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How do I use spaced repetition learning to improve my life?
September 23, 2010 8:16 AM   Subscribe

How do I used spaced repetition learning to improve my life, beyond the obvious applications?

I’m smitten with the idea of the spacing effect and the potentially vast quantities of material it allows one to memorize. I realise it has obvious applications like aiding with language learning, but I was wondering if its principles could be applied more generally.

I’ve historically used Anki to learn a bit of French, German and Finnish for fun, as well as on-and-off in my degree studies (I'm an undergraduate biochemist coming into my final year). I want to start taking it more seriously, which will involve formalising more knowledge from my degree course and adding that to my Anki deck.

But do you guys have any tips for using spaced repetition outside of its usual domains? Do people casually input interesting tidbits they encounter so that they can remember them? Piotr Wozniak apparently does 'spaced reading' in which he learns chunks of articles using spaced repetition, which might be a good way of digesting scientific papers and scholarly articles in a way that keeps them remembered. I'll be doing a research project as part of my degree this year and it would be good to retain lots of knowledge gleaned from papers as it'll come in handy when the final write-up comes round.

If you do just input anything cool you want to remember, do you categorise it or just have one colossal deck (to use Anki nomenclature) into which everything goes? Do you think carefully about what goes in or just input more than you think you'll care about and weed through uninteresting cards later?

I hope this isn't too vague—I want to hear as much about your methods as I can. Show me how to learn.
posted by henryaj to Education (7 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I've been using Mnemosyne for about a year now. The big success story for me has been using it to memorize chess openings. I have over a thousand chess positions in there by now, and my opening has gone from being a weakness to being a strength.

Over the last few months I've added a few hundred Go positions as well. In these cases the aim is not so much to memorize exact positions as to get all the basic techniques into my fingers instinctively. It's a little too soon to evaluate it, but it feels like a success so far.

I also have a couple of thousand Esperanto vocabulary cards in there. I haven't added any for a really long time, so I am now maintaining my vocabulary while only reviewing around 10 (out of 2000) cards a day, which is pretty nice.

I keep everything in categories, and in fact I have over a dozen categories for chess alone (Black vs d4, Black vs e4, White vs Sicilian, White vs Caro-Kann, etc.). I found that I remember cards much better when I review one sub-category at a time.
posted by dfan at 10:28 AM on September 23, 2010

You could have a read through what this guy has to say about using an SRS: link 1 and link 2. Apparently he's quite big on using it for personal development books.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 11:12 AM on September 23, 2010

Also names, songs, and other stuff. I personally use it solely to learn German, so that I have a "question" like
War ich doch so durch den Lehrbetrieb beansprucht, dass ich dafür keine Zeit fand (Grass)
and an answer like:
literary German: doch can be used with the verb first in the clause. this explains the preceding statement.

After all, I was so busy with my lessons that I didn't have time for that.
Ich wäre dafür diesen Abartigen eine elektronische Fessel zu verpassen damit man immer genau weiß, wo sie sich herumgetrieben haben.
'ab·ar·tig aus der Art geschlagen; verderbt; nicht normal;
her'um|trei·ben sich ~ ziellos umhergehen; bummeln, müßig herumlaufen, -sitzen, vagabundieren;
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 11:24 AM on September 23, 2010

Here is how I use spaced repetition to remember small, disparate pieces of random input: ideas, code snippets, new words, websites, quotes, tasks, ... you name it.

First, you need a note-taking system that sorts notes by last modified date. I.e., most recently modified notes should show up on top of the list. I personally use evernote for this.

Each note represents a chunk of information. Some examples:
- favorite quotes
- java multi-threading
- java file I/O
- new words I learned
- interesting websites
- new people I've met
- ideas I need to research further
- recipe for pasta with arugula and beans

My notes are sized so I can read and parse the information quickly. So for example, if I had one huge note about java, it would be many pages long. I can't hold all that in my mind at once, so I break java into sub-notes. On the other hand, it's easy for me to memorize / recall one quote at a time, so I put them all in a single note. Do whatever works for you.

As I come across new input, I put it in its proper note. Throughout the day, I probably add 3-10 new pieces of info I want to remember. Whenever I'm waiting in line, relaxing, or otherwise idle, I bring up my notes and review them - the last note modified is the first note I review.

Okay, this is where the spaced repetition comes in: since I'm reviewing the notes in this order, newer information is automatically reviewed more often. Older info shows up later in the list, and thus only gets reviewed when I have an extended amount of review time. Also - a really handy thing about evernote is that it syncs to my iPhone, so I always have my notebook with me, ready to review.
posted by Terheyden at 1:50 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've recently used spaced repetition to correct my previous appalling lack of geographical knowledge. I have now memorised all the countries in Africa (and their position on a blank world map), and have recently started on the middle East.
posted by lollusc at 4:34 PM on September 23, 2010

I use Anki for everything. I have 50+ decks at the moment.

I split academic subjects up into definitions & problems. For instance, in my number theory classes I have a definitions (and theorems, corollaries, proofs) and a problems deck. I learn the definitions (theorems, proofs, etc.) and then I'll open the problems deck, which consists of problems taken from textbooks (along with the answer, so I get feedback). I obtain as many textbooks as possible and fill the decks with definitions and problems. I get as many problems I can from the lecturer, and add them to the deck. I do this for most other subjects as well (have decks for combinatorics, multi-variable calc, logic, set theory. And again, all split up into two decks: definition and problems). These decks have definitely helped me pass tests, and remember things easily. Tricky proofs and problems are generally easier now, as I can just remember and 'see' what I need to do to solve it.

Outside of the mathematical domain I also fill up my decks with philosophy stuff (my other major). The only sub-deck in philosophy that has two decks (definitions and problems) are my formal and informal logic decks. Apart from that, my other decks are mostly made up of conceptual ideas and arguments. For instance, I have a "Philosophy of Time" sub-deck to my metaphysics deck, where I outline concepts like perdurantism, four dimensionalism, and so on. Since philosophy concerns itself mostly with argumentation, I'll ask myself questions like what is the concept of eternalism? What are some arguments against eternalism? What are some arguments for the position?

I also use Anki for martial arts.

I have a deck for ground fighting (BJJ) where I try to visualize a position I'm in. Like I'll ask a question like, "Your opponent has your back, with hooks in, what do you do?" Then I'll have in the answer area: "Obtain posture, keep elbows glued to ribs, hand fight, lean forward, scoop butt forwards, and so on." The key is to visualize the position with the question.

Finally, I use anki for remembering cognitive biases and fallacies. Wikipedia has a massive list. I had one or two every so often.
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 7:51 PM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

I should also say, I'm not memorizing the problems per se (I am however memorizing definitions and arguments). When I'm doing problems, I'm using anki as a tool for randomizing problems given to me. So, in the problems deck I'll open it up, and I'll do the problem, then check if I got it right or not.
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 8:05 PM on September 23, 2010

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