Using Anki in Medical School

In the previous two posts I have introduced you to the science of spaced repetition, and also why it works for memorizing large quantities of information. I highly recommended the free program, Anki, which enables users to create digital flashcards and learn any subject that requires memorization. It makes perfect sense that plenty of people have used Anki to learn foreign languages, and I think it could really help premeds with MCAT preparation. I also have firsthand experience with spaced repetition learning. Since the first day of classes (almost 6 months ago), I have used Anki to learn the vast amounts of material presented in medical school. Using Anki in medical school is easy. It has worked wonders for my studying, and helped me honor over half of my courses. More importantly I am remembering information presented months ago, instead of forgetting everything right after the test.

My study skills from high school and college were not up to par for medical school. I knew this, and wanted to make a change before starting med school. I didn't want to waste my precious time on inefficient study methods, nor did I want to cram information into short-term memory only to relearn it months later for the Step 1 medical licensing exam. After coming across multiple blog posts about how awesome Anki is, I decided to take the plunge and use it for all of my medical school material.

My medical school has roughly 4 hours of lecture a day, everyday, for about 6 weeks before we take a cumulative block exam (a 6-7 hour computer-based monster). We use a systems based curriculum. This means all of the traditional subjects: biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, histology, cell biology, genetics, embryology, etc. pertain to a certain body system. For example, this current block we are learning all about the gastrointestinal and renal systems. As you can imagine, the organ systems and how they work are not simple subjects. Everything you've probably heard about the volume of information presented in med school is true. Luckily, I found something that works for me.

First Semester Medical School Notes

The first thing I love about using Anki in medical school is that making the cards helps me learn the material. The spaced repetition is obviously crucial for putting information into my longterm, working memory, but I have found that making the cards is really helpful for me. I go to most classes and within a week of hearing the lecture I take another pass through my notes. Whenever I come across an important point, list, or fact that I think I will need for the exam - I make an Anki flashcard. This method allows me to see the lecture for a second time, and also to discern what information is important and what is just "fluff."

Guess what? The thousands of flashcards I have made for medical school can never be lost, and will still be around in a year or so when it is time for USMLE Step 1 review. They don't take up room in my apartment or have to be packaged and transported to the library. All I need to use them is my computer, tablet, or phone. The portability is a huge plus in my book.

The Anki program uses an algorithm to determine how frequently cards are redelivered to you. That is, you don't have to waste time reviewing things you know. If I already really understand a flashcard and have answered it correctly a few times, I probably won't see that card again for a few weeks. I use the default settings for the algorithm as I think they work for me, but you can customize them.

The best part though is that this program is 100% FREE! Seriously, you can go download Anki 2 right now, no strings attached, and try out the program for yourself.

No one likes memorizing facts, definitions, medications, symptoms, etc. However it is pretty essential to success in the medicine/science fields. It is crucial for competitive MCAT and Step 1 scores. Using Anki in medical school has helped me with this dull task. It makes memorization bearable. It doesn't help me understand things, but for remembering and recall I've never used anything better.

Disclaimer: I have no financial relationship with Anki. I did not offer to write this series of blog posts, and I don't receive anything from them if you download it. In fact, I don't even know who is in charge of it.