Do you want the freedom of memorizing information without using paper notecards? Anki (the Japanese word for “memorization”) is a memory app that uses spaced repetition to spread out your learning intervals so you memorize information effectively.

The options for using Anki are endless—you can use it to study for important examples like the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or the bar exam, learn foreign languages, or even master your guitar scales. Curious? Let’s look at how to use Anki effectively.

How Do I Start Anki?

To learn how to use Anki, start by downloading the app for free on your computer or phone. 

Don’t stress too much about what device you download it to initially, as Anki synchronizes smoothly across multiple devices. Have it downloaded and installed? Next, create your own account.

That’s really all you need to get started. Don’t worry—we’ll walk you through what to do next in a bit. 

What Does the App Do and How Does it Work? 

Anki is a flashcard software system that uses recall and spaced repetition to help you remember facts. “It’s a lot more efficient than traditional study methods, and you can either greatly decrease your time spent studying or greatly increase the amount that you learn,” says Skillshare instructor Ali Abdaal.

Anki is super flexible, and you can use the system to create and study flashcards on any subject you’d like.

Once you’ve created your own flashcards in Anki, you test yourself the same way you study physical flashcards. But, unlike normal flashcards, this program gives you the opportunity to rate whether you found the answer easy, medium, or hard. Anki uses these ratings to determine what spaced repetition intervals to use.

What’s spaced repetition? It’s a learning technique that repeatedly shows you material (your flashcards) at the right intervals to increase your comprehension and boost retention. Basically, it’ll show you tougher subjects more frequently so they stick in your brain better. 

“Over time as I’m going through my flashcards repeatedly, I’m rating myself in terms of how hard I found the stuff, and then Anki is resurfacing the relevant things appropriately based on when I’m most likely to just pass that threshold of forgetting,” says Abdaal.

How Do You Use Anki?

Use Anki to study anything you want to retain long-term. Some examples include:

  • Vocabulary for a new language
  • Medical and law school exams
  • Geography
  • History
  • Literary devices and grammar
  • Names of sports teams, locations, and players
  • Song lyrics

…and plenty more! That’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of how flexible this program is for helping you tackle new subjects. 

So, how do you actually use the app? Let’s dive in! 

Step 1: Download and Install Anki

This step is the easiest (especially since we covered it earlier): Download Anki on your laptop, computer, or smartphone, just like you’d install any other app. 

After Anki is installed, you’ll need to create an account with a username and password. Once that’s done, you’ll see a blank screen. That’s okay—you’ll add content soon.

Step 2: Create a Deck

anki tutorial
Create as many decks and flashcards as you want in Anki.

You now need to create a deck to organize your individual flashcards in. You can create as many decks and flashcards as you like. 

We suggest organizing your deck by subject. For instance, if you want to match the names of capital cities to their countries, create a deck named “Capital Cities.”

It’s as easy as clicking the “Create Deck” button and naming your deck accordingly. 

Step 3: Create a Flashcard

anki world capitals
Create basic flashcards in Anki or customize them.

Now you’re ready to create the actual flashcards. Each deck has an “add” button that allows you to insert and create flashcards. That will bring up a composition window where you can type your information for that card. 

So, if you are studying capital cities, you could make the front of the card the question “Capital of France” and then list the answer of “Paris” on the back. 

If you want to keep it simple, you can leave it at that. But you also have the option to customize your cards with different fonts, colors, images, and more (which we’ll cover more in the next section).  

When you hit the blue “add” button again, the screen will tell you that it’s waiting for editing to finish. Once you close the “add” screen, you’ll see that a card is saved.

Step 4: Customize Your Flashcards

There’s another feature you should know about in Anki: how to use multimedia to enhance your flashcards and studying experience. 

Using the toolbar in the upper right corner of the composition window, you can easily embed media items like audio clips, images, screenshots, and videos on your cards.

You can also tag your cards to allow you to search for your decks using a specific keyword. It’s an easy way to create subdecks. So, if you want to know how to use Anki in medical school, for example, you could consider tagging your cards for the different exams you need to take. 

Step 5: Study Your Flashcards

anki flashcards
Creating your flashcards is fun, but the real magic happens when you study them.

Anki has two learning categories: flashcards that are new but not yet studied and flashcards that have been studied that need to be reviewed again. Decks will be marked as “learning” or “to review” accordingly. 

You can study flashcards in your deck by clicking the name of the deck and pressing the “study now” button. Make your guess and have Anki show you the answer. 

Then, you’ll see the correct answer along with three buttons labeled “again,” “good,” and “easy.” This is where you’ll rate how difficult you thought the question was, so Anki can use it for the spaced repetition intervals.

These terms can be a little confusing to start. But, what you need to know is that Anki uses “learning steps” to help you master new information. How you rate the cards tells Anki what step that card should move to. Here’s the gist: 

  • Again: Moves the card back to the first step (so you’ll see it again very soon)
  • Good: Moves the card to the next learning step (so you’ll see it again a little later)
  • Easy: Moves the card over to a “review” card rather than a “learning” card (so you won’t see it until you move to the review stage)

Anki is an incredibly powerful tool for learning new information, and you don’t have to go it alone. You can share your decks with your friends or even download shared decks from other sources. For example, if you’re wanting to learn how to use Anki for MCAT, there’s at least 50 decks to get you started. Or if you simply want to use Anki for more productivity as a freelancer or managing your money better, there are lessons to learn from there too:

Regardless of what you choose to study, Anki will help you learn new subjects effectively and efficiently—and maybe even teach you to enjoy the process.

Make Learning Easier!

Learn Anything With Flashcards: The Ultimate Guide to Anki

Written By

Kaitlyn Arford

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