How to make high quality Anki cards quickly

This will not be a complete guide to Anki. I think their manual is plenty detailed enough. This will by a set up guide to use Anki for In-house exam stuff. I found this extremely helpful until Spring Break when I went full Step 1 mode. It will help establish a foundation of knowledge during your blocks, and due to it’s spaced repetition system, should drill in important minutia. Let’s get started:

  • GO HERE and download the latest version of Anki.
  • Bookmark the MANUAL for future troubleshooting/understanding.
  • Install Anki and it should look something like this:

Anki-1

This is your home screen. Let’s create the deck for your first pathology lecture.

  • Click “Create Deck”, name it “Pathology”.
  • Click “Create Deck”, name it “01.01 – (first lecture)”, fill in the name of the lecture.
  • Now drag that deck onto the “Pathology” deck.
  • Alternatively, you could create a deck named “Pathology::01.01 – (first lecture)”, that is the syntax for nested decks.
  • I’m choosing “Autoimmune disease” since that was our first lecture.
  • Check to see it looks like this:

Anki 2

Now, before we can go creating high quality cards quickly, we need to set up the template.

  • Click “Add” at the top of your main screen.
  • You should see the card type, “Basic” and you current deck, “Pathology::01.01 – Autoimmune Diseases”.
  • We are going to change the working card type. Click the “Basic” button to the right of “Type”.
  • You will see 4 default card types, let’s create a 5th. Click “Manage”. A “+ Note Type” window will appear.
  • Click “Add”. It will give you the option of adding or cloning a current card type. Just click “OK” and name the new type “10 Questions”. It should appear at the top of your list of note types.
  • Close the “+ Note Type” window. You are now back in the note type selector window. Choose your new “10 Questions” type. It should now change the type of note you are creating at the top of the “Add” window. It looks exactly like the default note though. We are doing this so you don’t overwrite the basic note template, should you chose to use it in the future.
  • It should look something like this:

Anki 3

Our next goal is to completely revamp the template. The goal is to create a field for one answer, and up to 10 questions which all display that same answer. This allows you to create up to 10 questions around one concept so that while studying, you always see answers in context!

  • Click “Fields”. A new window titled “+ Fields for 10 Questions” should appear.
  • Rename “Front” to “A”.
  • Rename “Back” to “Q1”.
  • Add “Q2” and so on up to “Q10”. Now close the window.
  • You should now see your Add window with the “A” field at the top and Q1-Q10 below:

Anki 4

We aren’t done yet. We now need to have Anki create 1 card with what’s in “Q1” on the front, and what’s on “A” on the back, and another card for each question field you have filled in, up to 10 questions.

  • Click “Cards…”. An editing window should appear.
  • In the middle, at the bottom, click “Flip”. “Q1” should now be exchanged for “A”. Whatever is on “Q1” will be the prompt, and “A” will be the answer.
  • In the top right, click the “+” box. “Card 2” will now be created with the front template containing “Edit to customize<br>{{Q1}}”.
  • Change that to “{{Q2}}” (without the quotes…).
  • If done correctly, the “Front Preview” box should show “(Q2)” (again without the quotes).
  • Repeat that process for Q3-Q10 so that each card at the top contains the appropriate Q as the Front template. Each should have A as the Back Template. Here is the final product:

Card Types for 10 Questions

Go ahead and close the editor to return to your add screen. It should look the same as before, except under the hood, Anki is ready to create up to 10 cards all at once. Now the fun begins. Let’s create a few cards based on my first lecture. The goal here is to clip images of the lectures, instead of rewriting them. This is the key to creating high quality cards quickly.

  • Open the lecture in question. It should be properly highlighted/annotated and ready to be put into cards.
  • Choose your first concept. It can be large and require a few images. I clipped the following  3 images from the concept of “Two levels of immune tolerance: Central and Peripheral”.
  • Place the first image into the “A” field, press Enter, the place the next and so on. It’s really easy if you’re using Skitch, just drag it into the field. As you can see below, it is a huge “A” field.

Anki 6Anki 7Anki 8

Anki 9

Now comes the process of choosing high yield questions to relate back to that one concept. You can create up to 10 and Anki will create as many cards as you have question fields filled in. These should open ended questions that test your understanding of concepts, or should be specific, HY trigger questions that were emphasized in class.

