If you didn’t use Anki before starting medical school, chances are a classmate convinced you to download it by the end of the first week. And with good reason: spaced repetition is one of the best ways to make sure you have your high-yield facts down. Still, even the most devoted Anki user knows that on some days, staring at your laptop screen while smashing your spacebar for hours is the last thing you feel like doing.
Unfortunately, the science behind spaced repetition means that skipping days will catch up with you quickly. The last thing you want is to blank on a test question that you know you made a flashcard for, all because you chose social or extracurricular activities over keeping up with reviews a few times too many. Read on to learn about ten Anki add-ons that will make your flashcard use easier and more productive — and will help you leave time for the activities you care about.
- Review Heatmap
- Anki Simulator
- Clickable Tags
- Custom Background Image and Gear Icon
- Frozen Fields
- Pop-up Dictionary
- More Overview Stats
- Advanced Browser
- The Anki app
This add-on is one of my personal favorites because it helps me see patterns in my reviews over the past few weeks or months. Each square represents one day, so if I miss a day, it will show up as a blank spot in a sea of colors. When I first started using Review Heatmap, I noticed that I often skipped Thursdays — my busiest day of classes. With that information, I started shifting half of my Thursday reviews to Wednesday or Friday, and I got much better at planning my reviews around my school and work schedule.
I also like this add-on because the streak feature motivates me to keep up with my reviews. When I first installed it, I was shocked to see that I only used Anki on 68% of days. I knew I wasn’t great at keeping up with my reviews, but I didn’t know I was that bad. After I started using Review Heatmap and got better at disciplining myself, it was satisfying to see my “days learned” percentage start creeping upwards.
This add-on is great for when you have an exam coming up and want to know how many new cards you should plan on doing every day. Just plug in the deck, a suggested daily number of new cards and a timeframe. Anki Simulator will tell you when you’ll finish going through a deck and how many reviews you’ll have to do every day on top of your new cards.
For example, this picture shows a simulation of the whole Zanki deck with 40 new cards per day over the next 700 days (in red). Since this person has already started the deck, Anki Simulator takes their existing review load into account, meaning that they’ll have a fairly consistent daily load of around 500-600 cards for the first year or so. The steep dropoff in October 2021 shows when this person will have seen every card in the deck and their reviews begin to decrease. The orange line represents an alternative simulation with 60 new cards per day. As you can see, the dropoff point occurs several months earlier, but it comes at the cost of more daily reviews.
This is a large-scale example, but of course you can use Anki Simulator for much smaller decks and timeframes, like an anatomy deck for an exam that’s only two weeks away.
Clickable Tags is especially handy if you’re using large premade decks like Zanki or Lightyear. The AnKing Overhaul deck makes particularly good use of tags, with separate categories not only for various topics, but also for different study resources like B&B and Physeo.
This add-on works by making each card’s tags interactive. When you look at the reverse of a card, you’ll also see the tags listed at the bottom. Let’s say you had trouble answering the question on the card below — or maybe you got it right, but realized you weren’t familiar with the other characteristics of orotic aciduria and wanted to refresh your knowledge. Clicking on the yellow tag would take you straight to the Ammonia section of the Metabolism chapter associated with Physeo, all within the AnKing Overhaul’s Step 1 deck.
As you can see below, the Browse window will open immediately and show you all the other cards with this tag. You can then scroll through them to remind yourself of the context of orotic aciduria within ammonia metabolism more broadly.
Custom Background Image and Gear Icon
At first glance, it might seem strange to include a purely aesthetic add-on in this list, but you may be surprised at how helpful a custom background image can be. The default Anki app comes with a plain gray background — not distracting, but not exactly inspiring either. Switching to one of the background pictures included with this add-on, or choosing one of your own, can make it just that much more pleasant to sit down to Anki at 7 am. As an added bonus, you can choose from a range of icons to replace the default gear, including a dragon, a flower, and even the AnKing logo.
Here’s an example with one of the nature shots included in the add-on, along with the fire icon, but the add-on’s configuration makes it easy to add your own photos if you prefer. See this AnKing video for a runthrough of how to get the most out of the custom background image add-on.
Custom Background Image and Gear Icon
Finishing your daily reviews is the most time-consuming aspect of Anki, but you shouldn’t neglect all the smaller tasks that are involved in organizing and getting through a deck. If you frequently need to unsuspend, mark, or move cards, Fastbar can save you valuable time. Essentially, this add-on takes several of Anki’s most useful features and puts them in one handy and easily accessible toolbar.
If you’re like most casual Anki users, you’re probably not familiar with some of the app’s less prominent features, like “clear unused tags,” “change note type,” or even “reschedule.” After I installed Fastbar, I learned about many of these helpful tools for the first time. Even features I already knew about and used frequently, like “mark” and “suspend,” became much easier to use after downloading this add-on. With all the options laid out in front of me, I never have to waste time searching through the menu bar again.
