Anki can be a useful study tool in your medical school journey. It is designed to help you memorize anything using the spaced repetition method. You can download it to your computer and smartphone and take your flashcards with you everywhere. Reviewing a little every day will be the key to incorporating concepts into your long-term memory. Although Anki can be used to memorize absolutely anything, it is extremely popular among medical students, so if you were wondering how to study in medical school you will definitely benefit from this learning system. If you want to know more about how Anki works, how to use it and how it can help you improve your learning routine, this article will give you some insight!

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Article Contents
7 min read

What is Anki? How Does Anki Work? How to Use Anki to Study for Medical School Classes How to Use Anki to Study for Rotation How to Use Anki to Study for USMLE/MCCQE Pros and Cons of Anki Conclusion FAQs

What is Anki?

In a nutshell, Anki is a flashcard app that can help you memorize things fast. The name “Anki” comes from the Japanese word for “memorization”. This app uses the spaced repetition method, which consists of reviewing material at systematic intervals to help you remember essentially anything. Given that this platform is completely flexible and it allows you to create your own flashcards, you can use Anki to learn languages, study for medical or law school, match faces and names, study geography and world capitals, or even exercise your brain and contribute to your mental wellbeing. Unlike physical flashcards, this system gives you the possibility to rate your answers and uses an algorithm to show you those flashcards that you still need to work on.

Among the advantages of Anki as a modern learning resource, we can mention that it has been proven to be effective, you can study whenever and wherever you want, and you have full control over your flashcards. In other words, this system promises to decrease the time you spend studying, while increasing the amount of information you incorporate. These are some of the reasons why Anki became so popular among medical students.

It is important to highlight the fact that Anki should only serve as an addition to your study materials, rather than being your main study resource. It is not a magical way of learning facts effortlessly or a solution for poor study skills. The role of Anki in your study routine should be to test what you’ve already learned and help you memorize concepts more efficiently than if you had to re-read your notes over and over again. This means that you should use this tool only as an ally during the last 30% of your study process. If you didn’t do the first 70% right, Anki won’t help you.

Reviewing what you’ve just learned is almost as important as the learning itself. By using Anki once a day, you will be able to incorporate concepts into your long-term memory much faster and more effectively, thus eliminating the necessity to go over your notes a thousand times until you finally memorize the concepts. Anki reviews don’t take up too much time and they are even more effective than other more time-consuming study methods.

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How Does Anki Work?

Anki employs an algorithm called SM-2, which tracks certain properties of each card:

  1. The “N” or number of times a card has been recalled in a row since the last time the user failed to recall it.
  2. The “EF” or easiness factor, which determines how quickly the inter-repetition interval grows, thus indicating how “easy” the card is.
  3. The “I” or inter-repetition interval, which represents the number of days that the program will wait after the last review before including the card in the user’s next review session again.
  4. The “Q” or quality of the answer, which represents the grade that the user assigns to their answer after being given the correct one.

In every review session, the program will show the user the cards that were reviewed at least “I” days before. The user will try to recall the information and will indicate a “q” grade for each card. This grading system goes from 0 to 5, 0 being a complete failure to recall the information and 5 being a perfect recall. The user’s “q” grade is then used to update the other 3 variables of each card. 

Anki made a slight modification to this algorithm, allowing users to prioritize certain cards so that the program would show the cards in order of their urgency, regardless of their difficulty or number of times the user got them right. This whole system allows you to incorporate information into your long-term memory at will, rather than by chance.

How to Use Anki to Study for Medical School Classes

After each lecture, take enough time to create an Anki card for each of the concepts that you just learned. Make sure to add comments from the professor or tricky questions that might appear in the exam, if necessary.

There are many ways of doing this and that’s precisely one of Anki’s strongest advantages. You will have to complete both front and back of each card, the front containing a prompt, and the back containing the answer. Avoid writing prompts that are too long, or questions that need too much explanations. You should aim at single words, short phrases, or basically anything that won’t take you longer than a few seconds to recall. For example, instead of writing “name all facial muscles” you could think of something more specific, such as “which muscle enables frowning?”

The algorithm is only going to show you those flashcards that you need to review, so don’t worry about creating more flashcards than you can handle. The quantity of your flashcards won’t matter as long as they are good quality. Just make sure to keep your questions and answers short and to only create flashcards for concepts that you’ve already learned and understood.

