What is Anki?

Anki, or 暗記, means memorisation in Japanese.

Whether you’re at school, university or neither, there are always new things to learn. Learning is a funny business, and we spend surprisingly little time thinking how we go about doing it.

Elsewhere I have written about some of the evidence-based strategies to get the most out of your mind, and Anki, essentially a digital flashcard app, is the best thing I’ve found for combining these. Long story short, Anki lets you build your knowledge in a fun and efficient way.

 It is really simple to make and review cards, and Anki uses a user-adjustable algorithm which will resurface, each day, the cards that you are about to forget.

Anki is free and available on Windows and Mac. The mobile app is the best £24 you’ve ever spent and means you can flick through your cards on the go, wherever you are.

Why does it work?

Anki combines any and all of the 6 key learning strategies backed up by cognitive psychology (and helpfully explained in the infographic below).

You review the cards you about to forget along with your new cards. This means that you are constantly testing yourself on material you learnt a while ago. In one fell swoop you combine active recall with spaced repetition. When you choose to review a particular deck, cards are presented randomly, bringing interleaving into play.

Fancy a bit of dual coding? Whack in some pictures. (We’ll get into how later.)

Anki is also very flexible. You can arrange your cards into all sorts of decks and sub-decks, change card format for different questions, and use all sorts of add-ons to improve the experience. I explain these in more detail below.

Decks

Just like physical flashcards, you arrange your anki flashcards into ‘decks’ of cards. You can see how I have arranged some of my decks when I was studying Contract Law in the picture below.

Card types

The two main types of card are

1. Basic ‘front – back’ flashcards; and

2. Cloze ‘fill in the blanks’ flashcards.

You can see examples of both types below:

With both, you’ll see that you are first asked a question, and then shown the answer.

Depending how well you answered, you choose one of the 4 options which pop up at the bottom and you’ll see that card again in a longer or shorter period of time.

Add-ons

Because Anki is open-source software, lots of people au fait with coding, and keen to improve it, have made add-ons to do all sorts of fun and interesting things.

A favourite is the Review Heatmap add on (available here: https://github.com/glutanimate/review-heatmap/releases/tag/v0.7.0-beta.1. Note that most add-ons are available straight on the Anki website, but for some you have to go to websites like GitHub.) The Review Heatmap gives you a pretty coloured square for each day you review cards on, which incentivises you to keep your streak going. As you can see on the picture below, I’m currently on my longest ever streak for these decks.

You can find my top recommendations for add-ons here.

Why anki is the perfect app for law students.

Anki is fantastic for all and any kinds of learning. In particular, university students could get a lot out of using it.

Medical students, and some language students seem to have cottoned on but Law students, for example, often haven’t heard of it.

Using Anki can help in a couple of main ways. First, it will save you time learning course content, so freeing up time for other things. Second, Anki helps you spend more time learning the parts of the course you don’t know as well; the hard cards come up more often.

It’s also better than other alternatives that are widely available. For example Quizlet is great, but doesn’t have the Spaced Repetition aspect, making it much less effective. There is a great add-on too for converting Quizlet decks into Anki decks.

What next?

To find out how to get started, have a look at some of the other articles on the site. Thanks!

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