zanki deck

Zanki Deck Review [Step 1, 2, & 3]

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

In 2017, a Reddit user called ‘Zanki’ decided to help his fellow medical students out by creating what is known as the ‘Zanki deck,’ a useful tool to help med students pass their med school exams. These decks come with multiple additional features such as the ability to create cards quickly, copy and paste information and images onto the cards, tag and categorize them, and share them with others.

What is Zanki? And how to use Zanki to ace the USMLE? Let’s take a deep dive into all things Zanki.

Zanki made our list of the Best Anki Decks for USMLE Step 1

What is Zanki?

In short, Zanki is a popular pre-made flashcard deck for studying for Steps 1, 2, and 3 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). The content is crowdsourced from the online medical school and medical student community.

The idea of flashcards in general works on the principle of ‘spaced repetition,’ which is a method where, if you need to remember multiple facts with immediate recall, you increase exposure to that information over a period of time. This method hacks your brain and forces learning, strengthening connections between nerve cells. Learning then becomes more like creating muscle memory. 

For those studying for the USMLE, flashcards are a good bet, which will help you remember volumes of information, but it’s a waste of valuable time to create a flashcard for every concept learned in med school, which is where the premade medical school flashcard Zanki deck came in.

The original deck started with the 2014 Brosencephalon deck which was improved and built upon by the Reddit user Zanki in 2017, called the Zanki deck. Then, BlueGalaxies and Lolnotacop built onto the Zanki deck further. BlueGalaxies (using the Pepper Micro and Pharma decks which were different decks around at the time) and Lolnotacop added in the missing pharmacology topics. Lolnotacop also added in microbiology. And another user, the AnKing, is now working on the AnKing overhaul to take the best parts of each of these decks and adding new tags and categorizations.

Related: The 13 Best USMLE Step 1 Books 

How to Use Zanki

To use Zanki, you’ll need to download the Anki app to your computer or mobile device. 

Then, it’s recommended you go to the “Anki Palace” where the website creator has collated a resource to find all the different types of decks available for download and how to do it. The site leads you to the Reddit for Anki

On this page, you’ll see a menu on the right side of the page with all the medical school decks available (Steps 1 to 3). 

The page also shows which resources and textbooks have been used to create each deck.

If you haven’t used Anki decks before, since it’s open-source, it can be a little confusing at first but there are many add ons (like extensions) that users have coded to make the user experience easier.

Step-by-Step Guide using Zanki

Instead of downloading the original deck, I recommend downloading the ‘The BlueGalaxies Zanki Collection‘ deck by clicking on the Reddit link on the right-hand side of the medical school Zanki Reddit page.

BlueGalaxies updated everything in the original Zanki deck based on First Aid 2018 and he also added in the Pathoma Chapter 3 Neoplasia that Zanki didn’t do very well. If you have the original deck downloaded, the page also has instructions to include his add-on.

Here’s what it’ll look like once you’ve downloaded it.

Then, click on the ‘Browse’ button and click on the Zanki deck.

Click on one and press Command+A to select all and then hit ‘Suspend’ to suspend all the cards, which stops them from showing up until you reactivate the cards in the browser.

Then, you can search for the cards you want by going into the sub-decks such as the ‘Musculoskeletal Pathology.’ For example, if you are studying ‘bone’ and search for ‘bone’ in this category, you’ll have narrowed the cards down to 88 (from 200 if you search in the entire deck).

Once you have the cards in your deck, you simply open the app, click a deck, and start studying! 

If you know the topic or recall is easy, I recommend suspending cards you don’t need to study. Most med students further customize their decks by adding information from their lecture notes in the ‘extras’ section of the card and images. You can also add further tags and create your own decks from the master deck.

Related: The 6 Best USMLE Step 1 Prep Courses 

Zanki Step 1 Deck

The Step 1 deck will help you prepare for your Step 1 USMLE exam.

Many users complain that Zanki doesn’t cover all Step 1 topics such as pharmacology and microbiology or that not all of the cards are relevant (it goes into too much detail). Zanki added a pharma deck but some still prefer the Pepper deck for pharm. The decks are in different formats, so it’s recommended to download both and see which you prefer.

