4 simple steps to make Anki anatomy flashcards

I have recently written a post about my learning curve in anatomy, where I mentioned all the ways that I implemented to conquer it. A salient aspect of understanding and retaining anatomy were the Anki flashcards that I made myself. Often I used to download pre-made Anki flashcards; however, the pre-made cards lessen the effectiveness of the learning. It is hard to correlate with the concepts in the pre-made cards. So when I decided to study anatomy, I started by making my own flashcards. I did not give it a second thought, because over the time, I was sure that making my own Anki flashcards for anatomy will be more beneficial. 

In cases where you do not have enough time, or there is an exam soon, you can download cards from the Anki pre-made decks, there are many good ones there. You only need to research a little bit, and I guess that much time is worth it.  However, if there is no deadline ahead of you then you should start by making your own flashcards.

There is one more thing that comes out deep from my heart; I do not want to proceed before putting some light on that. Anki flashcard is a free resource; furthermore, I feel that every student can use this to retain and learn so much better. Sadly, it is lesser-known and even lesser-used by Indian students, especially. If you have not yet started using flashcards then I recommend you to download it now, trust me on that. You will not regret it. 

There might be students who have a well planned and well-structured method of revision that helps them to practice spaced repetition with active recall. However, I prefer to assign that job to Anki to review my cards according to the difficulty levels. It is haphazard when you become the do-it-all person. This software is designed in a beautiful way that will help you retain a lot of the details without the pain of planning. It is humanly impossible for us to calculate after how many days we are likely to forget one spec of detail from each topic, from each subject. If even now, you are not convinced, I hope that this post will simplify Anki for you. 

I have learnt everything about Anki flashcards on my own with the help of the internet. There are a lot of articles and posts on the internet that can help you. Thus, it is worth mentioning my digital gurus here – Prerak Juthani and Med School Insiders

Without further ado, let me give you the manageable steps to start creating your own Anki flashcards. 

Step -1 = Download Anki. – The simple steps are available on their site.

NOTE – Creating Anki flashcards is much simpler on laptop or PC. You can sync your cards to multiple devices but prefer making it on computer/ laptop. The Anki app on android is free, but it is a paid app on iPhone

Step-2 = Download Anki add ons

There are various add-ons on Anki that are customised for your needs. While more add-ons can be very overwhelming, few are a necessity to make the beginners’ experience better. The few I recommend are:

Frozen fields

Ideally if you create a card in Anki, soon as you hit the Add button, the card content will disappear from the screen. Using the frozen field will freeze the text as it is. How does that help? It helps to save your time. If for instance, you are making cards on the structures passing through the different foramen of the skull. Like – What are the structures passing through the foramen rotundum? When the frozen field is ON, you just have to change the name of the foramen and the rest of the statement will remain the same. This add-on is the most useful tool, in my opinion. If I were to chose only one add on, it would be this one.

(In the slides below, the first slide shows the frozen fields icon, the next few slides show cards without the frozen fields active where the text is lost after clicking “Add”, and the following slides show the magic of frozen fields.)

*Do not worry about the spelling mistakes in the flashcards shown below*

Heatmap

This add on gives you the much-needed reality check. You get a birds-eye-view of how many cards are due, how many days you were consistent, your learning progress etc. Below is some insight into that. I mostly use it to keep a record of my consistency. (I allow you to judge me for my 1-month absence.)

The intensity of the colour depicts the number of cards reviewed each day.

Hierarchical tags

This tool helps you to stay organised. Basically, you organise your cards in subsections like you do while making notes. Eg., you are studying the skull in neuroanatomy. So, you can tag your card as ANATOMY (which is your main deck)::neuroanatomy::skull (By default Hierarchical Tags uses :: as a tag separator.)

The tab to add tags is at the bottom of the screen.

How does this help? It helps to find your cards particular to a topic and create a custom study session; for eg., In 2 days you have a neuroanatomy test. Naturally, you would want to focus on neuroanatomy rather than the chaotic mix of the upper limb, lower limb and neuro or say you only want to revise the skull. That is when you can create a custom session related to each topic.

Whenever you are making new cards remember to add tags. It will be much simple when you want to go back.