Every single day your brain chooses to eliminate seldomly used information, so this memorization system only works if you use it consistently. In order for it to work you must use it every single day. Even though it sounds unattainable, Anki cards are a perfect way to fill in any gaps in your day. Most people like to use the app on their daily commute, while waiting in line at the supermarket, while having lunch, or in any situation where you would naturally start absentmindedly scrolling on social media. In only a minute of using the app you can answer up to 20 cards. Imagine how many cards you could do in only 15 minutes!

How to Use Anki to Study for Rotation

You can use your Anki cards for your rotations as well. Learning on rotations is different from other stages of your medical training, since it is practical, and most of the things you’ll learn will be based on your own experience. Seeing a patient experience particular symptoms of a disease is different from reading about that case in a textbook, so your personal experience will also reflect on how fast you learn about that condition. This also means that you can’t just resort to a book to review what you’ve learned on the job, so that’s when Anki cards come in handy. They help you take everything that is still fresh in your mind to your long-term memory.

For example, if you interacted with a patient with a certain condition, create an Anki deck specifically for that topic. During your rotations you will take lots of notes, so make sure at the end of each day you create Anki cards for all those new concepts. You can also add existing Anki cards from other decks, if they are relevant to the topic, and add pictures and videos that might complement your answers.

How to Use Anki to Study for USMLE/MCCQE

Anki became one of the most popular high yield study techniques for medical school, to the extent that an Anki review per day tends to be a part of any medical school study schedule. Most students consider Anki a must to pass exams such as the USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2, and the MCCQE Part 1.

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Medical students have the advantage of being able to find countless decks online that they can use without having to invest time in creating their own. However, crafting your own decks is an important step in your study session, as you will review the content as you prepare your cards. Besides, you will be in full control of what you study. As you review your cards, say the answer out loud before reading the answer, instead of just recalling it, or thinking of more than one possible answer. This will train your decision-making skills and make you more assertive during the tests.

Once you complete a deck, or even after passing your exam, don’t neglect it! Introducing concepts into your long-term memory isn’t something you can just get over with. It is a continuous process, and the knowledge you acquired during your USMLE or MCCQE practice can also be useful in further stages of your medical career. Your Anki decks should always go with you everywhere!

Pros and Cons of Anki




If you have never studied using flashcards, you should definitely consider it. The spaced repetition method is extremely effective when it comes to optimizing and speeding up long-term memorization. Anki is an app that allows you to incorporate this learning technique into your daily routine. All you have to do is download it to your devices and start working on your decks. The key to designing good Anki flashcards is using information you are already familiar with. Anki is not meant to help you learn concepts you don’t understand, but rather memorize them. You will be surprised of how much you are able to remember in short periods of time!


1. What is Anki?

Anki is an app that uses the spaced repetition method to help you memorize anything through flashcards.

2. What does the spaced repetition method consist of?

The spaced repetition method consists of repeating information across increasing intervals, normally using flashcards. The use of this method has been proven to increase long-term information retention and even help patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

3. Is Anki free?

Not quite. You can download the desktop version and the mobile version for Android for free, but you will have to pay US$25 if you want to download the app to your iOS device. Additionally, Anki offers a premium plan that contains features that might be worth the investment.

4. How does Anki work?

Anki uses the SM-2 algorithm to identify those flashcards that still haven’t been learnt, based on the score users give to their answers after completing a flashcard. If they could instantly recall the information, they will rate their answer with the maximum value of 5, while if they failed to recall the information, the score should be 0. The program will use this information to establish how soon after that review session it will show that flashcard again.

5. What can I study with Anki?

You can study literally anything with Anki. Flashcards are 100% customizable and you can complete them with any information you want. Anki is commonly used by people who want to learn languages, medical and law students, or anyone who wants to train their memory and become able to recall a large amount of information in a short period of time.

6. Can Anki replace my usual study methods?

No. Anki should only be used as a supplement to your current study routine. In fact, you should only use Anki once you’ve fully understood the topic that you need to review. Otherwise, this method won’t help you.

7. How often should I use Anki?

You should have at least one review session per day. This memorization technique doesn’t work unless you are consistent, since our brain is constantly deleting the information that we don’t use. Using Anki is quite simple and effortless, and having a mobile app allows users to practice wherever and whenever they want, so there’s really no excuse!

8. What’s the difference between Anki and physical flashcards?

 The problem with physical flashcards is that some of them will be much harder than others, but students typically dedicate the same amount of time to all of them. Anki flashcards have a grading system that allows the program to know which flashcards to show you and how often, making your review sessions much more productive.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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