How to use Anki effectively

Updated at 14 Apr 2022

Anki is not only a flashcard application. You may use it for more than just memorizing words and facts, but to consolidate what you've already known or understand better.

Also, you may use it for learning, too - that is, it helps you create a mind map of your knowledge, organizes basic information, and consolidate it.

It's what Michael Nielsen said about Anki in the "Augmenting Long-term Memory" essay(we do recommend you checking it out to understand the other concepts when learning something):

Anki isn't just a tool for memorizing simple facts. It's a tool for understanding almost anything.

Anki works best if you understand how to make it work. So, to use it effectively, spend some time learning to understand the main concept behind the tool.

We also wrote an article on how to make flashcards where we've mentioned Anki too, but it's worth noting a new article covering a lot more about Anki! To be precise, how to use it effectively.

What is Anki?

Anki is an online flashcard tool that you can use on any smartphone, tablet, or computer. It allows you to remember and recall information no matter where you are quick.

what is Anki

What are Anki cards?

Anki cards are the usual flashcards. They're only customized for the Anki app so that you can add sounds, images, or videos there. Also, you can customize it even more by adding other fields to cards like a note or context. In this article, you will learn how to make good Anki cards!

what are Anki cards

Why use Anki?

1. It's a low-cost alternative

Anki can be downloaded for free on Android(see AnkiDroid app), but you will need to pay for IOS. Anki Web can be used for free. Anki Web is also available for free if you don't have an IOS option. It delivers solid results when you invest your time.

AnkiDroid for Android to use Anki on a smartphone

Anki is used all over the globe by people. There are many tutorials, support forums, and Q&As online. The Anki user guide is very detailed and informative. It's also available in Spanish if you wish to try it! It's worth saying that people use the tool for various purposes, not only to learn languages.

3. It's accessible

Anki desktop, AnkiDroid, Anki IOS, or Anki Web app options: they're available on several platforms and adapt to any device you have at any moment.

4. It has pre-designed flashcard decks

Anki offers many flashcard decks that you can download and use for your purposes. You can also share decks with other users. There's a huge community of people who create flashcards on various topics and share them with others!

Anki shared flashcard decks

5. You can customize it

The cards can be customized as you wish. You can also add decks to your Anki, as we have mentioned. In addition, audio recordings can be added, and visual learners can add pictures.

How to get started with Anki

Anki requires a computer or laptop and a smartphone to start using it. Flashcards can be created using a computer(a bit slower on a smartphone) much quicker than with a pen and paper.

Downloading Anki

Go to AnkiWeb to download Anki for your computer. Next, download the app. If you are on Android, search for "AnkiDroid" in Google Play Store. iOS users must pay for the app, where the app receives its funds. Even if the app is paid on Android, we would still pay for it. It's just unimaginable.

downloading Anki

How to create and organize decks

After you have installed and opened Anki, you will see one deck called "Default". You have the option to either rename it or create a new deck. You may also learn more about cards concepts.

how to create a card in the Default deck in Anki Web

Click the "Create Deck" button at the bottom of the Anki window to create a new deck. The Deck name will be requested. We prefer to use the name of my subject for this one.

Click the "Add" button at the top of your window to create cards. You should know that the card you just saw is one of the "Basic Card Types".

The "Basic" card type lets you perform the traditional flashcard study. Cloze deletion is an alternative type of card that allows you to fill in the blanks.

We found the most flexible card type, the "Cloze", to be the easiest to create. This was back in Anki 2.0. Both work fine. Let's get on with organizing our cards.

how to create a "Cloze" type card

You may prefer tags over subdecks. Why use tags? It simplifies everything — no need to create subdecks for every subject. You can use "Custom Study" later on.

There are two ways to add tags to cards during card creation or by using the Card Browser. We recommend adding tags during card creation. It's faster and more proactive.

