Using Anki Effectively for Studying (Medical School, MCAT, Language, Engineering)

Do you know why Anki is famous in Medical School and Language Learning Communities?

Because it’s so damn powerful and effective.

One question: You already know how to use Anki, correct? If not, please read my Anki Tutorial for Beginners before moving on. (must read!)

Now, what if I told you that you can take your Anki game to the next level?

Imagine being able to create your cards 2X or even 5X faster.

Also, just imagine how PRODUCTIVE you would be if you could review ALL your cards 25-100% FASTER than normal.

In this post, you’ll learn EXACTLY the techniques I used to do just that.

In addition, you’re going to learn:

  1. Why your review is taking SO MUCH time
  2. How you can create flashcards FASTER—aka productivity tips
  3. How to make BETTER flashcards
  4. The ONE THING that will greatly ENHANCE your ability to encode information into long-term memory
  5. A simple Anki productivity hack (Kill downtimes!)

But before that…

The Problem with Poorly Created Flashcards

As I’ve found when I was just starting out, poorly created flashcards lead to frustration and wasted time—100% GUARANTEED.

It’s not a very rewarding experience to take 20 seconds just to answer one flashcard.

Also, if you have to try to recall the answer for a very long time, that means cue you’ve created for that answer is poorly created.

Commonly, when the question is just too vague, a LOT of possible answers may come up.

Even though you KNEW the answer, it would take you a considerable amount of time to distinguish between the OTHER possible answers.

Here’s the thing: Even if it takes you 20 cards—but SPECIFIC cards, to cover a single topic, it’s probably FAR better than using 5 vaguely designed questions.

For example, “Analog Communications” is a vaguely designed “question” for a flashcard—it’s just too hard to INSTANTLY come up with an answer.

On the other hand, “What type of communication uses Analog signals?” is WAAAYYY too easy—the ANSWER ITSELF is in the question!

This creates two problems: You’re not getting deeper into the topic, and secondly, you’re using recognition, not recall.

What we want is a perfect balance of specificity and depth. Always try to be more specific in your questions.

For the same example, here are the better questions:

“What type of Electronic Communication uses continuous signals to convey information?”
“Analog communication uses what type of signals? (with respect to time)”

See what I did there? I not only added information that made the question more specific, but I also added some “lowkey hints” (Italic, Bold, words in parentheses).

It’s not so hard to answer, but it’s not so easy.

In the book, Atomic Habits, it was stated that this level of difficulty follows the Goldilocks Rule.

Credits to James Clear

Too much of a challenge demotivates us. Too easy of a task makes us bored.

Both aren’t rewarding experiences; They can make studying flashcards feel like a dreaded task in the future.

Luckily, someone has already cracked the code when it comes to creating flashcards that follow the Goldilocks Rule and summarized it.

Thus, the 20 Rules of Formulating Knowledge was born. Make sure to give it a read.

Read: 20 Rules of Formulating Knowledge

How to Make Anki Cards Faster

How to use Anki Effectively by quickly creating cards

Before anything else, if you’re using Windows, install a screenshot app—Greenshot. Download it here.

Snipping tool just ain’t gonna cut it.

Greenshot allows you to take a snip of the current screen using a defined shortcut (mine is Alt + W), and instantly put it into the clipboard.

You can’t deny that it’s much, much faster than opening the Snipping Tool window and clicking the “New” button (heck, even if you used the shortcuts, Greenshot still beats ‘em).

Shortcut for Mac: ⌘ + ⇧ + 4

Also, install the Image Occlusion add-on before we continue.

To install it, just click on Tools>Add-ons.

Install Anki Addons

A window like the one above should pop up, and all you have to do is paste this code then install it.

Anki 2.0 Code: 1111933094
Anki 2.1 Code: 1374772155

Most people use Image Occlusion for images only, but I think this doesn’t maximize its use. Later, you’ll learn some rather creative uses for this Add-on. 😉

In the meantime, watch this Image Occlusion tutorial if you don’t know how to use it yet:

Now, the reason why I asked you to install a screenshot app is because we’re gonna use it to do two things:

  • Include our references in the Extra field (I’m always using Cloze, by the way)
  • Create Image Occlusion cards FASTER

As an added bonus, you’ll also be able to create Anki cards WHILE studying.

I prefer this one, but it’s up to you if you want to take notes before putting them into Anki. I’d argue, though, that it’s more efficient this way.

We’re going to cover more creative ways of using these tools for Anki in this post.

