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Using Anki Effectively for Language Learning | Reducing Anki Reviews

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Reducing Anki Reviews: Top Tips for those who feel overwhelmed by SRS reviews.

In this post I will be discussing some things that I have done over the course of using Anki which I feel could be useful tips for anyone learning a language, or anything for that matter, with Anki or a similar SRS.

I have spent 725+ hours studying with Anki. Here are some tricks I have used along the way.

I used to do look at my statistics in Anki a hell of a lot back during the hardcore phase of learning Japanese. I just seemed to love looking at those predictions and graphs to see how much work I have or don’t have. As if looking at it would make a difference as to how quickly I got it done. Of course it didn’t, it usually made it worse.

I know for me, when I look at my Anki prediction for tomorrow and I see 500+ cards I just want to curl up and cry BUT 500 isn’t really that bad for me. I’ve done it loads of times and it only takes an hour or two which can be easily spread throughout the day.

Worrying about reviews is a huge problem in itself as it puts you off doing them.

Forget the large numbers, just do chunks of small reviews.

Little bits at a time.

This is probably the single biggest tip I can give you, do reviews anytime and anyplace where you would normally be doing nothing. I had to travel to and from University for about 40 minutes to an hour on the bus each day. I usually got about 40% of my cards done during that time. So that’s probably my biggest tip. Below I will list a few others that have really helped me in improving/reducing my review load since I started using Anki.

Get Anki on Your Mobile Device

I highly recommend getting the mobile version of Anki as you can easily make use of “idle” time. Bus, walking, breaks etc. If you do decide to review in one big load in front of your PC then use Anki’s filter deck option, or similar options in other programs, to do 10 reviews at a time. Not only does this make you not worry about the massive number of reviews you may have but it makes it easier to remember those cards that you forget and send back to the <10 minute or <1 minute pile as they will come up slightly quicker.

IT’S OKAY TO FORGET!

I mean it! That is the whole point of Anki. It is there to help you remember but also to help you figure out what you forget. If you genuinely forgot a card, try not pretend you remembered it or do the “oh but that one is easy, I will definitely remember it next time”. Seriously, just send it back and do it again. Okay yeah, it’s going to increase your reviews for the next day, but overtime it will help decrease themDon’t constantly keep sending the same card back though! More on this in a bit.

Do All Your Reviews BEFORE You Learn New Cards

This is something I didn’t do from the beginning but when I switched it helped so much. I can’t believe I hadn’t done it before to be honest. This helps you find the perfect balance when studying cards because if you can’t get through all your reviews then you won’t learn new items. This means that you will get less reviews over time until you have reduced your reviews done and are then able to learn new cards. This creates a sort of auto balance to your deck allowing you to work at your optimal pace. It also gives you a bit of a boost when doing reviews as you want to get to that new material! To change this setting in Anki go to Preferences –> Show new cards after reviews (Should be in the 2nd drop down menu).

Time boxing

This is a real game changer. It makes the whole process more fun and sooo much more efficient. Get a timer, and set a time limit for a certain amount of reviews. This will increase your focus and speed as you will be determined on completing the set amount of reviews within the time frame. For more information on time boxing check out hacking chinese’s post here. Or you can check out this video explaining the concept below.

Deleting

If you are doing Kanji, or learning the Russian Alphabet, or something that is essential, then I don’t advise deleting unless you take precautions. It is okay with some things, for example I deleted a lot of useless Kanji in my Remembering the Kanji deck back in the day because they just didn’t come up enough in Japanese material for me to need to know them. I have since gone back through and studied them. When it comes to anything else though (that isn’t essential), if you see a sentence you just can’t understand, or an algorithm you may want to know but every time it comes up you don’t understand it, then just delete it.

When you see it and you just know, “Uh, this is an annoying one”, delete it.

It isn’t worth your time learning. If you find anything in Anki boring or tedious then delete it because it literally isn’t worth your time. You will learn it another way at some other time, so don’t worry about it. Also if its something you’ve added but you just aren’t at a level yet where you can comprehend it, then suspend it for the time being. You can use this to move cards out of rotation that you aren’t ready for yet. You can then come back to these a few months down the line.

