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Introduction to Anki

As part of your introductory materials, you will receive a glossary of medical terminology. This glossary is intended to familiarise you with the new language you will be expected to speak. The glossary includes helpful suffixes like ‘-itis’, which denotes an inflammatory disease, and more general words like ‘vesicle’, which means bladder; and in this case a bladder not just referring to the one in your pelvis, but the more general dictionary bladder – a word used to describe a liquid filled vessel in the body. You will come across numerous bladders, diaphragms, even pelvises – so it helps to understand that words like these often hold meaning and aren’t just lowly nouns.

So the glossary is a fantastic tool to start your medical journey by going over, and will help you unpick some possibly confusing terms as you progress through the year. It is also a great way to introduce you to a study tool: Anki flashcards.

What is Anki?

Anki is an intelligent study software that allows you to study via flashcards. You will be presented with the front of the flashcard – let’s say it reads ‘What does the suffix ‘-itis’ mean?’. Answer this in your head or out loud, and then click to show what the answer is. You then click to say whether it was easy, okay or hard, and it presents you with the next card. It is intelligent because it uses the information you give it – whether a card was easy, okay or hard to answer – and schedules it appropriately for your next viewing. This theoretically maximises the time you spend studying more difficult cards, and minimizes time spent going over stuff you already know. You can of course customise all of the timings to preference. You can even include pictures!

Its ability to rapidly throw questions at you makes it very efficient, and the fact you can have the app on your phone means you can do bits on the bus, between lectures; anytime you have spare and feel up for it. It will also sync across the desktop and the app - including when cards are next due, cards you've answered, deletions etc.

Where can I get it?

Anki is available as an app and on your laptop/desktop. Anki is free for Google Play store and Windows store users, but is £18.99 (as of 11/09/2016) on the Apple store. You can visit the Anki webpage here. I have transcribed the medical terminology glossary into an Anki flashcard deck for you to use an introduction to Anki: (ZIP or other archive)

There may be some words in there that I added throughout the year as I was struggling to remember them – so you may have an edge using this deck early!

Should I use Anki?

As students who have just passed our first year, we have some praise and some criticism for Anki.

Let’s start with the praise. As students who have gone before you, many with great exam success, we have used Anki to address difficult topics and memorise literally thousands of facts that would be much more arduous to learn without the study tool.

A lot of medical knowledge is just facts and to understand the ‘why’ is often to dive into realms we don’t have the time for; take for example some of the enzymes that convert drugs. These enzymes are important because they can be modified, but the finer workings are beyond the phase one curriculum. So for relatively isolated facts like 'Which enzyme converts A to B' - Anki is perfect.

Anki is also a great prompting tool for content that you don’t know. If I really don’t know a card, or I think I do know it but I don’t know why it’s true, I stop and look back at the lecture slides or find an explanation in a book or online.

This is a crucial part of making Anki work – memorising will quickly fail you without the core medical knowledge to pin all the facts to, but used in conjunction with resources it will serve you well.

Think of your medical knowledge as a tree. Anki can help you grow the leaves, but it can’t do the branches and certainly not the trunk. Anki is at its best when you understand this and use it to establish all those nitty gritty facts.

For all its benefits, Anki is not a perfect study tool. It should be stressed that it is a study aid – it is not the only thing you should be relying on to learn the medical knowledge you need moving forwards. It is recommended that you utilise Anki when you feel you have grasped lecture content already. This prevents you learning answers to cards around which you have little understanding of context.

This is surprisingly easy to do – take for example a card asking what a patient will experience with damage to the recurrent laryngeal nerve. You can quickly learn that this is vocal fold paralysis; and you can do this card in your sleep (this is actually a personal example of a card I knew but didn’t understand). You can know the answer, but without a deeper understanding of where the nerve is, how it can be damaged, who is most likely to damage it, what vocal fold paralysis even presents like, you will not be equipped to pass an exam question on this as it will unfortunately never be as simple as an Anki card.

I’d like to give it a go. How should I build my deck?

There are many pre-made decks built from lecture course content to be found on the Warwick GEP Anki facebook group. If you’d rather make your own, it’s highly recommended to keep your cards short and to the point. A great example from your first block would be ‘What class of drug does furosemide belong to?’ Answer: loop diuretics. You can shorten cards even further. Within the context of a titled deck, let’s say ‘medical terminology’: instead of ‘What does the suffix ‘-itis’ mean?’ you could just have ‘-itis’ as the question (as in my downloadable deck) and you will know that you are being asked to define it. Efficiency! yay!

Cards with long answers will quickly bog you down and make the studying experience less enjoyable – and less fruitful! If you have a long answer you want to remember, trying mixing it up a bit. Instead of ‘What are the 7 non-modifiable risk factors for diabetes?’, you could try asking for just 3 in the question (but including all 7 in the answer), or including 3 in the question but asking what condition these are non-modifiable risk factors for. In an exam, you are unlikely to be asked to name 7 of anything; so don’t worry about learning lengthy lists.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact myself at or ask your medic parents!