USMLE® Step 1 & 2

What is Anki?


Anki flashcards are a digital learning tool designed to help medical students effectively learn and retain vast amounts of complex medical knowledge. Anki utilizes spaced repetition, an evidence-based learning technique that optimizes memory retention and recall. Using Anki, medical students can create personalized flashcards covering a wide range of topics, including key concepts, diseases, medications, anatomy and physiology, clinical medicine and more. 

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The app allows students to create and review flashcards anytime, anywhere, fostering active learning and maximizing study time with its cross-platform compatibility. Anki is available as a desktop application for Windows, macOS and Linux, as well as mobile apps for iOS and Android devices.

By incorporating Anki into their study routines, medical students can optimize their learning, reinforce understanding and improve long-term retention of critical medical knowledge.

Anki employs a spaced repetition algorithm, designed to optimize memory retention. Users create flashcards with questions or prompts and with a click of a button the corresponding answers or information will appear. As users review their flashcards, they indicate their level of retention. Anki intelligently schedules cards for review based on performance.

Difficult or incorrectly answered cards are revisited more frequently, while easier ones are scheduled to be reviewed less often at a later time. This system enhances long-term memory retention by focusing on areas of weakness and allowing students to spend more time on challenging cards. 

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Whether students like to prepare for exams solo or benefit from collaborative learning with peers, Anki gives students the opportunity to do comprehensive subject reviews, self-test and supplement lecture and textbook materials.

Medical students can create their own flashcards, share flashcards with classmates or explore the vast library of shared decks available within the Anki community. With media-rich capabilities, such as the ability to embed audio clips, images, videos, links to online resources and scientific markup (via LaTeX), students can utilize Anki to:

  • Memorize medical facts including drug names, anatomical structures, diagnostic algorithms, medical abbreviations, disease criteria, treatment protocols and more.
  • Run through differential diagnosis and clinical reasoning scenarios, including patient presentations, common symptoms, diagnostic workups, differential diagnoses and management strategies.
  • Review medical images such as physical exam findings, X-rays, CT scans and histopathological slides to identify relevant anatomical structures, pathologies or for interpretation and diagnosis of medical images in used clinical practice. 

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Anki also offers flexibility in study options, accommodating various learning styles. Students can choose between different modes of review, such as a standard question-and-answer format or a "cloze deletion" format where specific portions of a sentence are removed to test comprehension. Recently, Anki released the “one by one” feature where multiple fields can be occluded within the same flashcard to help students consolidate their flashcards. Anki also allows for students to create “image occlusions” where they can occlude parts of an image. Students can organize their flashcards with tags and includes an option to create hierarchical decks for organizing subjects and subtopics. 

Collaboration and community engagement are an integral part of the Anki experience. By sharing decks with peers or accessing shared decks, students can benefit from the collective knowledge and expertise of others in their field. Some residents in fields like radiology, dermatology and urology have begun to create specialty-specific decks to help residents prepare for in-service and licensing exams.

AMA members receive a discount on test prep materials for the USMLE® and COMLEX-USA® tests. Read more about the benefits of AMA medical student membership.

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Reviewed by: Dhruv Puri, Medical Student Section (MSS) vice chair (2023-2024)

Reviewed on: Aug. 3, 2023