Using Anki in Med School and How To Get Started

One of the resources that I kept mentioning over and over during my previous posts (such as the Complete Guide on How to Study Pathology, Microbiology, and Pharmacology) was none other than Anki. Anki is such a fantastic tool that I really can’t believe it took me this long to find out about its existence and as a result, I feel like this is one study technique that every med student should know about before they get into med school.

Flash cards are something that pop up in most study techniques that require memorization and constant revision. It works well for vast subjects that require you to know a large amount of information all at the same time in order to apply them in the first place. One such subject like this would be languages. Another such subject would be (you guessed it) medicine! Some people prefer to make their own flashcards and that was something I did do initially, however, for such a vast subject that would require hundreds and hundreds of cards, it just wasn’t feasible for me to keep making flashcards.

I turned to Quizlet next. The pros of Quizlet is that it’s pretty much an online community and you can share decks and organize them according to classes and subjects. However, it is difficult to add photographs and pictures to a flash card, as might be required in subjects like anatomy. A major pro that I personally really liked about Quizlet was how they had different games using the flashcards so there were a variety of interesting ways to study the cards.

Regardless, even with online flashcards, you have to invest time to make the cards in the first place. While online flashcards might be faster to make (especially if you have a PDF downloaded that you can just copy paste from), I still didn’t find it to be very efficient, as I would still be spending more time making flashcards than actually studying them and it felt like an inefficient exercise.

I then discovered, from the world that is Reddit, what Anki is. Or more specifically, the homemade decks that med students had built for other med students to use.



If there is anything that universally connects med students together from across the world, it is definitely the USMLE. It’s like a guidebook of sorts- if there’s anything that’s important in medicine, it’s definitely in it. It contains all the common, basic, important information that every med student in the world should be familiar with. As a result, notes and flashcards made from such a universal source is a treasure for all med students, regardless of their location, year or course syllabus. So if you’re going to find a complete set of flashcards for everything, from A to Z, then you’re definitely going to want to use it for yourself, especially since it takes out the work and time of crafting the cards in the first place. Now all you would have to do is put in study hours to learn the cards in the first place!

The first deck I picked up was by Brosencephalon. A bit of a legend among med students on Reddit and a couple of Discord servers, Bros built the first comprehensive deck for the USMLE. I used this deck for a while, but then slowly interest in it because it seemed to have been built from a source I wasn’t very familiar with.

The second deck I picked up was by Zanki. It was made directly from First Aid and Pathoma, as well as some extra resources that I’ve mentioned before like Sketchy, which made Zanki feel a lot more reliable and sturdy. It was great to have flashcards built from the study materials because it meant that you could just watch a few videos and study a couple of pages in order to fully understand the flashcards as well as fully recall the books and videos. It worked really well for me and I genuinely enjoyed doing these cards!

A major question that must’ve popped up in your mind is probably: hey that’s pretty cool! how do I use these decks? Well, I’m here to tell you. These decks are supposed to be downloaded onto your computer. You’ll notice that they are of a .apkg file extension, so you’re going to need a program that will be able to open that type of file. Anki is the program that you’ll need.

You can install the program very easily at https://apps.ankiweb.net whether you have a Windows or a Linux or whatever, really. There’s nothing difficult about installing the program so I won’t be going into the nitty gritty of it. Once you’ve got the program installed, you open it up and use it to get the flashcards out from the .apkg file you’ve got through File > Import. It’ll take a while to unpack the flashcards. It’s also super helpful to make an Anki account.

The pros of using an Anki account is that the flashcards and your progress on them will be synced throughout any and all devices that have the Anki app and are signed in to your account. This way, you could always move forward with your cards and this is especially helpful when you’re tackling giant decks like those of Brosencephalon and Zanki. However, cross-platform Anki is a little tricky. You see, the Android version of Anki is for free. The iOS system’s ‘official Anki’ app is $20 and is probably the main and only revenue generation for this fantastic program.

I haven’t bought the official app, choosing to stick with my Windows PC and Android tablet for studying so I’m not sure how the iOS app is. The Android app is pretty good though, I especially like the statistics part of it, where it shows your past activity on Anki and how many cards you’ve been learning and relearning. It certainly motivates you to keep up streaks (however I am very bad with streaks, in general).

The ‘unofficial Anki’ app for iOS is a totally different realm. It is completely unconnected from the Anki we’ve been discussing, it only executes the same file (.apkg) and progress remains in the app. Not to mention that it’s pretty slow and quite buggy. There’s a PC version of it too but so far, it has been nothing but frustrating. Sometimes it doesn’t log in, sometimes it shows the cloud as empty and sometimes it just refuses to function. It also likes logging itself out after long periods of inactivity. As a result, I would suggest that if you are heavily dependant on the iOS system, just purchase the $20 app. It will be completely worth it.

 

The only con is the fact that with large decks like Brosencephalon and Zanki, it also takes a LOT of time to upload decks and download decks across your devices and it also takes a while to update your progress from one place to another.

So what are you waiting for? Grab the program and head over to the following links to download the decks and get started with your med school studying.

Brosencephalon || Zanki || Goljan

I hope this post helped you figure out how to get started when it comes to using Anki. It’s really a fantastic resource and it can help you consolidate a lot of information and keep it long term. However, I have come across people who decided to study purely from Anki decks instead of attending lectures and I just want to say: DON’T DO THAT. Don’t depend purely on flashcards for your learning. These flashcards are just for rote memorization and that should only be done AFTER you’ve done your required reading, attended your required classes and clarified concepts down. There is no replacement for school and classes and Anki is supposed to only augment your learning, not replace parts of it.



Let me know if this helped you out! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you! Have a nice day!

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Author: Kanra Khan

I'm a Pakistani American student of medicine, or more precisely, an almost-graduate of MBBS Class of 2019. I like to write about my experiences in med school and my adventures in life, which range from traveling, to art, to blogging and photography. Like what you're seeing so far? Consider exploring a bit more! The Lunar Descent is endless.

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