How to use Free Software to learn Japanese, and more.

How to review

July 13, 2021 — Tatsumoto

Though Anki is an excellent piece of software, you can learn languages more effectively if you tweak some settings and know how to review. Even if you're using Anki for something other than studying human languages, this article may still help you.


Anki settings

Make sure you've applied the settings from the Setting up Anki article. Below is a quick overview.

  • Set starting ease to 131%. It's kind of a magic number. 130% is the lowest possible ease, but Anki doesn't allow you to reliably use it. By bumping it up 1% you avoid the limitation. Because the Ease effectively becomes locked between 131% and 130%, it can't decrease further. This way you hijack Anki's default behavior which otherwise would lead to falling into Ease Hell.
  • Set Interval Modifier to not less than 190%. This initial increase counteracts the low Starting Ease. You can increase it further if your retention is high enough. I think up to 300% should be fine.
  • Enable Anki 2.1 scheduler (V2 scheduler). It's a little less limiting, less buggy and more convenient.

Showing up

AJATT has an article about Showing up. 100% of winning is showing up. Dedicate the time, and you'll see the results.

Not only this concept is important when using Anki to learn languages, it is mandatory. Anki expects you to do your reviews every single day. If you fail to do so, due cards quickly pile up.

If you do a consistent number of new cards each day, the number of reviews tends to be consistent as well. So, if you miss a day, expect your review load to double the next day. If you miss two days, you'll have to do 3 times as many reviews.

Anki's algorithm schedules cards so that they come up for review just before you forget their content. If you don't do your reviews on time, expect to forget more cards.

Check your retention

I recommend periodically checking your monthly True Retention. Shift-click on the "Stats" button at the top of the Anki window. The recommended retention is 75%-90%. If you see that your retention stays out of these boundaries, act accordingly. Decrease your Interval Modifier if your retention is too low, increase if it's high.

Filtered decks

Don't review in filtered decks. After experimenting with filtered decks for multiple years I've come to the conclusion that they're too buggy and too unreliable. They're only good for temporarily storing cards (in case of backlogs, for example). Some bugs I've run into completely messed up intervals of my cards.

Fighting backlogs

This is where filtered decks come handy.

Ideally you want to finish your reviews every day. In practice, it's not always possible. There are going to be days when you accumulate backlogs. A backlog is an amount of cards that you should already have reviewed. Anki calls such cards overdue.

If you miss your reviews, your review queue becomes divided between cards that are due today, most of which you still remember, and the cards that were due on the previous days, which you've likely forgotten a great number of. You can view a list of the overdue cards by typing is:due -prop:due=0 in the Anki Browser.

If you were to try to eliminate the backlog by simply reviewing the cards until no more due cards remain, Anki would show you the overdue cards first. Anki is programmed in a way that makes it prioritize cards with older due dates over the cards that became due recently. If the backlog is large enough, this would put you in a long-lasting state of needless forgetting. If you go along with Anki's algorithm and prioritize relearning forgotten cards, then you will end up forgetting the cards that are due today, unless you manage to clear your entire backlog in one sitting.

The solution is to create a filtered deck and use it to store the overdue cards. To do this, press "F" or go to "Tools" > "Create filtered deck...".

Let's say my Japanese deck is called "Japanese". The Search field is going to look like this:

deck:Japanese is:due -prop:due>-1 -rated:1 -is:learn
  • deck:Japanese limits search to my Japanese deck.
  • is:due tells Anki to select only due cards.
  • -prop:due>-1 excludes cards due today.
  • -rated:1 excludes cards that were already reviewed today.
  • -is:learn excludes cards in the learning or relearning queues.

Once you have the filtered deck set up, you've stopped the bleeding. Every day after you've finished your normal reviews come back to the filtered deck and decrease the number of cards it can store. The cards will be returned to your Japanese deck. Review those cards.

filtered deck

Deck settings.

Take a look at the "cards selected by" setting. It presents a number of options you can choose from to fight the backlog the way suits you. If you want to review cards that you're most likely to still remember, change it to "Increasing intervals". This way when you reduce the number of cards the filtered deck can store, the cards with the largest intervals will be pulled out first. On the other hand, if you choose "Decreasing intervals", the cards with the smallest intervals will be the first to go.

The benefit of using filtered decks for fighting backlogs is that you don't move any cards yourself. Once they leave the filtered deck, they automatically return to the decks they were pulled out from. If this approach doesn't work for you, try suspending overdue cards instead. To do so, open the Anki Browser, type is:due -prop:due=0 and suspend the cards that will show up. Unsuspend the cards in chunks once you have time to review them.

Accumulating a backlog and being unable to properly manage it is the number one reason people quit Anki altogether. Keep your backlog isolated in a filtered deck so that it doesn't overwhelm you.

New cards

Choose how many new cards you want to do each day and stick to that number. Don't learn too many new cards. The amount of new cards together with retention determine how many reviews you will have to complete. If you feel overwhelmed by the number of daily reviews, you can influence the number of future reviews by decreasing the number of new cards or stopping learning new cards completely for a period of time. If you feel like you have headroom, raise the amount of new cards. Don't cap the Maximum reviews/day setting, it will only hide the due cards from you. Failing to do all of your reviews on schedule will form a backlog.