Burying

The Bury tool is also quite useful but try not to rely on it. I used this one quite a lot for a while but it was probably causing more hassle than I thought. Sometimes I would get a card that was mature which I had forgotten and when this happens I got really annoyed as I knew it was mature and I hate the fact that I forgot it, so I bury it. This is pretty bad. Make sure you send it back to either option 1 or 2. Burying like this will accumulate all those cards which you know you should know and you think you know but you actually don’t know. You will end up with masses of reviews each day and it becomes a pain. Of course, if you actually did have a blip then go for it, bury the card for the next day and see what happens. If you still can’t get it tomorrow then send it back.

Pushing Forward

There is also something I like to call “Push Forward” which you can use in situations where you are completely overwhelmed by your reviews. Say you are getting 200+ Kanji reviews a day while still learning 50. It’s becoming too much but the end of your deck seems so close, it’s tempting to ignore all the above advice and keep pushing, increasing your reviews but not actually reviewing everything. This is bad, of course, as you will forget a lot of what you learnt, BUT there is a sort of logic that you can apply if you are going down this route. If you are already doing this then you are obviously okay with forgetting and re-learning otherwise you wouldn’t let your reviews stack up like that. Now that you are in this predicament, what can you do about it?

Easy, temporarily start pretending you know items which you don’t.

What I mean by this is that, say for example, the kanji card for “turnip” (蕪) comes up but you can’t remember it. You press space, see the other side and you see what time frames are on the card. If it is one that has a few days on it then you’re best of sending it back to re-learn it. For example if the card has 10+ days then “Push it Forward” by hitting options 3 or 4. If you do this consistently then what it will do is spread the load of reviews over the forthcoming weeks and months. It’s obviously easier to re-learn 10 items a day for a month than to learn 300 items in 24 hours, that’s why this works well.

It doesn’t really matter when you see these cards again, as you forgot them anyway, so just send them on to next week or next month. Learn them again when you have the time. It’s better to do this than risk forgetting even more cards because you couldn’t get to them due to being stuck in a pile or reviews. You can force yourself to re-learn all those forgotten cards each day but it is going to be hell. Try not to do it, spread your reviews first then focus on re-learning those reviews when they begin to decrease.

What to Do if You Are Constantly Getting Cards Wrong

If you find that there are some cards you just can’t ever seem to remember then instead of continuing to study them, delete them or bury them. The reason being is that continuously getting a card wrong will train your brain to remember that you “always get that card wrong”, not what the card’s actual answer is, and this will just lead to massive amounts of frustration.

If you get this a lot then it might be an idea to always send cards that you re-learn on to the next day by using the “Bury” feature. If I get a card wrong I am not going to let it sit in the incorrect pile, constantly coming up every 10 minutes. If you get a card right then great, it will make tomorrow slightly easier for you, if you get it wrong though then it’s no biggie. Using this trick means you will see it everyday until you remember it BUT you will only see it once a day, not a hundred times over while driving you insane in the process.

Unfortunately this will increase your daily reviews, so if they are really bad and you really can’t remember them then by all means “Push it Forward”, suspend or delete.

Remember: You Are in Control

Don’t let SRS control you, control SRS. Use Anki as a tool to help you but do not let it frustrate you, anger you or make you dread learning. Use different methods to help get around the issues with SRS, including the tools that they come with. Don’t let it become a chore. If that ever happens, then you’re doing it wrong.

So yeah that’s pretty much what I do and it works to some extent. I still get massive amounts of reviews but I’ve just gotten used to it over the years. Remember, reviews are more important than new material. It’s also really important to do reviews in smaller chunks spread throughout the day, especially if you have loads of them.

Good luck! See you next time! 🙂

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マット

By Matthew Hawkins
2017/12/07
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Undergraduate Software Engineer and Language Enthusiast.