This add–on is a must-have for people who make their own cards, especially if you need to make several related cards about the same topic. Copying and pasting the top field from one card to the next is tedious and can lead to careless mistakes. Frozen Fields allows you to freeze the top field in place as you go from one new card to the next, letting you make as many cards as you want before you unfreeze it and move on to the next topic.
Take this example from my Medical Chinese deck. Here, I’ve put both the Pinyin romanization and the Chinese characters on the reverse of this card, but let’s say I wanted to make two separate cards for each of them. I still want to keep “yellow fever” on the front of the card, so I simply click the snowflake to freeze the top field in place. Now I can create one new card with the romanization and another with the characters, all without having to type the English translation twice.
In this example, Frozen Fields wouldn’t have saved me a ton of time, but you can imagine how quickly this adds up when you’re making cards with a lot of complicated information.
Similarly to Clickable Tags, Pop-up Dictionary is another great add-on from Glutaminate that can help you draw connections among different but related topics. Just double-click on a term you’re unfamiliar with, and a list of cards containing that term will pop up instantly.
In the example below, let’s say you got the question right but want to remind yourself of what purines do in the body. Double-clicking on “purines” will bring up the list you see in the second picture. You can scroll through to refresh your knowledge on everything related to this topic, from purine structure and synthesis to diseases like Lesch-Nyhan syndrome that occur when purine metabolism fails to function normally.
As an added bonus, all the information in the extra card fields will be visible as well, so you can take a look at any visual mnemonics that you’ve added from Sketchy, Physeo, or Pixorize to help jog your memory.
More Overview Stats
If you want to get the most out of Anki, you’ll need as much data as you can get about your decks. As the name suggests, More Overview Stats gives you additional information about the status of each card in your collection. Not only is it helpful to see how many of your cards in each deck are in the mature or young phase, but it also feels satisfying to see the percentage of suspended and unseen cards diminish as you move through your curriculum.
Here’s an example from my Medical Chinese deck. As you can see, I’ve learned 87 percent of the deck so far, but only 9 percent is mature. Rather than suspending any cards, I simply set the new card limit to 10 per day, so More Overview Stats tells me that it will take another 7 days to finish the remaining 13 percent of this deck at the rate I’m going. If I change the new card limit in the options menu, More Overview Stats will update right away to show me a new prediction.
More Overview Stats
The Advanced Browser add-on makes it much easier to maintain and organize your decks. As you probably know, the default Browse window shows you the contents (under “sort field”), card type, due date, and deck for each card. Advanced Browser lets you add several categories to the default menu according to your specific needs.
For example, I like to see the number of lapses for each card (how many times I’ve hit “Again” on a card that I had previously learned), so I added this category from Advanced Browser. As you can see below, I’m now able to sort my cards according to the highest or lowest number of lapses (although I could also sort by any of the other columns if I preferred). For some reason, I can never remember that pyruvate kinase is inhibited by alanine, so I’ve missed this card six times. That’s not high enough for Anki to mark the card as a leech, so I wouldn’t have known that I missed it so often if it weren’t for Advanced Browser. By seeing which cards have the most lapses, I can do additional practice on those topics before they hit the leech threshold.
I personally find “lapses” to be the most helpful category that comes with this add-on, but Advanced Browser has several other options as well. Some useful ones include “note” and “tags,” which give you information that you’d otherwise have to scroll down to find, as well as “ease” and “percent correct,” which I haven’t been able to find elsewhere in the app. There are also fun options like “fastest review” and “total time.”
The Anki app
This may not technically count as an add-on, but the Anki app is the single best way to increase your productivity and make sure you finish your reviews every day. If you have an Android phone, good news — it’s free to download. If you’re an iPhone user, the $25 price tag may be a deterrent, but the investment will be well worth it over your time in med school.
Many of the add-ons listed here haven’t yet been configured for the app, so you won’t be able to install a flashy review heatmap or personalized background picture, but the Anki phone app has all of the key features included with the desktop version. If you make sure to sync your desktop and phone before heading out in the morning, you’ll be able to get the most out the minutes you spend commuting, waiting for a lecture to start, or even unwinding on the treadmill after a day of class. By the time you get back home in the evening, you’ll be surprised at how low your remaining review count is.
If you’re feeling inspired by the add-ons mentioned here, or if you haven’t found exactly what you’re looking for, it’s easier than you may think to design an add-on of your own. Anki is open-source, meaning that anyone can get access to the code behind the app. If you have even a minimal coding background, you can start experimenting with tweaks to existing add-ons right away or even develop your own. It’s always a good idea to check r/medicalschoolanki for the latest updates or to share your work — if you see a need for a new or improved add-on, chances are someone else has had the same idea.
Above all, remember that Anki doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all, and in fact, the platform works best when you take the time to personalize it. Over your time in medical school and even beyond, you can install or create as many add-ons as you need to make Anki the most effective tool for you.