Although I should’ve called this article the spaced repetition technique, the Anki technique sounds much more cool. And who doesn’t want to be cool?
I first used this technique when I was in medical school with great effect and I have great hopes that it’ll help you pass MRCP parts 1 and 2 written. Never even close to being the hardest worker in my year of 250 students I had to rely on luck, reasonable short term memory and study techniques to keep up with everyone else. The combination of PBL* and a poker addiction at the time really didn’t help.
The Anki Technique
The Anki technique or spaced repetition is essentially a learning technique using forced repetition to reinforce memorisation of large chunks of info. Although you could technically use paper flash cards, the benefit of using virtual ones is that you can revise anywhere you like. You’ll also keep more trees around which makes your humble author happy too.
Numerous free programs such as Anki exist allowing users to create and customise their own cards.
How does it work?
On one side of the virtual flash card, you could ask yourself “What are the different causes of bronchiectasis?“, followed by the bullet point answer list on the other side “post-infective, idiopathic, COPD…“. Being able to create as many flash cards as you like in addition to the option of adding in diagrams and pictures makes these programs a lot more versatile and practical than their paper counterparts.
Now that you have a deck of question and answer cards you can start assessing your knowledge. Cards will initially only show the question, leaving you the option of revealing the answer after you’ve given the topic some thought.
The idea is that when you answer the question correctly the software will store this particular card in the “right” box. If you answer incorrectly it’ll store it in the “wrong” box. There are technically a few boxes but questions you answer correctly will reappear with less frequency than those that you get incorrectly.
So for example if you got the bronchiectasis question correctly then it may appear again tomorrow. If you get it correctly again tomorrow then it’ll reappear in a weeks time and so on.
On the other hand a question you answer incorrectly may reappear in as little as 10 minutes. The theory behind this technique is that the learning process is thought to be heavily dependent on forgetting and then remembering again. By failing a question and then answering a question correctly 10 minutes later you’re artificially setting yourself up for success.
You’re essentially forcing infomation into your long term memory.
I often find myself understanding guidelines when I’m really motivated to read. After a few weeks of not requiring that knowledge for my clinical practice I tend to forget most of the information. By not revisiting the guidelines I don’t get the opportunity to remember after forgetting.
*Problem based learning – basically an excuse not to do any work
If you enjoyed this article make sure you get your own copy of my MRCP Part 1 & 2 Written Guide. In this guide, I explore the above and other concepts such as time allocation and the most preferable resources for the written exams in much more detail.