Anki Appreciation Post (And Mini-Guide)

Hi friends, hope we’re all keeping well.

When I ask you to think of a habit that has drastically benefitted your current life, what would you say? Is it some kind of daily exercise? Meditation? Reading?

Sometimes, it truly is the little things that can add massive value to your life when done consistently. For me, this ‘little thing’ would probably be Anki.

I’ve mentioned Anki several times before in many different posts, but now I’m finally going to be dedicating an entire post to it. Please note this shouldn’t really be taken as a guide on how to use Anki as a complete beginner, but rather some additional tips and advice on how to use Anki. For people that are in the dark on this treasure trove of a software, I highly, highly recommend you watch Ali Abdaal’s entire Anki course on SkillShare first, to get familiar with the basics. This can technically be done completely free, since every person can avail of the free trial SkillShare offers and just binge the entire series, then cancelling before the free trial ends.

🤔Okay, but what even is this ‘Anki’? 🤔

If I was to summarise Anki in just one word, it would simply be ‘flashcards’. Anki is a completely free (on desktop and Android) and open-source flashcard programme that combines the elements of active recall AND spaced repetition, the two core elements of effective studying.

Active recall is basically the action of ‘actively’ trying to ‘recall’ information, like the name suggests. Think of it as a much fancier term for ‘testing yourself’. Essentially, the harder our brains work to try retrieve information from it, the stronger that information gets encoded into the brain. The more work we put in to trying to remember things, the easier it will be for us the next time around trying to remember it.

Spaced repetition also means what the name suggests, where you’re ‘spacing’ your ‘repetition’ of a subject over longer and longer periods of time. So say repeating studying a subject 1 day later, then 3 days later, then a week, then 2 weeks, then a month etc.

I’m sure we’re all painfully aware of a thing called the forgetting curve, where we tend to forget information we aren’t regularly using. How many times have you studied a subject absolutely brilliantly, watertight, only to find yourself completely forgetting everything about it a week later? That’s essentially the forgetting curve in action, and our main adversary. Unfortunately, there are very few things that the forgetting curve won’t ever affect, like our name, but there are ways to minimise and slow down its effect-by using the techniques we just mentioned above.

By combining the elements of active recall and spaced repetition, we can combat the forgetting curve so that it will take much longer for us to completely forget information, rather than just a short time period. That is the goal, and what Anki helps you with.

An example of a flashcard in Anki. You think about the answer for a few seconds or so, then look at the answer
An example of the time intervals Anki will let you choose after you answer a card. If I found the card was easy, it’ll show me it again in 17 days. If I found it hard, it’ll show me it again in 5 days time, and etc.

It will show you flashcards and, according to how easy/difficult you found the flashcard to be, determine when next to test the card on you. So say you’re tested on a flashcard for the first time and found it really easy, then it’ll show you it again in 4 days. If after those 4 days you still find it to be easy, you’ll be tested on it again in 2 weeks, etc.

But for the cards that you find difficult or hard to answer, Anki will keep testing you the cards in much shorter time intervals, say 10 minutes later, then tomorrow, then 2 days time, etc. If you find a card to be really difficult, it’ll keep testing you on it every 10 minutes or so (or less if you have very few cards left to be tested on), until you feel like you’re ready for it to be tested tomorrow.

That’s pretty much how Anki works, and is why many of my subjects depend and revolve around it. Once again, I strongly recommend watching Ali Abdaal’s skillshare course first, if you’re sort of in the dark about this programme. That being said, I don’t think the concept around Anki is generally difficult to comprehend, but rather people simply opt for easier but less effective ways of studying due to it requiring less activation energy. 🙁

🙌🏼Advantages of Anki🙌🏼

Oh boy, where do I start.

Well, aside from just explaining why the combination of active recall and spaced repetition is the most superior study technique (which Anki is based on), there are definitely a few more reasons why it’s really good, either as a result of being an effective study technique or just in general.

-😮‍💨Saves you the hassle of saving, storing, and carrying around notes. Sure, for problem subjects like maths and accounting, you can’t really use flashcards to study, but for every other subject that simply requires you to memorise a whole bunch of facts and information, Anki can save you a LOT of trouble with notes. At this point, I haven’t even looked at my biology, business, or physics notes in months, mainly because my main way of studying them is by going over the flashcards in those certain decks on my phone.

-💯Improved grades. I can practically guarantee (although not really because every person is different and there are lots of other factors at play) that if you’re struggling with a subject that requires massive amounts of learning, remembering, and/or memorising, using Anki will help bump your grade up into the next level. It’s what helped push my biology grades from the mid 80s to the high 90s, and has definitely improved my sharpness with business and accounting theory.

-🎨 Customisability & Flexibility. Every flashcard can be customised and changed to suit one’s own needs, and you can choose to underline, make bold, or even cut out some parts of a flashcard you’re making, if you feel they’re irrelevant.

-⏰Convenience, or Ease of studying. I can go through an entire topic in biology anytime, anywhere, in just 10-15 minutes by going through the flashcards in my phone. Moreover, by continuing to set aside 25-30 minutes to do Anki everyday, you’re always staying on top of the game and working on cards you’re struggling with. While sometimes this may not seem very true, as I have definitely still experienced a few brain farts in tests, I can still confidently say I know most of what I made into Anki flashcards.

👀Good Rules of Thumb👀

These are the general rules that I follow when making and reviewing flashcards.

I typically don’t want to have more than 5 points of information in one flashcard unless absolutely necessary. If I only get say 3/5 of the points in a flashcard, I’ll still mark the card as ‘hard’, when I’m really trying to remember everything in the card. For last minute reviewing before tests, I definitely ensure I have every single point mentioned in my flashcards encoded into memory.

You need to do Anki, Every. Single. Day. The process will not work if you only go through some of your reviews on some days. That is not how Anki is supposed to be used, and you won’t see much improvement if you use Anki this way. If you’re struggling and losing concentration when reviewing, you can try using music to help bring you into focus (music with no lyrics). There are also add-ons you can download that will notify you with some loud noise, when you’ve been staring at a card for an extended amount of time; in case you’ve zoned out.

-I prefer doing Anki as my first action of productivity of the day. It usually helps wake my brain up, and helps motivate me to do the rest of my work. Even if I’ve completely lazed out the day, I’ll still be able to feel good that I’ve went through my daily reviews for the day.

Don’t make a flashcard so that you’re spending more than 30 seconds recalling information for it. This kind of goes back to the first point, where you really shouldn’t stuff loads of info into one card. Flashcards work best when you’re doing them rapidly, in 5-10 seconds, rather than finishing one or two every minute or so. Saves you time, and helps you avoid becoming distracted. Of course, I don’t advocate spending only 1-2 seconds on every card and not recalling anything at all, but really challenge yourself to recall the information within 10-15 seconds, preferably around 6 or 7 seconds. This will save you from zoning out in many, many situations.

When starting out, it may help to find a flashcard buddy to bang out Anki with. It can be really tough and intimidating to go through a mountain of cards alone when first starting out, but having a companion (who’s just as motivated to do well in exams like you) to do these flashcards with would probably help make the reviewing process much easier and smoother.

Alright, that’ll probably do it for this blog post. Anki has been really valuable to me these past months, where bigger and bigger pressure is being placed on studying and exams, and I honestly can’t be more grateful to it for revolutionising my study methods.

What is also as valuable as Anki? You, dear reader, you are also a valuable human being and I appreciate you very much for reading this far. Any comments or feedback, let me know, and I’ll see you next time. Stay safe!

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