Here at Test Prep Nerds, we’ve got you covered in terms of identifying the best Anki deck for Step 1 of the USMLE. If you’re a med student and haven’t yet taken advantage of these tools, you’re missing out!
As the reigning monarch of all things flashcards, Anki decks cards work on the principle of spaced repetition — a study tactic that helps you remember all the minutia you’ll face on exam day (and there is a lot to remember).
Let’s dive into the wide world of Anki decks for Step 1.
The 4 Best Anki Decks for Step 1:
Best for general prep for USMLE Step 1
- Number of Notes: 34,579
- Year: 2021
- Sources: For every source listed, visit the original Reddit post for the Zanki deck, which is heavily based on FA2016 and FA2017, but the AnKing overhaul combines the best parts of the Lolnotacop and Zanki decks with images from the Pepper micro/antimicrobial and UltraZanki decks. AnKing is also updating and allowing users to update cards based on new info from First Aid 2021.
- How to Update: Special Fields add-on
- Optional Add-Ons: u/trustmeimnotadick, u/glutanimate, u/ArthurMilchior, u/truthling, and u/hgiesel
- AnKing Deck Download: Details Here
This deck has a lot of notes, but, let’s face it, Step 1 is an eight-hour exam! You’re going to have to cover a lot of material and there are multiple Reddit threads, YouTube videos, blogs, and the like, including AnKing’s own website AnkiHub that will allow for collaboration in editing and updating for their newest version.
This deck has been used often and is tried and tested by those scoring highly in Step 1. It’s not easy studying but I bet you didn’t expect med school to be easy.
The deck combines all of the info from the best decks with extra pharm cards, updated tagging, errors removed, and duplicates removed. It’s continually updated so you know you’ll be getting the latest info. Here’s a list of all of the updates from version 1 to 10 to know what changed in the latest version. For getting started with the Anking Deck for Step 1, watch this first.
I’d say this deck is one of the best and most popular for a reason, so while you may explore other decks (because this deck isn’t the most visually appealing and, in fact, is pretty basic), the material it covers is comprehensive.
To stay up to date with the latest AnKing updates, you can subscribe to their email service.
If you’re interested in using a USMLE prep course, Med School Bootcamp is an affordable option that is fully integrated with AnKing. All the AnKing decks are tagged with #Bootcamp. Learn more in our Med School Bootcamp Review.
Related: 13 Best USMLE Step 1 Books for 2023
Best for getting back to basics
- Number of Cards: 13,320
- Year: 2015 (latest version 1.4 but with semi-frequent Reddit user updates)
- Sources: First Aid and Pathoma
- Plugin Required: None with optional hierarchical tags
- Brosencephalon Deck Download: Download Bros here
Brosencephalon, aka Armeet Sidhu, should be regarded as a hero for spending weeks upon weeks of his med-school time creating his flashcards on Anki for the benefit of medical-student-kind everywhere.
Sidhu is an Internal Medicine resident with a self-proclaimed ‘passion for medicine and medical education.’ He created this deck to make it so he didn’t have to write out his notes but could practice spaced repetition, active recall, and test-enhanced learning.
The cards are well-crafted, follow the golden rules of ‘good Anki cards,’ and are excellent for reinforcing concepts you’ve already learned. These cards used to include images and diagrams but Bros has removed these to respect the publishers’ copyright.
The single-deck format may be tricky for some since the cards aren’t sub-divided into sub-decks (i.e. a separate deck for renal, another for cardiovascular, a third for pulmonary and so forth). The reasoning for a single deck was to reduce sync errors and give students more control over categorizations. The cards are well tagged and can easily be sorted if you require, which is definitely recommended.
The downside of this deck is that it is the figurative “embryo” for later decks. Zanki and Pepper built their decks from this deck. And AnKing has overhauled previous decks and combined the best of all worlds. The upside of this deck is there are far fewer cards so it might not seem as overwhelming. Plus, Bros himself passed his exam with this deck, for what it’s worth.
Best for ease of card unlocking
- Number of Cards: 22,500+
- Year: 2019
- Sources: Boards and Beyond (main source), First Aid (2018), Pathoma, and UworldRX
- Plugin Required: Hierarchical tags add-on (must have)
- Lightyear Deck Download: Download Lightyear here
Lightyear is a very comprehensive deck with Boards and Beyond as its main source. The cards are easy to use and unlock. Plus, it uses hierarchical tags to organize each of the over four hundred videos. Most cards also have screenshots of the associated FA2018 or BAB section or helpful diagrams and figures. If you prefer open format cards instead of the cloze format (fill in the blank), then you’ll like Lightyear.
However, I’d say that in a competition of Zanki vs Lightyear, Lightyear loses as it doesn’t often put any text in its extras section, unlike Zanki, and, by extension AnKing. AnKing is also regularly updated and the r/medicalschoolanki will keep you abreast of any general new Step 1 Anki deck.
Lightyear and AnKing Step 1 are both comprehensive decks and I’d encourage you to give them both a go and compare. Lightyear is great at having diagrams and being user friendly, but, again, as often is the case in life, it all comes down to personal preference.