How to Make Better Anki Flashcards: Rules that Rule

Effectively use Anki by following these rules

Creating flashcards isn’t as simple as people think.

We, ideally, want HIGH-YIELD flashcards (there, I’ve said it) that only take almost an INSTANT to answer.

For this to happen, you have to follow a set of rules: A set of PROVEN rules that govern effective flashcard learning.

What are these rules? They are the 20 Rules of Formulating Knowledge, as mentioned earlier in this post.

Read: 20 Rules of Formulating Knowledge

I can’t stress it enough: It’s THE essential read for flashcard studying.

Think of them as your bible for creating effective flashcards.

In addition, I would like to add something newALWAYS add “Relearning material” to your cards.

I’m referring to the actual material you got your card from. Here’s an example.

Use Anki Effectively by adding relearning material

Now, here are some of my tips on creating cards when your information contains lists, concepts, or formulas (if you’re in Engineering)

Using Anki for Lists:

Lists are something that we should AVOID at all costs, according to the 20 Rules.

However, the rules also proposed a workaround, by using Cloze deletion on just a couple of items in the list instead of the WHOLE list being blanked.

Now, to create these faster, you can use three methods that I will describe. YES, THREE.

One is to use Image Occlusion—this is by far the fastest, but the least flexible one for lists (especially for long lists of more than 5 items).

Basically, you take a screenshot of the list you’re going to memorize and then cover each list item one-by-one.

Then, on the bottom part of the Image Occlusion window, press Hide One, Reveal All.

What this does is reveal ALL items while hiding just one item on the list.

Upon several reviews, you’ll supposedly be able to memorize the list items as you “stitch-up” these list items in your memory.

I don’t use this very often, but if you’re all in for efficiency, then this is a pretty decent method.

The second method I’m going to tell you about is the Cloze Overlapper Add-On.

Go ahead and install this add-on using this code: 969733775

I won’t be teaching you how to exactly use this add-on, but here’s an excellent video tutorial from the Add-on creator himself.

As far as I know, the overlapping cloze deletions allow you to memorize list items that are listed in sequences. (Please leave a comment if you have used this for other purposes, I’ll give credit. Thanks)

Now, the third method for memorizing lists is the one that I use almost ALL of the time.

Third method: Combine memory techniques and Anki.

Use Anki with Memory Techniques

Memory techniques, just so you know, are great when it comes to memorizing lists of random items.

You can use Mnemonics, Stories, or even a Memory Palace to combine with your Anki card.

If you don’t know them yet, I suggest you take a look at my introductory article about it.

Recommended Reading: Memory Techniques for Studying

Here’s an example. Suppose you’re going to memorize this list in order:

  • Kingdom
  • Phylum
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus
  • Species

The card you should be making should look like this: (I always use Cloze cards, btw)

Effective Anki with Mnemonics

The key here is putting the memory device (mnemonic, story, palace) into the “Extra field”.

I got this idea from Dr. Jubbal of Med School Insiders, so give credit to him for this idea.

If you prefer, you can also create a supplement card to aid memorization further.

It simply goes like this:

Supplement mnemonic card for using Anki Effectively

Using Anki for Concepts:

Concepts are pretty straightforward to memorize.

I’ve already discussed how to use Anki for Concepts is my Anki beginner tutorial. Feel free to check it out.

However, always remember this: Put conceptual cards ONLY after you’ve understood the concept itself.

One thing I always think when studying concepts is “explaining the main idea in simpler terms”.

It’s basically a combination of Pareto Principle and Feynman Technique.

I discuss the Feynman Technique in my How to Learn Faster post, check it out below if you haven’t seen it already.

Recommended Reading: How to Learn Faster

Now, as I’ve already discussed in my previous Anki post, Conceptual cards differ from Factual cards.

The way you should create Conceptual cards must encourage your understanding of the material.

Briefly, take a look at this card, for example.

Conceptual card Anki

Instead of creating a straightforward “what” question and answer, I dug a little bit deeper into creating my question—hence using my understanding of the concept rather than just memorizing the concept.

It’s still concise, and specific. But it has some depth into it.

Also, notice that I put my reference on the “Extra” field. This allows you to re-learn the concept if you’ve forgotten things about it. Credits to Prerak Juthani on YouTube for this idea.

Using Anki for Formulas:

This one is, by far, my favorite one to create.

I can learn a dozen formulas in a short amount of time.