Image occlusion

Writing about anatomy flashcards, if I do not mention Image Occlusion then the post will be incomplete. This feature will help you remember every diagram and every surface landmarking clearly. You can take any image and occlude the labelling and markings. While reviewing the cards, it will force you to recall what that structure is. There are two options – either you can create cards which will hide all the labellings occluded by you, or you can choose to hide one labelling at a time and the rest will be visible. Let me show you how:

Pop up dictionary

It is just like the inbuilt dictionary in Kindle. If there is something in the card that you have lost the context with, or if there is an abbreviation that you do not recall, then you can double click on the word to see where else you have used it. How does that help? It helps you recollect the information.

NOTE – do not misuse it to guess the answers for the cards

That brings us to the end of the most salient add-ons. The next question is, how to get these add ons?

Tools — Add on — Get Add-ons..

A window will open to enter a code. You can get the code for each of the above add-ons by clicking the headings above or just google it. 

Step-3 = Creating the flashcards –

Now that we completed the basics, let us get to making cards. Although from the above, I feel you got an idea about how to put it in action. The 2 favourite methods of mine for anatomy cards are –

  • Cloze deletion 
  • Image occlusion

The Cloze feature is highlighted in the image below. It works like the fill in the blanks – you will see the full text with a blank which you need to retrieve (remember school days?). The small square brackets where the cursor points in the image, is the icon that gives you the “cloze deletion” i.e it hides the text you select.

I have added images in the end that will show how these cards will look like when you are reviewing. 

The image occlusion feature is explained above.

While image occlusion is something which everyone uses for studying anatomy, some prefer the basic cards rather than the cloze deletion. In the Basic flashcards, there is a question at the front with the answer at the back. (similar to the traditional flashcards)

*Bonus*

There is an “Extra” tab on the window when you create new cards. This column is to add any extra information related to the flashcard for reference. The information you add here will reveal only when you click “show answer”.  

This is another feature which should be exploited to the best. It can help you save a lot of time. I generally take screenshots of the high yield tables or copy-paste the text and add it into the Extra section. Then, I activate the frozen fields feature so that it stays there with each new card I make. After this, I make multiple cards from the frozen high yield information.

The information added in the Extra tab will help you create 3 flashcards and at the same time give you a comparison between the 3 different facts whenever you review these cards.

Small step by step guide to creating cards – 

  1. Click Add
  2. Select the type – cloze or basic or any other you prefer
  3. Select the deck – eg., ANATOMY
  4. Add the tags – I have used hierarchical tags eg., ANATOMY::neuroanatomy::skull
  5. Enter the text – if you use cloze-deletion, designate the text you want to hide.
  6. Click Add 

Step-4 = Reviewing cards –

After all the hard work done by you, the ingredient to get the best out of all of it is to review it everyday religiously. Let me repeat, EVERY DAY. 

Having said that, I don’t want you to beat yourself up if some days you miss out on reviewing. I only want to emphasize that the best results come from everyday reviews. You can start small by setting limits to the number of new cards and review cards each day and eventually increase the limit as you adapt yourself. Just remember reviewing is cardinal. 

I want to address one common question here – “I am in my first year of medical school till how long should I keep reviewing anatomy cards?” The answer is, as long as you want to remember the information. However, this does not mean that you have to review 1000 cards from anatomy every day. As you will move ahead, the number of review cards each day will decrease because your retention power will increase. Anki will not show the cards you already know with the same frequency. By the third year of medical school, you will have anatomy on your tips.

NOTE – number of review cards is inversely proportional to your retention 

Sneak peak into the appearance of the cards when you study :

That is it, you can now start making your flashcards. It is never too late to start, whether you are a first-year student or an intern, start today.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

There is an initial learning curve in Anki, but there are a lot of resources to assist you. Do not try to mug up the answers; understand it first. I know memorization is crucial, but strong memory develops from skilled concepts. Anki is an efficient tool to help you master any subject. Just cut off your social media time for a day and explore this valuable resource that will serve you in countless ways.

I found my Anki mentors through social media, and I hope this post finds you and helps you. I was thinking about making a post on Anki flashcards for a long time, but I did not want it to be too information-heavy. As said by Nat Eliason

“It’s the posts you spend the longest thinking about that will land the biggest splash.”

I hope this post gives you the splash of courage to try Anki.

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