Best for general anatomy/body structures learning
- Number of Cards: 25,000+ cards
- Year: 2020 (recent update)
- Sources: Multiple, including BRS behavioral sciences, FA2015, FA2018, Nolte’s Neuroanatomy, Pathoma, UWorld, etc
- Plugin Required: None but optional tagging update here
- Dope 1 Deck Download: Download Dope here
The Dope 1 Medical Science deck is the gold standard for anatomy decks. If you’re building on your knowledge from Nolte’s Neuroanatomy and Neuroanatomy Through Clinical Cases, then this is the deck for you. The tagging add-ons make it easier to work with anatomy sections (i.e. lower limb, sub-category ‘muscles’).
The deck formatting is a little odd since the background has been made dark and the text and font color has been updated. On the other hand, if the emo/goth everything-dark aesthetic is your thing, it might just be perfect. No judgment here.
This deck is built using the Bros deck as a base and is absolutely recommended for anatomy but, overall, you’re better off combining this deck with something like AnKing for Step 1.
Related: Our Recs on the 13 Best USMLE Step 1 Prep Books
How to Use Anki Decks
There are multiple resources to help you get started with using Anki Decks for Step 1. Anki isn’t intuitive so I recommend taking a look at this YouTube video on how to get started, especially for visual learners.
Downloading Anki USMLE Decks
Once you have Anki downloaded to your PC, Mac, or phone (or two or three places), then you’re ready to download a deck (or four). You can download Anki decks from the Anki page or from Reddit threads. The Reddit pages will have instructions on how to set up and customize the deck and which plugins and add-ons you need. Here’s a general video on how to download decks.
Setting up Anki
Many current and former med schoolers have their own preferences for setting up their cards and I bet, over time, you’ll develop a preference. To get started, here’s a general video on how to customize your Anki settings.
How to Study Each Day
I recommend studying no more than 100 new cards per day or your studying can quickly become overwhelming. You’ll have a rotation of hundreds that way and remember: many decks have thousands of cards.
Anki Decks for Medical School
Anki decks will become your new best friend in med school. Get familiar with how to use them. Read the Reddit threads and watch a few YouTube vids.
How to use Anki in Medical School
You’d use Anki the way you used to use flashcards – only better. AnKing himself talks about how to use the Anki decks for medical school by learning how to use Anki effectively and well, learning to make and customize your own cards, and downloading a pre-made deck (like AnKing).
Best Anki Decks for Anatomy
Here’s a (brief) rundown of the ideal Anki Decks for anatomy:
This deck has about 4,000 cards, was last updated in 2020 and needs image occlusion and hierarchical tags 2 to work best. This deck is a perfect tool for mastering that oh-so-almost-impossible anatomy lab. It covers basics and advanced and is based on Colored Atlas of Anatomy (Rohen’s), Pocket Atlas of Human Anatomy, and VH Dissector.
It covers all major structures, muscles, origins, insertions, actions and innervations, but some neuroanatomy is missing due to copyright problems.
The Dorian’s Anatomy deck has 292 cards, was uploaded in 2018, and requires image occlusion to work best. This deck is an amazing resource considering it’s very short and works to focus on clinical anatomy, specifically pathologies and anatomical dysfunction causes. It’s not going to be your only deck and it’s best used in conjunction with others but it’s a great overview and can build a great foundation. Plus, you can get through it quickly.
It’s based on St Matthew’s University School of Medicine 100 Most Important Gross Anatomy Concepts.
The University of Michigan Cadaver deck is a great tool for learning anatomy only and for free – for pre-meds, especially. It has 2,992 cards, requires image occlusion, and was updated in 2020. UMich’s resources are comprehensive and clear. It’s easy to follow their content, has great formatting, and can build your anatomy understanding.
Best Anki Deck for Step 1 FAQ
Is Zanki good for Step 1?
Most decks are updated and comprehensive.and, consequently, will help you pass your Step 1 USMLE. Often, deck choice does come down to preference.
Which is better, AnKing or Zanki?
With the above said, I personally prefer AnKing over Zanki. AnKing incorporates Zanki but has improved upon it.
How many Zanki cards should I do a day?
I’d recommend about 100 new cards per day. You want to have enough cards that you’ll make it through the material in time for your exam but so you do have time for a sort-of life (i.e. you must eat and shower sometimes).
Should I make my own Anki cards?
There’s really no point in making your own Anki cards. Why reinvent the wheel when another med student has done the work for you. It’s worth customizing your cards and ensuring you have the hierarchical tag and all the add-ons that make the cards better, though.
Anki Deck Face-Off
Zanki vs Lightyear
When given this choice, I’d take Zanki over Lightyear because Zanki simply covers more (and the subsequent AnKing overhaul). But, that being said, when Lightyear emerged I heard that many people loved the format more.
Brosencephalon vs Zanki
In a Brosencephalon vs Zanki challenge, go for Zanki! Zanki based its deck on Bros with improvements. And AnKing has now based his deck on Zanki with improvements.
The Bottom Line on the Best Step 1 Anki Deck for USMLE
Anki decks are superb study resources for your Step 1 exam. Use these decks as supplementary materials to enhance your primary study resources like Kaplan USMLE, UWorld, First Aid, and Pathoma.
Many students feel intimidated by Anki decks the first time they use them because they don’t have an intuitive design, but there are many resources out there to help you get started and to teach you step-by-step how to use your preferred deck. My recommendation is to use the AnKing deck to study after each lecture.
Good luck and happy studying!