Using Anki for Spaced Repetition

 

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Anki is one of the best programs for spaced repetition available. If you do not know what spaced repetition is, just read our previous post about the subject here.

Anki is available for almost any computer and device (Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS, Android and web browsers). It allows you to take control of your study while making use of spaced repetition algorithms. As you know, there exist an optimal time of review material, in order to remember more, using the shortest amount of time possible. This reviewing time is automatically handled by the algorithms of Anki. This means that, given the amount of time of review that you want to have per day, Anki will decide for you the stuff that you must review and in which order.

How It Works

Studying with Anki means that you will work with flashcards. Flashcards are cards that have two sides: on the first side, you have the question you want to study. On the other side you have the answer. Studying with flashcards implies two phases:

  1. A first phase when you have to construct the cards, with the set of questions and answers that you want to study. This is the preparation phase. During this phase, you write in the first side of the card a question, and then on the second side, the answer.
  2. A second phase where you review the cards. This is the studying phase. During this phase you shuffle the cards with the first side facing you, then you choose one card, read the question and try to answer it. To check if your answer was correct, you read the second side of the card. If your answer was incorrect, this means that you have to review the card in the short term. On the other case, you will have to review later on.

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Anki is very good as a flash card system because it handles all those phases for you. Even the creation of cards is handled by the program. You can either create your own virtual cards, or download a deck of them from Anki itself. Due to the large base of users of Anki, chances are that the deck you would like to study has already been created by somebody else. You can check for already available decks here.

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Anki allows you to create cards that not only contain text, but also graphics, images and even mathematical equations.

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But the most important feature of Anki is its algorithm that decides the best time for you to review a card. You can configure the amount of time per session and the amount of cards to review per session. Based on that configuration and on your previous review results, Anki will test you on the cards that you have most chances to forget, and also, on the cards that you need to review in order to maintain its knowledge in you brain.

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Another important feature are the statistics available about how you are performing. This can be helpful to decide whether to increase your number of review sessions, or that it is time for you to change the learning subject

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Anki is very popular for the study of languages, specially for the study of vocabulary. Personally, I do believe that there is no better tool than Anki to study languages. You can find many decks already made for almost any language of the world, and even decks dedicated to specific language learning methods, like for example the method of James Heising to learn Japanese kanji. Additionally, Anki can also be used to study very complex stuff like artificial intelligence, history, or medical stuff. I have found decks already made that include teachings from online University courses like Coursera.

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Not everybody likes the Anki method. Some people criticises spaced repetition and Anki, like this one. I think they are missing the point of Anki. Anki is not THE SOLUTION to every memory problem. It is just a tool, and as such, it has to be used where it is best for. Hence, for the study of complex stuff that requieres learning structure, Anki should be combined with other memorisation tools like mind mapping, memory palaces and mnemonics. For an example of what I mean by combining those techniques to study, you can read this post about how to memorize a scientific paper.

Conclusion

Anki is a powerful tool to optimize your learning time. Do not get discouraged by people’s comments and give it a try. You will be worth it!

Now, have a look at how Anki works at this practical example video:

photo credit: 209. via photopin (license)

photo credit: 01 Load Screen via photopin (license)

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