How Anki Will Make You Smarter

So flashcards are pretty sweet, right? You have something you want to learn: vocabulary, state capitals, times tables, whatever. You write down the info on pieces of paper, you quiz yourself, bam! Magic. Straight from the paper into your brain.

But flashcards have their problems.

For one thing, it’s a pain to buy the blank cards, write the facts on them, and keep track of them. Using flashcard software instead of physical cards will fix that.

The more basic problem with flashcards is that they don’t do well with large amounts of data. If you just review all of them over and over, you’ll spend most of your time studying facts you already know pretty well, while the tough ones don’t get enough attention. On the other hand, if you remove the easy ones and only review the hard ones, then the “easy” ones gradually fade from your brain.

Enter Anki.

Fluted? What about banjoed?

Anki is free, open-source software that offers a smarter way to do flashcards. At Anki’s heart lies a card scheduling algorithm that intelligently decides when to show cards based on how well you know them. The first time you say a card is “good,” you’ll see it again the next day. If you say it’s “good” a second time, then it’ll wait several days. The next time will be even longer, until pretty soon it’s convinced you know it, and you won’t see it again for months.

On the other hand, if you ever miss a card, it will reset the timetable and focus on that card again until you have it down.

If you happen to agree that flashcards are pretty sweet (there has to be someone else out there, right?) then Anki is very sweet indeed. You can get it on your smartphone, too. It supports all kinds of character sets, so you can do Russian, Chinese, etc. For the mathematically inclined, it also supports LaTeX. You can even insert pictures.

Of course, as smart as Anki is, flashcards still have certain limitations. As I said a few weeks ago, repetition alone is a weak foundation for memorizing something. They key to making data stick is to use it in multiple ways, to come at it from several different angles. It’s tough to get that from flashcards.

But you have to learn information before you can use it, and for straight-up computer-to-brain data transfer, it’s tough to beat Anki.

You can download Anki from its homepage, right here.

Have you tried any cool, free software lately? Tell me about it in the comments!

4 responses to “How Anki Will Make You Smarter

  1. Nice, using the Latex reference that you just learned about. I like it

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