Pros and Cons of Anki

Anki is a flashcard program based on spaced repetition that is very popular amongst medical students. You can download the program free of charge:

  1. Computer
  2. iOS App
  3. Android App

Table of Contents


It’s based on spaced repetition to achieve optimal and effective learning. 

Spaced repetition is an evidence based learning technique that involves learning and relearning facts at increasingly longer intervals of time until those facts are effectively stored in long-term memory.

This means that if you answer a question incorrectly on Anki, the program will show the question again to you in a shorter amount of time than for a question that you answered correctly.

For example, depending on your interval settings, if you answer a question incorrectly, then you may see the question again the next day or the day after, but a question that is answered correctly may not reappear until a week later. This spaced repetition technique allows you to be exposed to difficult questions at a more frequent interval while still ensuring less frequent testing of material that you have mastered. 

It allows audio, image and video files to be incorporated into the flashcard.

Unlike other online flashcard applications, Anki allows various media files including audio and images. For example, if you’re studying anatomy, you can test yourself on neuroanatomy by uploading a picture of the relevant structures onto a flashcard, as seen below. Using “Image Occlusion,” a popular Anki add-on, you can cover parts of the image (i.e. the labels for each structure of the limbic system as seen in the image below) and thus test yourself on the name of the structure. Students can use this concept to test themselves on everything from musculoskeletal anatomy to vasculature. 


You can upload heart sounds onto a flashcard, play the sound and test your ability to identify the murmur or the pathological heart sound.

You can customize the frequency of flashcard presentation, new cards presented each day, etc.

You can customize nearly every aspect of this flashcard program to work for your timeline and style. For example, you can choose how many new cards you are presented with each day, the frequency at which you see cards that you have answered incorrectly, and even the maximum time allowed to answer each card.

If you have a shelf exam in eight weeks and there are 500 cards in the deck, then you can estimate that you will need to learn approximately 11 new cards each day, leaving the week immediately before the exam free for more targeted review. Admittedly, understanding how to customize all these settings may present a steep learning curve for new users but greatly enhances its functionality.  

You can find and use pre-made Anki decks online. 

Anki decks can be created and uploaded to, where other users can then download and use the decks that they find useful. The benefits of being able to share and use other people’s Anki decks means that younger students can benefit from the work of older students who have already used these flashcard decks to study for exams. 

Additionally, there is a tremendous variety of decks available, including flashcard decks for the step exams, shelf exams and even the basics of each specialty. This means that you can immediately download the flashcard deck and begin studying rather than taking time to make the deck yourself. 

It can track statistics.

Because Anki depends on completing a certain number of cards each day, the success of this learning method is dependent on dedicated daily learning. Each deck has stats such as the number of correct answers you had today, the number of cards assigned tomorrow, and a calendar depicting which days you completed all assigned daily cards.

You can use these stats to stay motivated, stay consistent every day, and plan for the next day. For example, a day that is scheduled to have 200 review cards may require more time studying than a day that is scheduled to have 50 review cards. 

Source: Jennifer Tram


It requires daily commitment.

Because Anki involves spaced repetition, there will almost always be flashcards assigned to each day. Not completing the assigned cards usually results in that day’s cards being reassigned to tomorrow or the day after. Therefore, skipping multiple days can lead to a massive build up of overdue cards that may seem intimidating or overwhelming. Setting aside time each day to complete your flashcards is an essential part of using Anki to study and is the only way to truly take advantage of spaced repetition. 

It facilitates retention of concrete facts, not necessarily problem solving skills.

This is a disadvantage across all flashcard programs, not specifically Anki. Usually, flashcards are set up to facilitate memorization of simple facts. For example, a flashcard can read “Treatment for akathisia caused by antipsychotics includes…” with the accompanying answer “b-blockers, benzos, benztropine.” However, the question stem doesn’t test any other topics related to akathisia, such as the time course at which it typically develops with antipsychotic use, or even the pharmacology of the different medications. 

Anki is like memorizing a hundred different puzzle pieces; you will still need to take time to integrate these facts and puzzle pieces together. Anki also does not do a particularly good job at practicing problem solving and critical thinking. To develop these skills, you should use question banks or simulated exams. 

Pre-made Anki decks may come with errors.

As with any pre-made or crowd-sourced study resource, Anki decks available to download may have errors. Therefore, it is important to verify the information with what you have learned in class or in textbooks. The most popular Anki decks available for step studying usually publish a list of errata as well.

Leave a Comment