Sometimes I mix up some mnemonics, but creating cards for formulas have never been easier because of my technique.

The first step is to open a formula compilation type of book.

You can find them in Google, Forums, or FB groups. Heck, you can even use Google Images to search for these.

Let’s use “Electrostatics Formulas” as an example.

Next, I take a screenshot of formulas I want to memorize.

Formula sheet for Anki

Take note, though, that before I did this, I studied HOW these formulas worked—the variables and the units, specifically.

It makes no sense to memorize a formula you can’t use.

Now, open up the Add New window and press on the Image Occlusion icon.

Image Occlusion and Formulas Cards to use anki effectively

I just cover them up, press “Hide All, Reveal One” and I’m done.

Anki Settings: Encode Information BETTER into Long-Term Memory

Best Anki Settings

I would like to thank the Reddit community r/Anki and r/medicalschoolanki for this.

At first, I’d rather skip learning about these settings because the Anki manual is just so thorough—I can’t help but procrastinate reading it.

“It doesn’t matter anyway.”

Well, I was damn wrong.

It’s on the TOP 20% of the things you should learn about in using Anki effectively.

Intervals and settings, as I’ve found, can make or break your studying.

The default settings of Anki is just horrible, in my opinion.

Luckily, we’re going to learn the most essential things among these little details.

There are two phases of Anki cardsLearning, and Graduated.

When you first study a card, it’s still in the “Learning” phase.

Using Anki’s default settings, you’ll see <1min for Again and <10min for Good as your preliminary learning intervals.

Anki Intervals

When you press Good, the card shows up in less than 10 minutes and once it pops up, it will have a new “1d” interval.

Anki Intervals after New Card recall

Now, check this out. See how this works?

Default Anki Settings

Once you finish the “learning steps”, you’ll have a new “base” interval defined by the Graduating Interval setting.

The best setting that I’ve found for my review is using 15 1440 4320 as my Steps (in minutes), 7 days in Graduating Interval, and 130% in Starting Ease.

Best Anki settings; Recommended Anki Settings

With those settings, pressing “Again” on a card makes it show up again after 15 minutes.

This helps me “space out” reviewing that card more, and as we all know—spaced practice beats massed practice *hyperlink when it comes to retention.

Pressing “Good” will make the card show up after 1 day, and after 3 days on consecutive successful recall attempts.

However, there is one thing that’s almost never encountered in the default Anki settings: failing to recall a card in its “Learning” phase sets it learning steps BACK TO ZERO.

Yep, you gotta do it all over again. Good news for you—we have a solution for that later.

Another things to talk about are the Graduating Interval and Starting Ease.

I always set my graduating interval at least 2x my last step in the Steps (in minutes) setting.

For the Starting Ease, the amount you set there dictates how large the NEXT interval would be once you graduate the card and press “Good”.

It’s a multiplier that’s attached individually to a graduated card that determines the next intervals.

By default, it’s 250% or 2.5x the original interval. That’s too large in my opinion.

If you’ve just graduated a card with a 5d interval, the next interval would be 5*2.5=12d, then 30d and so on.

Ease Factor
Credits to owner

That’s why I like to set this one to a number between 100 to 150%. (I use 130%, personally)

In analogy, once the card “graduates”, it becomes an “adult”.

And you know what graduated Anki cards and Adults have in common? EVERY ONE OF THEIR NEXT ACTIONS MATTERS.

In a card’s Learning phase, it doesn’t matter if you press the “Again” button—the worst-case scenario is you have to repeat the learning steps all over again.

For graduated cards—it’s entirely different.

(I seriously don’t know how that analogy came up when I was writing this post, lol)

Which brings me to my next point.

Ease Factor: More Attention to Harder Cards

The ease factor is Anki’s way of filtering out cards that need different levels of attention.

It’s basically a multiplier attached to an individual, graduated card that determines how large the next intervals should be.

Initially, the card would only have it’s Starting Ease.

Pressing “Good”, doesn’t change the card’s ease factor and just retains the Starting Ease.

Pressing “Again” or “Hard” makes the card show up more often, and pressing “Easy” makes it show less often. Easy. Simple.

However, this is the exact reason why I almost never use the “Easy” button unless I feel like I’m over-testing myself on that card—which usually happens when you press “Again” and “Hard” a couple of times.

If you want to know more about these, here a video that could help you.

Lapses and Leech Cards—Starting from Scratch?

Forgetting information over time is normal—it’s been proven by evidence.

