Using Anki flashcards the right way — a beginner’s guide

There has been tons of research on effective studying practices and most of the students have been found to rely on re-reading, summarizing, and highlighting for learning or revising contents. Although, these are the widely used methods, but unfortunately, researches also suggest that these fall under the tag of least effective techniques one can use and after sometime it becomes frustrating to the students.

So, is there a way out? Is there a way to remember absolutely anything that you encounter?

Well, this thought had been clouding my mind for quite some years until I discovered this amazing remedy.

What if you can gamify your learning experience with a simple game of cards? I am sure you will happily play the game till your heart’s content. And as the game proceeds you are going to learn almost everything that you require for your school or exam.

What is Anki?

Anki is a flashcard app that integrates the infamous practices of active recall and spaced repetition to enhance your study experience. The app is a digitized version of flashcards. You see a card containing a question on Anki and you answer it from memory. You look at the answer immediately and self-evaluate whether you were able to answer it in the following ways:

  1. in the blink of an eye (Easy),
  2. took some time to recall but answered it correct (Good),
  3. took some time to recall but could only get the answer partially correct (Hard) or
  4. didn’t have a clue as to what the answer would be (Again)

Anki’s algorithm pops out your weak cards more often and delays the return of your strong cards. This allows you to focus more on your weaker portions as well as reduces the time spent on studying without compromising the learning increment.

Forgetting curve — The element of Spaced Repetition

When you have a newly learned information, it tends to fade away with time because retention is inversely proportional to time if not revisited again. If the information is repeated over a spaced interval, the retention curve breaks and over time starts to flatten out. Hence, active recall and spaced repetition walks hand in hand.

Anki is built around this exact idea. It automatically schedules your cards on the basis of your self-evaluation. All you need to do is feed in the questions and information that you want to remember and Anki does the rest.

Getting started

1. Downloading Anki

To have all those good stuff, first, you need to download Anki from the AnkiWeb website. Head over there and grab yourself the latest version of Anki (which is free) and install it on your computer. You can also download AnkiMobile (ios) or AnkiDroid (android) on your phone.

2. Creating your first deck

Once installed, you will see the Anki window with a deck named ‘Default’. I like to leave that deck as it is and make a new deck to start with. Head over to the bottom of the window and click on “Create Deck” button. Give your deck a name and hit OK. Your deck is now created as you can see on your screen.

3. Adding a card

It is really easy to add a card into your deck. Go to the Add option on top (hotkey: A) and clicking it will make the Add window pop out. At this point you can see some fields where you can drop your inputs (Type, Deck, Front, Back, and Tags).

The very first thing that you should do is select the deck in which you want to add cards by clicking on the field that says “Deck”. For now, leave the type as “Basic”. In the field that says “Front”, enter your question and similarly enter the answer in the field saying “Back”.

And finally, I would like to draw your attention to the ‘Tags’ input field. You can tag a card with the topic that you are studying which will help you to pull out cards with same tags in future. Make sure to avoid spaces while putting a tag because spaces render words as separate tags. For example, cellular_communication is considered one tag, whereas, cellular communication will create two separate tags.

Once you are done, hit the “Add” button at the bottom (hotkey: Ctrl + Enter).

Congrats! That’s your first card. The card that you just created is a ‘Basic’ type card. There are various other types of cards as well which I will discuss in a later section.

Coming back to the default window, you are going to see two numbers next to the decks you create. The ‘Due’ cards are those cards that you have studied before and are due today, whereas ‘New’ cards are those that you haven’t learned yet.

4. Browsing cards in your decks

To view all the cards in a deck that your have created, click on “Browse” at the top (hotkey: B). The card browser will pop up and you can select a deck that you want to view or you can view cards based on tags.

5. Your learning stats

You can check out your learning statistics by clicking the “Stats” option on top (hotkey: T) and it will show the number of cards you have studied and various other statistics.

6. Sync

By clicking on the ‘Sync’ (hotkey: Y) you can sync your cards across all your devices.

Types of cards in Anki

1. Basic Flashcard

If you have ever used a paper flashcard, then you know what a basic flashcard is. You can select it from the ‘Type’ field when you are adding a card to a deck or from the card browser.

2. Reverse Flashcard

This is similar to the Basic Flashcard but it asks questions in both ways. It is useful when you have to remember contents which are linked both ways. For example, the drug rifampin is the inhibitor of bacterial RNA polymerase enzyme. It is important to remember this fact both ways i.e. the name of drug and the component it inhibits. Reverse cards are handy in this case as it will create two cards from the information provided.

3. Cloze deletions

This is a fill-up-the-blank type of flashcard. Choose the card type as Cloze and you will see two fields namely “Text” and “Extra”. Write out your sentence in the Text field. Select the portion you want to blank out and click on the cloze icon on top (left to the 📎 symbol) (hotkey: Ctrl + Shift + C).

Once you hit the cloze icon, you will see {{c1::} around the portion you have blanked out. This simple means that there would be one card made from one cloze deletion. If you want to blank out multiple regions from your sentence, you can highlight the portions manually and click on the cloze icon which will generate {{c2::}. {{c3::} and so on.

If you want to make multiple cards from that single sentence, then leave the c2 and c3 as it is. But if you want all the blanked out portions to be shown at once in a single card, set all the highlighted portions as c1.

You can utilize the Extra field by adding all the relevant ancillary information that you need regarding the question on the card. It will only show up after you answer a card. You can even copy and paste diagrams or pictures to visually aid your learning.

Some Anki add-ons I use

1. Image Occlusion

Image occlusions are an interactive way to study using images. It lets you create cards that hide parts of an image to test your knowledge. In order to use this, first you need to go to the Image Occlusion Add-ons page, copy the add-on code (1374772155) and add it to your Anki by going to Tools > Add-ons > Get Add-ons.

To use this feature, first copy the image from which you wish to make questions. Click ‘Add’ and click the Image Occlusion button (hotkey: Ctrl + Shift + O).

Create a rectangle on the portion of the image that shows the labeling and click either on ‘Hide all and Guess One’ or ‘Hide one and Guess one’. The former asks you one of the labels from all the labels you have blanked out while keeping all the labels hidden. This way you put more effort in recalling the blank. The later will hide only one label from all the labels you have blanked out while showing the rest of the labels.

2. ReviewHeatmap

This add-on lets you add a heatmap to your Anki dashboard and show you all the days you have studied using Anki, number of cards reviewed, etc. with various different colour codes. It is really helpful in motivating yourself by looking at your Anki streak.

You can download this add-on by heading to the ReviewHeatmap add-on page and copy the code (723520343) to your Anki just like you did with Image Occlusion.



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