Tag Archives: Flashcard

Lifehacker on spaced learning

27 Feb

I have been posting a lot over this last week about flashcards. Here is a good short piece from Lifehacker about the underlying principle: spaced repetition learning:

“the idea here is that shorter sessions spaced out will be more effective, you don’t need to build up studying as a massive task. You can study a little bit every day and retain much more information.”



Lifelong Learners League

22 Feb

I just stumbled across this website and blog; The Lifelong Learners League. It describes itself as “a free on line community for people who love to learn.”

Here is a recent post on using flash cards for foreign language study:

“I highly recommend this flashcard system—it cements the vocab words into my brain!”

While we are on the subject of flashcards, I would recommend trying Anki, in addition to paper cards.


Jeopardy! champions use Anki

15 Feb

Readers of this blog know that I am enthusiastic about spaced repetition software, such as Anki and Memrise, as a memory improvement technique.

In an interview with Mental Floss, Jeopardy Champion Arthur Chu describes his use of Anki:

“I used a program called Anki which uses a method called “spaced repetition.” It keeps track of where you’re doing well or poorly, and pushes you to study the flashcards you don’t know as well, until you develop an even knowledge base about a particular subject, and I just made flashcards for those specific things. I memorized all the world capitals, it wasn’t that hard once I had the flashcards and was using them every day. I memorized the US State Nicknames (they’re on Wikipedia), memorized the basic important facts about the 44 US Presidents.”

Here Chu describes his overall Jeopardy! strategy:

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Joshua Henkin on vocabulary

26 Aug

A nice piece in The New York Times by novelist Joshua Henkin on the importance of vocabulary. He says this about learning vocabulary words in a Kaplan review course:

“One day, Stanley Kaplan himself visited our class. I recall him as a kind of impresario, a Jackie Gleason-type figure who warmed the class up with a few jokes. And then he was gone, leaving me to my vocabulary words, which I kept on flash cards and which I would hum as I memorized them. It was the words themselves I was humming. It’s the same thing I do now when I write, a drone so reflexive I don’t even realize I’m doing it until my wife, who shares an office with me, says, “You’re humming again,” and I try to quiet down.”

An overview of Memrise

8 Jul

I am going to make a bold prediction: spaced repetition software will revolutionize education. Merging the principles of memory first discovered by Hermann Ebbinghaus with sophisticated software now allows us to make difficult memory tasks and make them both easier and more efficient.

Let’s take the example of learning a foreign language vocabulary. Vocabulary learning may be the biggest hurdle for people learning a new language. Spaced repetition software allows you to master vocabulary with small amounts of daily practice. The most persuasive argument I can make here is experiential. I invite you to try Memrise.

Memrise is the brain child of memory grand master Ed Cooke. It is a well designed  online spaced repetition flashcard program.

To use Memrise first visit the homepage:


Click start and create a free account.

mem-log in

After you have created your account you can choose flash cards  from an astonishingly large list of languages and other topics.

mem languages available

Here is my dashboard page showing two of the  languages I am studying

my dashboard

Memrise use a garden metaphor to describe learning. “Planting” means adding words to the list you want to learn, while, “watering” refers to your daily review. To get the most out of Memrise you should plan to water everyday (a process that usually takes just a few minutes) and to plant when you feel ready to move onto to new material.

Everyday, Memrise will test you on some subset of your chosen words. It will do this either by fill in the blank questions or multiple choice.

question answer

The software will evaluate how well you know each word and decide when to ask you again. If you do not know a word it will schedule to ask you again very soon. If you do know a word it increases the interval before it repeats that question. This spaced repetition procedure is known to counteract forgetting.

Memrise also provides you with user generated mnemonics to help you lean words. At the end of each session it gives you a summary of your work for that day. There is a point system that serves as a motivator.

Since this is a web based service you can access Memrise from anywhere. Memrise now has smartphone apps available. Start building a better memory today!


Learning the Indian alphabet

2 Jul

One of the key messages of this site is big learning in small doses. In this post I want to give you an example of using this principle by explaining how I learned to read the Indian alphabet, more correctly know as Devanagari.

One of the languages I am trying to learn is Sanskrit, the ancient liturgical language of Hinduism. Many of the source texts of both Hinduism and Buddhism are written in this language using the Devanagari script. Here is the word yoga written in Devanagari:


Devanagari is used in many modern Indian languages including Hindi. So my first step was to purchase a set of Hindi script flashcards.

flash pile

The cards show a Devanagari letter (which represents either a vowel sound or a consonant and a vowel sound) and an image that is supposed to be a mnemonic for the letter. The letter in the card pictured above stands for the “ga” sound.

Here is the back of a card

flash card

I did not find the visual mnemonics helpful, indeed they were a nuisance because I wanted the letter to be the cue for remembering, but I solved this problem by placing a card over the bottom half of the card.

fash cover


Rather than try to learn the entire deck at once, I started with only three cards. Each morning, while walking on my treadmill, I would see if I could say the sound of each letter in the small pile. When I could correctly identify the sound of every card in the pile I would add one or two more. I would only add cards when I felt I has mastered the cards in the current pile.

When working with flash cards it is very important shuffle the deck every time you review. This is because of the serial position effect in list learning discovered by  Hermann Ebbinghaus. In learning any list we tend to have better memory for the beginning of the list and the end of the list and poorer memory for the items in the middle. However, we want to remember all the letters equally well and we do not want the order of the cards to be a cue for remembering the letters. So when working with flashcards, shuffle the pack for every review.

Over the course of a couple of months, spending a very few minutes everyday, I learned the basic Devanagari alphabet. I now review the entire deck of flashcards only three times a week just to maintain my skill. If I had tried to learn through intense cramming I think I would have failed, and I certainly would not have retained the information.

If you take a long term perspective and break a big learning task into small steps, you can succeed in mastering seemingly difficult material.


Roger Craig explains Anki

1 Jul

Over at the Quantifies Self, Jeopardy champion Roger Craig describes Anki a spaced repetition flashcard program.

Anki is a powerful tool for committing large amounts of information to memory with very brief daily practice. I use Anki everyday and strongly recommend it.

Roger Craig – Spaced Repetition: A Cognitive QS Method for Knowledge Acquisition from Steven Dean on Vimeo.

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