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Anki Intro / Tips / Strategies

I find myself recommending Anki quite often. It’s an app that helps you remember anything you want (words, formulas, maps, poems, etc). If you aren’t using it, you should. Actually remembering things is like a minor superpower! Unfortunately, Anki has a rather steep learning curve, which means that simply recommending is not enough – some introduction is necessary.

First, go to this page and read Introduction section up until The Basics section. It should have gotten super excited to actually try the app out :) So navigate to http://ankisrs.net/, download the program, and install it on your computer.

Then, watch this video, which is a very nice demonstration of the learning process itself. Just like on the video, instead of creating our own deck, I would recommend to start with a shared deck, for example, “Countries of the World”.

After you have studied for a bit, click Decks (to leave the studying mode) –> Browse. You’re gonna get overwhelmed by the window that has just opened, so simply click random things, derp around, maybe try to understand something. When you’re satisfied, go back to Anki’s site and read the instructions until you get too bored, which would probably be enough. The only thing to remember is that this page exists and whenever you’re confused about something, go read it.

Now, you’re capable of creating your own decks and notes. However, there’s a whole lot of implicit knowledge involved with using Anki, which is why if you google “anki tips”, you’ll see a lot of differet articles. I tried to assemble the best tips that I know and my strategies below. Sorted rougly by importance:

Short Tips

  1. Create an ankiweb account and sync it often (button in the upper right). You really don’t want to lose your progress/data.

  2. Make a habit out of Anki. Since it schedules the cards based on when you’re likely to forget them, ideally, you want to review all your cards daily. I do it while commuting.

  3. Read The 20 Rules on pages 29-34 and Chapter 20 on pages 99-101 of this Anki guide. They’re really helpful (the only advice I can’t get behind there are rules 5 and 8 – never got into the deletion technique).

  4. Create reverse cards. This is super important. More on this below.

  5. Don’t be afraid to suspend cards you don’t need. Maybe you have learned almost all of the countries but keep forgetting which of the Carribean islands exactly is Saint Kitts and Nevis (true story). Maybe just suspend this note and don’t worry (also true story), if it’s not really that important.

  6. Don’t be afraid to edit bad cards on the fly. You’re gonna learn how to make notes that work for you over time, but initially they will probably be less than ideal. So if you’re reviewing a card and see how it can be improved, just click edit button and fix it.

  7. Mess around with deck options (Decks –> Gears icon –> Options). For example, if you feel the daily limit of 20 new cards is too high or too low, just change it. Personally, I prefer to get new cards shown in random order, than in order added (New Cards –> Order). Also, I suggest changing Lapses –> New interval to around 20%. This way, when you forget a card, it does not get reset completely, but instead reduces the interval to 20% of what it used to be.

  8. Install the load balancer add-on. It evens out the cards due every day, so there’s no sudden spikes in cards you need to review. To install an add-on to Anki, go to Tools –> Add-ons –> Browse & Install… Then, paste the code of your desired add-on in the field (the code is on the add-on’s webpage).

  9. Offensive mnemonics are more memorable (by @suchaone). Totally true. The more offensive mnemonic is, the better.

  10. Copypaste formulas. Sometimes LaTeX is the way to go (fortunately, Anki supports it); sometimes you should just open the snipping tool, take a screenshot, copypaste the formula, and move on (fortunately, Anki also supports inserting pictures in cards).

General Strategies

Decks

Organizing your collection is insanely important, so you should employ your decks strategically. Usually, you want to put the cards from different subjects together because it improves the learning process and is generally simpler. My personal configuration consists of four decks:

Notes

Suppose you’re trying to learn some new words. So to learn what a word hebetude means, you create a note with “hebetude” front and “the state of being dull or lethargic” back. Then, whenever you’ll see or hear hebetute somewhere, you’ll know exactly what that means! Great, isn’t it? The problem is that when you’ll have a chance to use this word, the following is going to happen in your head: “damn, what was that word that describes when someone is dull or lethargic or something…uh, whatever”. This example illustrates that what you really want is not to be able to simply recall the meaning of the word. What you also want is to recall the word itself and for that you need a reverse card.

One problem with the default note type that includes reverse cards – called Basic (and reversed card) – is that it only has two fields. Whether you’re learning languages or math, having an example of a usage of a word or a concept is usually a very good idea. This means that we need a new note type that would enable us to add examples to Anki.

To do this, go to Tools –> Manage Note Types… –> Add –> Clone: Basic (and reversed card). I named this note type “Basic (and reversed card) with example”. Then, click on the new note type –> Fields… –> Add –> Field name: enter “Example” –> OK –> Close.

Finally, we need the examples to actually show up when reviewing the note. So go to Cards… and paste the following into the Back Template field:

<hr>

{{Example}}

After doing it, go to Card 2 and paste the same code into the Back Template field there. (Example) should show up on the preview for both cards. Now, you can use the third field when creating Anki notes, which should be very handy (and if you don’t have anything useful for it, you can either leave it empty or use the default note type).

The morale of this section is that your go-to note type should include reverse cards, and the decision to forgo them should be made on a case-by-case basis.

That was it! At last, you’re all set to learn anything with Anki! :)


Feel free to share your thoughts on this post with me!