When this happens, a card is said to have lapsed.

Now, what’s NOT normal is forgetting that same freaking thing over and over again.

When you think it couldn’t get any worse, you just realize “Oh, I have to review this all over again”.

Usually, these are caused by Leech Cards.

Leech Cards are usually poorly created cards that interfere with other cards.

You can avoid having Leech Cards by creating better flashcards, as written on this guide.

Anyway, that said, Lapses do happen occasionally.

The Anki default settings, however, uses a rather harsh punishment whenever you forget a card—the interval goes back down to zero.

You have to start all over again.

The good news is—we can modify these settings to our liking.

Here’s the thing: If you’ve already graduated a card (especially with our recommended settings), you’re probably not gonna need to review it with the same intervals as the new ones.

So, here’s my recommended settings for Lapses.

Recommended Settings for Anki Lapses

I set the Steps to 15 to create more spacing to the next recall, and the “New Interval” setting to 75%.

This means that when you pressed “Again” and successfully recalled it after <15 minutes, the card’s next interval will be 75% of the previous supposed interval.

My point is, if you’ve succeeded in graduating the card, then it’s highly likely that you would be able to remember that card longer—no need to start from scratch.

Create the Anki Habit with a bit of Habit Science

Creating the Anki Habit

Memory always works; you simply cannot “skip” reviewing your Anki cards just as you wouldn’t “skip” forgetting something.

Does that make sense?

In creating the Anki habit, I like to use what’s called Habit Stacking.

Habit stacking is basically “sandwiching” your desired habit into existing habits.

The easiest way to do this is by using Implementation Intentions stating “After I wake up, I will get my phone and immediately review my Anki cards”.

This accomplishes two things: 1. It prevents you from going to social media or YouTube right away (If you’re that kind of person) and 2. You start the day by reviewing, which builds momentum for studying.

Also, morning is the time where you haven’t yet exercised any willpower at all—which means there’s a higher chance that you will actually become disciplined in creating this habit.

If you have a habit of using your phone after waking up, this is by far the best thing you can ever do to break that habit.

Why is this so effective? Because we’re ultimately using the same cue that we ALWAYS encounter (waking up).

Once you do this for a couple of weeks, you’ll never even have to push yourself to do it—you’re just going to, without even thinking.

However, you may come to a point where “I’m sick of doing these flashcards—some cards take SO long to answer. Anki sucks.”

The “Rewards” are pretty damn important in habit formation, and having that dreaded feeling isn’t gonna help. Should you stop trying to create this habit? It’s so difficult…

Not so fast.

If you just created better cards, you should be able to answer them in under 10 seconds each.

Yes, LESS THAN 10 seconds.

If it’s taking you more than that to answer the majority of your flashcards, then your flashcards might be the problem.

But, since you’ve read this guide, you shouldn’t have any trouble creating effective cards anymore.

Sync, Sync, Sync

Always Sync Anki to use it effectively


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been supposedly doing nothing at all but ended up studying using Anki.

While falling in line.

While commuting.

While waiting for my order.

While walking to school.

It not only makes you a more effective learner, but it also makes you a more productive learner.

When you’re having some downtime, review some due cards.

A couple of 5-minute downtimes during the day adds up to some hundred cards reviewed.

Again, I can’t stress it enough—IT ADDS UP.

The good news is—you still haven’t used your allotted study time while doing this! This gives you MORE free time to relax, or finish other tasks that require your immediate attention.

Bottom Line

Now that you know the “vital few” of using Anki effectively, go on and smash that spacebar!

If you have any questions or feedback, leave a comment down below! Make sure to share this guide if you found it helpful. 🙂

Categories Anki

6 thoughts on “Using Anki Effectively for Studying (Medical School, MCAT, Language, Engineering)”

  1. Could you please give some advice on recommended settings in “Reviews” tabs for beginners?and how do these settings work together?

  2. So I’m making Anki cards day by day studying for the MCAT. When is the best time to review this material? How does Anki tell what is new and what has been reviewed? I can’t seem to figure out how to separate my new and older cards in one deck. How many cards per deck would you recommend doing in a day if I’m adding ~100 cards in a day per deck?

    • Hi S,

      Well, it’s best to review half of them in the morning and half in the afternoon (in my experience).

      I’d say do as much as you can handle. I think your problem is you have too many cards, so I recommend checking out your card limits in both “New Cards” and “Reviews” and go from there.

      I hope that helps!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.