Leeches

Anki has a setting that controls how many times you can fail a card before it becomes a leech, Leech threshold. It doesn't mean the number of times you simply press "Again" on a card, but rather the number of times you fail a card that has previously graduated to the review queue. In other words, hitting "Again" on a card over an over on the same day doesn't make it a leech.

When Anki marks a card as a "leech", the card receives a "leech" tag. You can later find leeches by opening the Anki Browser and typing tag:leech in the search field. If Leech Action is set to "Suspend card", the card won't come up for review anymore. It's important to quickly pull leeches out of rotation by suspending them so that they don't waste your review time.

After you've neutralized a leech, decide what to do with it. Change the content of the card to make it easier to memorize or just wait until your brain is ready to learn it again.

In my experience, most leeches pop up as a result of failed attempts to memorize kanji readings. The best way to force a particular reading into your memory is to memorize multiple words that use the same reading. For example, if you can't remember how to read 印璽, make cards for words such as 御璽 or 国璽 and learn all of them at the same time.

Deleting and suspending cards

There are several articles on the AJATT site where Khatz fiercely recommends deleting cards.

Delete. For happiness, for hygiene, for the smell, for sanity, for fun.

Get rid of anything even remotely sucky. Delete. Delete. Delete. Don’t worry. You obviously don’t need them.

Later many methods derived from AJATT copied this advice.

There are situations when it makes sense to pull a card out of the review queue:

  • You can't seem to remember a card.
  • A card is too hard or too easy.
  • It takes too much time to rep.
  • You mined it thinking it was a 1T card and turns out it's not.

Preemptively getting rid of cards that have a potential to become leeches or cards that are too complicated and waste your time is a valuable technique. It is going to help you avoid getting overwhelmed with the SRS in the long run.

However, I advise you to be careful with deletions. It's way harder to restore a deleted card than bring back a suspended one. Suspend cards instead. If you change your mind, put the card back into the rotation and try to learn it again.

Get the AJT Flexible Grading add-on

AJT Flexible Grading comes with three important features:

  • Pass-Fail mode
  • Grading from the front side
  • The ability to hide some or all answer buttons.

To install the add-on, follow the instructions on AnkiWeb.

Download

Pass-Fail mode

The Pass-Fail mode essentially doesn't let you press "Hard" and "Easy" buttons. There are two benefits associated with this.

One being that having to decide between various options can actually make your Anki study less efficient. When you're deciding how to grade a card, you're wasting your mental resources. Do it a hundred times, and you'll experience something called decision fatigue. Instead of deciding how well you know something simply decide whether you know it or not.

Another being that most Anki users don't understand what Anki's "Hard" and "Easy" buttons actually do. Both buttons affect the cards' Ease factor. Using the "Hard" button can penalize you and greatly add to your review count over time. Using the "Easy" button can artificially inflate your card scheduling intervals and lead to forgetting and lower retention in the future. For the vast majority of us the best option is to simply use Anki's "Good" and "Again" buttons.

Flexible grading

Flexible grading refers to the ability to pass an Anki card without having to reveal the answer. If you believe that you really know the content of a flashcard, you may decide to skip its reverse side and immediately grade the card. It should speed up review time and save you some keypresses.

Flexible grading is enabled by default in the add-on's options. You can grade the cards by pressing Vim-keys on your keyboard or by using the default Anki hotkeys.

Vim bindings Default bindings Description
h 1 Again, Fail
j 2 Hard
k 3 Good, Pass
l 4 Easy

Pressing 1-4 to grade cards is convenient, but it's not as convenient. Vim-like bindings let you grade the cards with your fingers lying on the home row keys, much like when you navigate a document in Vim.

keyboard

I'm sure you'll appreciate how much more quickly you'll be able to finish your reviews.

Getting rid of answer buttons

Once you get used to blasting through your reps with Vim-like hotkeys, you realize that the answer buttons are completely redundant. AJT Flexible Grading has an option to remove those buttons, making the Anki UI less cluttered.

Last review stats at the top

Have you ever had doubts like, "did I grade that card right?" after doing a rep? Maybe your finger slipped a bit, and you're not sure whether you've pressed the right button. AJT Flexible Grading shows the result of the last review at the top. It tells you what button you pressed and what interval the card has right now. By clicking on the stat you can bring up the card browser window showing the last answered card.

Summary

The SRS best practices:

  1. Starting Ease 131%.
  2. Interval Modifier 190%, increase if needed.
  3. Enable the V2 scheduler.
  4. Don't review in filtered decks.
  5. Use filtered decks for storing old due cards (backlog).
  6. Install AJT Flexible Grading. Use the Vim hotkeys when reviewing.
  7. Use the Pass-Fail mode to avoid "Hard" and "Easy" buttons.
  8. Grade easy cards from their front side.

Tags: anki