13 Lucky Tips for using Anki and Spaced Repetition in 2019

For the past few years I’ve been using Anki to capture anything I want to remember long term. If I’m reading an important Wikipedia page I save it to Polar, annotate it directly, then create flashcards from the annotations.

I do this to my textbooks and anything else I find important enough to remember forever.

The reason SR is so effective for me is it allows me to efficiently schedule when to review the material. I’m not constantly reviewing material I already know.

Here are my tips and tricks for using Anki and SR for language learning, pursing a medical degree, undergraduate degree, or just trying to be the smartest person in the room!

These tips will work on any spaced repetition platform including Anki, Quizlet, or Memrise.

Understand How It Works

First, you should read a bit about spaced repetition and make sure you know how it works.

This is key or you’re going to make silly mistakes and revert to the old strategy of learning and cramming.

Make it Easy.

Creating flashcards needs to be easy use a tool like Polar so that you can create flashcards, comments, and annotations directly while you’re reading the material.

Once created the flashcards can all be sync’d to Anki in batch.

This prevents you from going back and forth between Anki and your reading app.

Additionally, Polar supports incremental reading so you can go back and forth between books and continue where you left off.

Active Recall

You should also understand why active recall is so important

Active recall is a principle of efficient learning, which claims the need to actively stimulate memory during the learning process. It contrasts with passive review, in which the learning material is processed passively (e.g. by reading, watching, etc.). For example, reading a text about George Washington, with no further action, is a passive review. Answering the question “Who was the first US President?”, is active recall.

Essentially you want everything to be a question and you want to have to think of the answer. It’s this thinking process which allows your brain to map weights to specific neurons and actually learn.

Don’t give leading questions or give your self hints to the answer. If you don’t know the questions that’s fine. Just fail it so it’s brought up again.

Habit, Habit, Habit.

You couldn’t sit down at the end of the month and brush your teeth for 2-3 hours to make up for not brushing would you?

This has to be a habit. You have to do it every day for 15-45 minutes.

Do it when you have dead time. During your commute. While you’re in line at the DMV.

While you’re bored.

85-90 Difficulty

You should try to target 85-90% difficulty for your cards. If you go into Anki stats you can see the difficulty level for your recent usage.

Too easy and you’re probably reviewing too often (and wasting time). Too hard and you’re not going to learn anything.

You want it to be difficult to not too difficulty.

Unfortunately Anki doesn’t tun itself so you have to tune Anki directly.

This can be adjusted in the per-deck settings by changing the ease factors.

Think LONG Term.

Don’t give up on cards after you’ve finished a class or other milestone.

The cool thing about SR is that you can keep the material forever. If you paid money to learn Calculus you might as well keep it. Once you’ve learned it using SR is mostly about maintenance.

Since you know the material the scheduling will get farther and farther in the future and there won’t be such a massive burden.

Use the Right Card Type

You should prefer to use question and answer cards.

These are in the form of

Q: What is the capital of California?

A: Sacramento

This would be as opposed to cloze deletion cards like:

[Sacramento] is the capital of California.

In the above the ‘Sacramento’ string is hidden.

Cloze deletion cards might seem easy but they often give away context clues which weakens the entire point of SR.

Cloze Deletions for Languages.

There’s one main exception for cloze deletion cards - languages.

Cloze can be good to help with grammar and sentence structure.

They should NOT replace Q/A cards though.

For a given word you should have the definition and the forward and reverse translation.

Person cards. Remember a Person’s Face!

This is one of my favorite hacks.

I have trouble with matching names to faces and I used to avoid talking to people.

Now I just create a card with their picture and the answer is their name.

It’s really help avoid awkward social situations.

If you’re struggling with a card try creating related cards.

For example if you have difficulties remembering the reasons for the start of WWII make flashcards about those reasons.

If you want to include Pearl Harbor for example maybe you include facts about the ships or the types of attacks that were involved.

Create only Beneficial Cards.

Don’t create nonsense cards. Ask yourself will this really help you.

Remember that SR is an efficient scheduler so going from 5-10k cards isn’t 2x more work. It is initially but quickly your spacings increase and you’re going to just be reviewing a few cards per day again.

However, by only keeping important cards in there this helps you avoid card burnout since you’re never wondering “why” you’re learning these cards.

The why is because they’re valuable!

Knowing key facts might still land you that job. If you know a technical term during an interview or due diligence it could help convince the interviewer that you know your stuff. Consider adding it anyway!

Use ‘shingling’ to Remember Speeches

Do not include entire speeches to remember. Instead. Use overlapped sentences.

For example. If you want to remember the following:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

Break this out into three cards:

Q: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

A: Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

Q: Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

A: We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

Q: We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

A: We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

This will help you connect the parts without having to choke on a massive card with the entire speech.

Use Absurdity and Keep it Fun

If you were driving to work and you saw a naked man riding a horse on the side of the road would you need to remember it?

Would you have to write it down?

No. It would burn in your mind. You’d remember this image for a decade.

Do this for your anki cards you’re trying to remember.

Let’s say you met a guy and his name is “Mark Nun”.

(I just made this up btw. If your name is Mark Nun we don’t know each other!)

Picture this guy as an actual nun wearing a nun’s uniform.

You’re never going to forget this guy’s name.

I do this all the time and it’s a great hack. You can do this for your cards to by mapping images with the cards that are absurd.

Use Extra Fields

Create an ‘extra’ field with your cards so that you can add notes and pictures so that when you fail to remember you can get back to the original context.

I’ll often put the book information. The actual text of where I saw the card, etc.

I’m working on a feature for Polar to add this directly so that when you create a flashcard in Polar we automatically create a card with the context so you can click back to it.

The initial version will probably just have a link back to the Polar webapp to avoid bloating Anki with too many images.

Use Stories and Etymology

Attach ‘extra’ stories to the material as above but make them stories or use imagery to remember the material.

I’ve found that etymology works VERY well for learning languages.

For example. The German word for sea is meer which is related to the English word marine which is also related to mare (spanish / italian for sea).

Those connections make it easier to remember.

Conclusion

SR won’t replace the work of actually understanding the material. This is still your job. If you’re still confused on a subject try reading it from different perspectives of from different authors.

Use the above tips to keep moving forward with spaced repetition. Use a tool like Polar to easily create flashcards and sync them to Anki.

Make sure you’re also using the right Anki plugins and that you’re using it to full effect.