Zanki Step 1 Deck Pros:

  • Most med school users agree that Zanki is the number one tool to score highly on the USMLE or your med school tests and to get really good at medicine.
  • Zanki helps you master topics by spaced repetition and retrieval-based learning, which studies show is highly effective.
  • Zanki is broken down into general categories and sub-topics, which means you can study broadly or specifically, and First Aid, Pathoma, and Sketchy are all incorporated resources.
  • The decks are highly customizable and easy to use plus multiple users have added improvements, including tags.

Zank Step 1 Deck Cons:

  • There are lots of cards (20,000+) and it’s almost impossible to study them all in the roughly 10-week test prep time period, which is why customizing the decks to what you’re specifically studying is a must.
  • Many agree that Zanki did not cover everything needed for Step 1 (i.e. pharm and micro are missing) but Zanki later added a Zanki pharm deck.

Zanki Step 2 Deck

The Step 2 deck, as expected in its name, will help you prepare for your Step 2 USMLE exam.

This Zanki Step 2 deck contains Uworld content as a resource for a third-year clerkship. It covers surgery, medicine, psychiatry, neurology, pediatrics, and ob/gyn.

Zanki Step 2 Deck Pros:

  • The deck is well-made and comprehensive but other users have added more customized decks with better tagging. See the “King of All Step 2 Decks” which includes Dorian decks, Zanki decks, the AnKing overhaul, and cards and images from other decks.
  • The cards are based on high-yield resources great for memorizing nit-picky details.
  • The cards, again, use the scientifically proven concept of spaced repetition for long-term retention.
  • There are thousands of cards so that you can ensure all topics are fully covered.

Zanki Step 2 Deck Cons:

  • Like in Step 1, there are a lot of cards. This deck contains around 5,200 cards.
  • The format has changed from Step 1 so you also have to focus on diagnosis and next step. The cards are generally lengthier than in Step 1.

Zanki Step 3 Deck

There is no specific Zanki Step 3 deck. Instead, new decks are recommended such as Dorian Step 3, Hoop & Ruck Step 3, WiWa + Doc Deck, and others.

On Reddit user, u/Ruckamongus, like Zanki has created a Step 3 resource deck from UWorld and created an Anki deck for USMLE Step 3. See “The Only Step 3 Deck You’ll Ever Need”.

Zanki Alternatives

Let’s run down some Zanki alternatives that you might want to consider.

Zanki vs Lightyear

Lightyear is just a better-organized version of Zanki with hierarchical tags but you can use Zanki add ons and tags from other users to keep them on par. It all comes down to preference.

AnKing vs Zanki

The AnKing update is an improved version of Zanki so it’s always a good idea to look out for ways the Zanki decks have been improved.

Brosencephalon vs Zanki

The Zanki deck was built from the original Brosencephalon deck so the Zanki deck is an improved version.

Zanki Pharm vs Pepper Pharm

The formats of the two Zanki and Pepper pharm decks vary and which is better will come down to preference.

Zanki Reviews from Reddit Users

Let’s take a look at what some Reddit users have to say about the medical school Zanki decks.

Zanki Deck FAQs

Is Zanki free?

The desktop version is free but the iOS app costs $25.

Who created Zanki?

A Reddit user called ‘ZankiStep1’ who was a med student expanding the original Brosencephalon deck.

How many cards are in Zanki?

There are over 20,000 cards in the Zanki deck plus more if you add in other decks.

Is Lightyear better than Zanki?

Lightyear is more organized than Zanki because of its hierarchical tagging system and it works alongside Boards and Beyond. There’s a tag for each video.

How many Zanki cards should I do a day?

Most med students do around 800-1,000 cards per day but it varies. Others devise plans where they take weekends off. Generally, divide the cards in your deck by the days you have to study and that’s how many you should do per day.

When should I start Zanki?

You should start Zanki after you start your medical school lectures to reinforce concepts early. So, many students start studying the decks at the beginning of M1.

Bottom Line on Zanki Decks

Zanki decks are an excellent resource that can help you prepare both for exams in medical school and the Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3 USMLE exams. Keep in mind that these decks need to be individually customized and it’s recommended you follow the Reddit threads for reviews, tips, and updates on how to get the most from your decks.