A third attempt at Anki

Aug 22, 2014

I first found out about Anki ages ago. Probably about four years ago on LessWrong. It's a flashcard program which makes remembering things easier.

A lot of smart people had said a lot of good things about Anki. That made me want to try it. However, I have yet to stick with it successfully.

My first attempt

About three years ago, I decided to give it a try. At the time, I wanted to learn the Java standard library better. I remember installing it and looking for shared decks. There were quite a lot but most were not very good. It felt like most were created by students taking "Introduction to Java" classes. Despite that, I downloaded them anyway. I tried to use them but I lost interest pretty quickly.

Shortly after, I abandoned Anki for the first time. I feel the mistakes I made here are pretty obvious:

  • Most of the cards were either too easy, too trivial or just not useful
  • I did not fully understand the content of the Anki cards before trying to learn from them
  • Although I made a few of my own cards, I never got into the habit of making them

My second attempt

About a year and a half ago, I wanted to try it again. I had learned from my previous attempt. I knew that I had to make my own cards instead of using existing ones.

I got into the habit of finding a tutorial on a subject I wanted to learn about and writing notes on the important points. I would then go through my notes and make Anki cards.

This worked better than before but it didn't last. Although I stuck with it for a good few months, the approach still had many problems:

  • I wasted too much time trying to make the cards look pretty (e.g. surrounding all code in <code> tags)
  • I found that when reading "introductory" tutorials, my cards were often too basic and should have been combined into a smaller number of cards
  • I only created cards in designated study sessions and never when I was in the middle of programming

This time will be different

I'm determined to get Anki to work for me. I have read many good things about it and I believe it could be great if only I could start using it better.

I recently found this article by someone who has created 10,000 Anki cards. I recommend reading it but here is the advice I took from it:

  • "Why" questions are more important than memorising facts (this feels obvious yet all my previous efforts had been focused on creating factual cards)
  • Don't just create one-way connections, sometimes you need to remember something when given different prompts
  • There is no need to create multiple decks, one massive deck is just fine
  • Images can be better than plain text

Some guidelines for myself

Specifically, here is what I plan to do:

I could write more about this but I think I just need to start. I will create another post in a month or so with my progress.