Ever wished you didn’t need to spend so much time reviewing your notes just to memorize something? Ever regret cramming for a test because you forgot everything a few days later?
Do you just want to get faster and better at memorizing?
This article will teach you how to use an app called Anki to commit facts to memory as quickly as possible, using a method proven by science.
Anki is a flashcard software whose algorithm keeps track of when you might be about to forget something. Around a day before you forget the answer to a question, Anki quizzes you on it. This forces you to take the time to actively recall the answer.
Why is this useful? Studies have shown that the best way to memorize anything is to wait a bit until your brain starts to forget the information before checking to see if you still remember. When done properly, after each review of the question your brain will retain the information for much longer. Months, even years longer.
That’s what makes Anki far better than Quizlet and other flashcard apps.
This method for longer retention of information is called “spaced repetition” (slowly increasing the space between reviews). To learn more, check out this great video by Osmosis about why our memory benefits so much from this method.
You’ll need a computer to set up Anki, which is free on Windows, Mac, Linux. Get the app from the official website here. Select your operating system (e.g. Mac), then download and install the most recent version.
Get to know Anki
When you open Anki for the first time, you’ll see an empty, “Default,” deck of flashcards. We’ll be adding flashcards to this deck.
- Under the “Due” column, you see the number of flashcards Anki thinks you may have forgotten and should review today.
- Under the “New” column, you see the number of flashcards you will review for the first time today.
Let’s get to memorizing! To add new flashcards, click the add button at the top. In the window that appears, change the “Type” to “Basic.” (This is the most straightforward type of Anki flashcard).
Now the fun part! Type your question on the “Front” of the flashcard and type the answer on the “Back.”
Click “Add” to add your card, then repeat the process for flashcards you want to study. Once you’re done adding material, close the window.
As long as you consistently spend 5 minutes a day reviewing your flashcards, you will commit these questions to long-term memory. Find the time in your day to:
- Open the app (see Anki on mobile below if you’re on your phone)
- Click “Default,” since that’s the deck with all of your flashcards, then “Study Now”
- Try to remember the answer to the question you’re presented with. Then, “Show Answer.”
Let Anki know how tough it was for you to remember the answer. The more honest you are, the faster you’ll memorize the information. Anki will use your rating figure out when to show the card to you next.
Here’s what I usually do:
- If I didn’t know the answer, I hit “Again”
- If I got the answer, I hit “Good”
- I almost never hit “Easy,” unless the flashcard was a lot easier than all the others
Once you finish your reviews, come back tomorrow!
That’s the basics, done.
You can explore the full Anki user guide here. Keep reading for a few more tips:
Anki offers a free cloud sync service so that you can study your flashcards on different devices. Follow the steps here to set it up!
Anki on mobile
While you can’t create new flashcards on mobile, you can knock out your daily reviews on-the-go with Anki mobile. Make sure you’ve set up AnkiWeb above.
- Anki is available for free on Android.
- On iOS, use Safari to study through ankiweb.net.
- Alternatively, purchase the iOS app to support development for all platforms.
You can import decks from Anki’s large shared deck database. Even better, you can import decks as CSV files, which means you can import decks from Quizlet and others like it!
Anki has incredible add-on support. You can browse free, public add-ons here. To install an add-on copy-paste its code (found online) into Tools > Add-ons > Get Add-ons.
Advanced card types
The benefit of digital flashcards is that you can add images, pronunciations, and more to your flashcards. On top of that, Anki has support for cards with chemical and mathematical formulas.
I recommend that you tweak Anki’s algorithm settings a bit. This will help you get through cards more efficiently. Watch Prerak’s video, where he explains what changes to make and why.