  • Add questions. I chose the 3 below:
    • “What is the main goal of Central Tolerance in B and T cell development”
    • “What are the 4 major mechanisms of peripheral tolerance in B and T cell development. Explain the process of each”
    • “CD4+CD25+ T cells expressing FoxP3 have what action in the immune system? Name some the cytokines that mediate this”
  • Click “Add” in the bottom left. It should create 3 cards with the question being one of the above, and the answer showing the entire concept.
  • Close the editor. You should see 3 new cards in the “01.01 – (lecture)” deck, which is nested in the “Pathology” deck.
  • If you click “Browse” and select the deck from the left column, you should see the 3 new cards. The “sort field” is named after whatever Skitch named the images when I clipped them, which comes from the name of the PDF. Who cares.
  • They are technically one card, 3 siblings. That’s how Anki rolls. This means if there is a mistake, and you delete one, you delete all, up to 10. You can, alternatively, suspend just one poor card if you decide later you like the others for that concept.

Anki 10

Close the browsing window and you should return to your main Anki window. That’s it! Below is a video outlining the process. Hopefully this will allow you to create high yield cards, quickly. It should take no more than 1hr/hr of lecture, and you should not create more than 20 or so cards. Understandably, in the beginning you aren’t sure how teachers write test questions or how they signal an important concept to remember, so you might have a lot of cards. That number should come down over time as you get more efficient. I will make followup guides on how to set up Anki’s schedule and other tips on using Anki.

Feel free to share this guide with friends. I had a few other students and myself working on this and we would create decks based on this model in no time, and share.

Godspeed.

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14 comments on “How to make high quality Anki cards quickly
  1. Kelvin says:

    Hey Mark,

    It seems like a major issue with using Anki long term is we all eventually have review sessions that are too long. A solution some people have proposed is to retire certain decks as they get more hands on experience in their rotations.

    Along those lines, out of the academic subject decks you’ve made, which ones are still useful as you get further out from the classroom?

    Thanks

    • Mark says:

      There are two options really. Setting Anki’s upper limit on space to something very long, like 3+ months, ensures that a thoroughly learned card only shows up that often. The problem I find with Anki, as with all open ended spaced repetition systems, is that certain cards will settle to the bottom, doomed to see over and over. This is usually due to poor or vague wording. The other option is to suspend a deck after it has been tested.

      Because I made cards for in house stuff, after I took a test on that block, the card was suspended. If there was a cumulative final, a cram session consisted of de-suspended cards.

      There are an over abundance of review and board prep material out there, and while your Anki cards help you prepare for your teachers since you went to their lectures (or did cards based on their lectures), national exams are best approached with more standardized methods.

      Thankfully, there is a long list of material with varying depth depending on how hard you want to work. For instance, I felt like my system prepared me well throughout the year to tackle obscure questions, coupled with consistently(ish) doing Firecracker, and a weekend power session of Pathoma, for everything the NBME Pathology Subject Exam had to offer. But to step it up for step 1, there’s always another very thorough read of Goljan’s Rapid Review and going through Robins and Cotran’s question book. That plus mastery of 2-3 Q banks worth of material should place someone somewhere near the top of the nation.

      Who has time for all that? A tried a true gunner, who deserves my awe and respect, but certainly not my envy. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

  2. chris says:

    hey mark,
    just wanted to drop by to say that i’ve found your last few posts incredibly helpful/insightful. thanks for keeping this up!

  3. RD says:

    There is already a plug in that does the same thing. It’s called Image occlusion

    • Mark says:

      Sorry it took so long to reply to this! I checked out occlusion and I like it. I think my system is more customizable, and I can make cards pretty fast by covering say 5 things, then just deleting the one I want to show.

  4. YuChiGong says:

    I like you am using Anki.
    But, my subject matter is far easier than yours.
    I am only learning spoken and written Thai, and Mandarin.
    Good luck.

  5. clark says:

    hey, I am having a problem. I followed your guide step-by-step and everything seems to work, however when I go to review, I see the same question multiple times and then it says “study session over” what do I do about this.

  6. Niaz says:

    Hey Mark, I love your website. Would it be possible for you to share your Anki cards?

  7. Jason McGavin says:

    Have you ever encountered an issue with this strategy where Anki made cards for Question Fields that were left blank?

    Thanks for the help!

  8. Shant says:

    This doesn’t seem to work. I’m using this to help learn origins and insertions and innervators but I only ever get the first question. Do you know why? I did exactly what you suggested

  9. jjangmes says:

    this. fucking. rules.

    thanks for this guide… especially the Skitch tip. I never realized the potential of Skitch.

    I’ve been using Image Oculus.. but this looks so much easier to do.

  10. Thank you so much…..

  11. Joel says:

    just found your video. Brilliant! thank you for making it and helping me. 😉

  12. Cara says:

    Thank you so much Mark for taking the time in creating this post. I am using your how-to guide as a template to create Anki cards for my MCAT prep. Greatly appreciated

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