How to Make Anki Fun

When you’re doing Anki, it’s difficult to stay focused on just one task. You’re always distracted and you look at other people who are able to study for hours on end. You look at your classmates and people on YouTube and they’re able to study for hours, and you think to yourself, how can I do that too? In this blog post I’m going to explain how to make Anki fun and how you can gamify your experience to make doing Anki every day just a little bit more fun.

Split Big Tasks into Little Ones

In order to accomplish a big thing, you have to be able to accomplish little things. It’s the same for studying anything. If you want to achieve a big goal, you have to focus on one thing at a time. That’s why I try to split up my studying into different parts of the day to keep it moving. In third year of medical school, it’s hard to manage what is basically a full-time job, studying, other medical school assignments, and basically all of your life all at one time.

This is why I split up my Anki sessions into either 25 minute to 40 minute intervals. I kept going until I wanted to stop, usually at 40 minutes but if I was really bored I let my dopamine starved mind run around social media and capped the sessions to 25 minutes and the breaks to 20 minutes.

When doing Anki sessions, instead of putting the card counter on the bottom of the review panel, I just use the time elapsed. That way, I focus more on understanding the card and learning instead of focusing on how many cards are remaining. I also try to avoid looking at the interval because it stresses me out knowing that a card I should have known is going to be knocked back into the re-learning category. Learn more about comprehension and learning in my essay titled, 5 Reasons Anki Isn’t Working For You.

Gamify Anki

The next thing that really helped me stick to the reviews is the addition of add-ons Review Heatmap and Change Anki Background. These allow me to stay focused and give me incentives to complete my reviews every day. You can take it a step further and download Puppy reinforcement, which shows you a puppy every time you complete a review, or you can choose Pokemanki, which trains a Pokemon and hatches an egg every time you mature certain cards in the deck. Although you may not want to mature more cards and study, you may want to trick your brain into having a streak every day.

If you want to take this gamification to another level, you can sign up for Beeminder and get the Beeminder add-on which is a website that will track how many cards you have finished per day. Then, you can set the cards that are due, and connect it to sync with Beeminder using the add on in the description. I don’t personally use this because I’m a medical student, but I thought it was an interesting option if you’re really not keen on doing your Anki reviews. You can set this up by downloading the Beeminder add-on.

Another add-on which has been proving to be super helpful these last few weeks when I was on rotations and didn’t want to do Anki when I got home was the progress bar add-on. It shows how many cards you have left. Although it doesn’t show me the number, I know roughly where I am in my studying and it motivates me to finish quickly so I can enjoy and watch some TV before I go to bed.

Lower Your Review Threshold

If you’re really strapped for time, you can lower your review threshold. (It’s located where it says Maximum Reviews Per Day in the picture. Mine is really high, and so are a lot of other medical school students’ but you can lower it to whatever feels comfortable.)

Although this is basically committing heresy in the Anki community because the spaced repetition algorithm is so holy, I think it can definitely help you with your consistency if you’re having a hard time staying the course when it comes to Anki. It’s a lot less intimidating to look at 100 or 200 cards versus 500 or a 1000 cards, and even though it may mess up your retention statistics, I think that being consistent is a lot better than doing Anki once in a while.

Furthermore, one of the main things about Anki is its insistence on consistency. Why else would it increase your reviews every single day based on its’ spaced repetition algorithm? At least with a maximum of reviews you can learn everything that you have to for every given day without having to worry about finishing 300 cards before the other 500 pop onto your screen for tomorrow.

Add some peripherals

When you’re studying, the environment is key. When doing Anki, pressing your space bar all the time can get old. You can connect a PS3 or a Xbox controller to do Anki to make reviews go quickly because all of the buttons that you need are right in your hand, and you can also pretend you’re playing the latest call of duty, even though you’re only learning about Congo Red stains.

The peripherals also include a good pair of headphones to listen to music. I think that when you’re studying, you don’t have to be in silence. Although music can be distracting, it can also be very motivating when you’re trying to get through a lot of boring cards that you already know, but just have to power through before you can go to sleep. Another auditory aspect that may help your retention percentage is reading the card aloud. I did this whenever I got super bored of reading the card, so I could keep going to finish up the interval of studying.

Another “peripheral” when doing Anki cards is adding memes to cards so you won’t get bored. Although studying is annoying, when you turn over a card to reveal a meme or edit a card to include a meme, you can feel less sad that you’re wasting your twenties on a flashcard program while your friends are living their best lives. In all seriousness, I think that using innovative tactics like memes and other audio sounds and including them in your cards may wake you up, especially when you are studying in a protracted state and you have to learn a lot of things in a short amount of time.

Do Reviews on the Go

When you’re studying, your efficiency drops if you’re doing the same thing over and over again. When you’re learning, it’s not supposed to be easy. Deliberate practice is supposed to be taxing, and difficult. However, when you’re reviewing things that you already know, such as review cards which are mature, then it makes sense to take them on the go with you and work on them when you’re in the grocery store or you’re at the dentist’s office. One unique application of this is when you’re in the gym, you can do Anki reviews on the treadmill on your iPhone and in between sets when you’re resting. This way, you accomplish two things in one. Twenty cards here and there makes a huge difference when you’re back in your room after the day and the card counter is half at what it was this morning.

The Anki app on iPhone costs $25, however, in my opinion, it is the best investment that I have made for my learning. I am able to sync my decks to Anki and I am able to do them at any time, anywhere I have my phone. It has become super useful on rounds, when I am waiting for my attending or resident to show up, and I am able to study for a bit while I am sitting or standing at the nurse’s station.


Thanks for reading this blog post. If you’re interested in my other Anki post, click here. Sign up for my newsletter to get updates from this blog!

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