Tips on creating cards

The easiest way to create high-quality cards is to include:

  • A well-formulated question
  • This is a short and specific answer
  • Source screenshot
  • Optional tags
  • As long as you keep your memories, you should be fine

You don't need to create a lot of cards

There are many resources that have been edited and analyzed over multiple years by teams of people. Which deck do you think is better? Which deck do you prefer? You could argue that you're learning the material by creating your own cards, but it takes way too much time. As a second-year medical student, almost all of my friends who made their cards last year have stopped making them and now use premade decks.

Keep your cards brief

One fact per card is a good rule of thumb.

keeping Anki cards brief and simple to learn effective

Don't try to memorize everything

You will quickly become overwhelmed and lose track of the reviews. Instead, focus only on high-yield topics and see what comes up in practice questions or multiple lectures.

It is important to understand the whole concept you are learning. You may be able to grasp it when you create the card but not when you look at it again in after some long time, say, 6 months.

When creating new cards, here are some rules to follow.

Rule #1. First, learn. Then do the spaced practice.

For those just beginning, you should know that these flashcards are to verify what you have already learned.

It's not quite a great idea to try out what you don't know - many people do. Although it's easy to believe that Anki can help you remember everything, understanding the material is what matters. Except you remember isolated facts, context is essential for retention.

What's the worst thing if you don't adhere to this rule? While you will know how to answer the flashcard, you'll discover that the "knowledge", you have gained cannot be applied elsewhere. You acquire pseudo-knowledge.

Rule #2. Short question, short answer.

Do not try to insert paragraphs on a card. Do not even attempt to answer "Explain" questions. Try to break them down as little as possible.

Rule #3. The cards number doesn't matter

The cards number doesn't matter as long as you adhere to the rules above when adding cards. You must understand all concepts.

Break down a concept as often as you can. This will allow you to recall every card in faster than a second. Although it won't take less than a second to recall each card, that's precisely how it will feel.

It is much quicker than creating several long, complicated cards.

You could use this example:

  • "What are Newton's Three Laws of Motion?"
  • You write questions like:
  • "What is Newton's First Law of Motion?"
  • "What is Newton's Third Law of Motion?"
  • "Which law says F=ma?" (obviously, this question covers one angle of a law - also known as redundancy).

This eliminates ambiguity, making it easier to answer your cards. You'll quickly realize that it can get tiresome if you do a mini-brain dump for each card.

Tips to learn effectively

Here are tips you may follow to use Anki more effectively.

Use the Pomodoro method when studying with Anki

This breaks down your learning into time periods. The study is for a set amount of time. Then you take a break. The traditional 25-minute study time and 5-minute break are my favorites. The method should help you not to get distracted while studying, and it improves your productivity. This is supported by scientific articles here and here.

Except that you can take a 20-30-minute break on the fourth break. This is what a study day looks like:

  • 25 Min Study
  • 5 Min Break
  • 25 Min Study
  • 5 Min Break
  • 25 Min Study
  • 5 Min Break
  • 25 Min Study
  • 30 Minute Break

Anki addons

Addons are great, but you shouldn't waste too much time trying to find the perfect workflow. It's not good to optimize too early. Use what works best for you right now. However, be eager to experiment!

Customizing the cards' look

Customize the look for your cards if you have the time. It will make your reviews more fun, and it will be a great way to learn HTML/CSS. Who knows, maybe you will be creating websites after it?

Use mobile Anki apps

Download AnkiMobile and AnkiDroid. If you commute somewhere every day or once in a while, you may want to spend this time productively. Use the mobile apps to review your cards or to create new ones.

Keep track of cards

Keeping track of cards will help you avoid forgetting important information and improve your recall. Mark all cards that require editing while on the move, and then edit them when you return to your desktop.

Add context to your cards

To contextualize what you are learning, add "notes" to the field. Anything can be used, whether it's excerpted from primary literature or personal comments and associations. This will help you to build connections between different pieces of information.

Tags, again

For permanent organization, use tags. Decks can be used for temporary organization or to apply different scheduling settings for different flashcard corpora.

Redundant cards

Try creating redundant cards to help you understand difficult facts (e.g., A combination of several card types, such as regular flashcards, clozes, image occlusion, and so on.

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