Anki is an indispensable tool for studies which aids memorisation through spaced repetition1. Flashcards are really good for learning new languages and any subjects which requires a lot of memorisation.

There are other software both free and proprietory for spaced repetition based learning. With its pretty good mobile application, which is free on the Android platform, Anki has been my go to solution for flashcards. Having the ability to use the flashcards on phone was an important factor in my decision to settle on Anki for this purpose as opposed to other solutions such as org-mode based solutions which briefly I explored initially.

I found that the cards I make myself are much more useful than the ready made decks I can find from ankiweb2. When you are making the notes yourself chance of recalling the notes later is definitely higher because your mind has to be engaged with the subject matter in the in the card making process itself.

However, one aspect I was not quite happy with Anki is that I found it is a little bit clunky to create flashcards in the bulk with its card builder UI. For example, when you are learning a new language, you might come across a couple of new words you want to capture into your language learning deck. Using plain Anki one has to create cards one by one, which is not super efficient. The built in flashcard editor is perfectly adequate, but it is nowhere as efficient as capturing to an org-mode note with Emacs, for example.

Thus I have been looking for a solution to write flashcards in using my favourite tools such as Emacs or Vim where I can easily edit things far more efficiently compared to somewhat clunky Anki card builder interface.

Markdown flashcards

After exploring a couple of software packages which support creating markdown based flashcards, mdanki is the solution I found which worked best. I found that the card format required by the package is quite clear. This package handles images quite well.

Following is an example flashcard note demonstrating the basic elements,

## What is the capital of New Zealand?


![Wellington pic](images/wellingon.png)

  • Front matter starts with a level two heading (##)
  • The contents under the heading will be part of contents of the card
  • You can optionally have tags, which are very useful for organising information, as links with the syntax: #[tag_name]()3

Advantages and new possibilities

Having flashcards in markdown format addresses a couple of shortcomings I found with my Anki card making workflow.

  • Markdown is simpler to write for even nicely formatted card. Simple formatting for a flashcard can be done quite easily in the markdown syntax.
  • They can be versioned easily. Putting markdown files in a git repository is super convenient than trying to version your binary anki decks!
  • Editing in a note in a real editor is so much more efficient than using the Anki interface. For example, in my case I’m far more efficient in editing markdown notes in Emacs than the Anki editor. Even adding something like a table in markdown in super simple compared to what you can do in the Anki interface.
  • Easily backup your notes. Anki has functionality to export your database for backup purposes, but Markdown text format is even more future proof because it’s all just text at the end of the day!
  • You can re propose the flashcard notes to other purposes very easily because your notes are just a simple collection of markdown notes organised into headings and paragraphs. In fact, I found that the notes I made are quite good for revising things by themselves. It helps that GitHub has pretty nice rendering for markdown files, for example.

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  3. I found that tags with spaces does not work well ↩︎