization skills.

You can use the tag "story" to mark Anki cards. There you can create stories or mnemonic devices under the answer on the back of the card. The more vulgar, obscene or absurd, the better. As long as it makes sense to your mind.

There are two other things to remember when creating your own mnemonic devices. The Self Reference Effect is a way to make it easier to recall information you relate to. So think about examples that are personal and relevant. To make information stickier, use strong emotions. This is related to making more vulgar, obscene and absurd memory devices.

Cloze Deletions Are Your Best Friend

Cloze deletions can be described as fill-in the blank questions. The blank can be as long or short as you like.

Cloze deletions can be a great way to break bad habits and stick to the minimum information principle. Cloze cards are also extremely easy to create. You can easily copy text from your powerpoints and create Cloze cards within seconds.

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