Maria Holland

Spaced Repetition Systems

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2010 at 12:19 am

I’m planning to write sometime about the resources that have helped me most in my Chinese studies, but here’s a short bit about perhaps the most important.  Anki is a flashcard program that uses a Spaced Repetition System.  Basically, each time you answer a flashcard you rate how easy it was.  The program brings the hard ones up again soon until they become easy; the easy ones get longer and longer intervals. 

It’s great for learning Chinese because characters like ‘video recording’, which I can never remember is 录像 or 录象, come up every few days, while I won’t see the super easy ones like “you” for a year or two.

There are a lot of other reasons why it’s great.  The graphs that show how much time you’ve spent reviewing and how many characters you know from which levels of difficulty!  The ability to add pinyin hints when writing characters!  The online sync!

But right now I’m realizing that it’s great because it works.  I’ve been using it for over a year and have learned over 1,900 characters.  Yes, I also took classes and lived in China – but as far as being able to write characters, that is almost all from my diligence with Anki.  You’re not going to get fluent with flashcards, and you have to have sources of input for your flashcards, but you also don’t learn to write thousands of characters by hand just by riding buses and going shopping.

Also, it’s great because it works efficiently.  When I was in China and adding hundreds of cards each week, it was sometimes a lot to keep up with.  I spent at least a half-hour most days looking at new cards and reviewing ones whose intervals were up. 

But now that I’m back in the States, my sources of input have all but dried up and I’m not really adding anything new.  There’s just those same 8,807 cards that I’m stuck with for the foreseeable future until I either return to China or actually start reading on my own.  Because of the way SRS works, I have to spend less time each day to maintain this body of knowledge.  The words that are hard for me are getting easier and easier with each repetition – and their intervals are getting longer and longer.  This means less cards to review each day.

Since school started, I haven’t spent more than 20 minutes each day.  If I keep at it, in three months I’ll have about 20 cards coming up for review each day, which should take just a few minutes to go through.  Yeah, every now and then I forget an old one and it goes back into the pool of stuff I see frequently, but for the most part you see cards just when you need to see them – just before you might forget them. 

I’ve been pretty good with Anki since I started using it, but there have been some breaks.  The longest one was nearly a month and a half – and ended just over a month ago, which makes the low numbers listed above even more impressive since I had a pile of 3,000 cards to go through. 

Because I’ve been so pleased with Anki in my Chinese studies, I’m using it with other areas.  I have an Engineering deck now, too, which contains equations, concepts, constants, and code that I find myself forgetting and relearning in between each relevant class.  I’m adding to it as I review my notes from the first three years of college, and am hoping it will prove as useful in retaining this knowledge as I’ve just talked it up to be!

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  1. Okay, these posts from college are almost as indecipherable as the ones from China! Spaced Repetition Systems? Do[If[ ]] statement and {n,1,nMax} from your last post!?! Ah for the days of 厦大加油!

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