Using Flashcards to Review

In this post, I refer to the software I’m using: Anki. But this could be done with pen and paper if you choose to (but would just be annoying to keep track of everything). Anki makes it easier. But feel free to use any other software, or no software at all. Anki is a free software, and is available for all desktop and mobile OS’s. You can download it for free here.

As I keep learning new things every day, I find it important to review the things I’ve learned. Otherwise, I’ll soon forget them.

In order to overcome that, I’m using flashcards, along with a technique called spaced repetition.

Spaced repetition is an evidence-based learning technique in which you spend more time reviewing the new things you learned that aren’t so established in your long term memory, and spend progressively less time reviewing the things you already know.

For example, if you learn something today, you may review the fact tomorrow, then 3 days from tomorrow, then 5 days after that, then 10 days, and so on, until you’re reviewing something once or twice a year. If, in one of your reviews, you get the answer wrong, you start the process all over again with that card.

It’s a very simple method, and it works!

The power of software like Anki is that it manages the timing for you, so you just have to review the cards that are up for review that day. You press different buttons to indicate whether you forgot the answer, found it hard to remember, remembered fine, or found it easy.

No Days Off

It’s important when you’re using this method of reviewing information, that you don’t take any days off from reviewing. If you do decide to take a day off, the number of items you have to review the following day will usually double, making it much it less likely that you’ll want to review them. If you want to take a day or more off, make sure that you study the flashcards that are going to come up during your days off before you take the day(s) off. It’s not ideal in terms of the spacing of the review, but it’s much better than returning from your day(s) off only to see hundreds of cards due for review that day.. This is thankfully a feature that Anki has out of the box.

It’s Manageable

One of the best things about spaced repetition is that even though you might be learning a lot of new things, it never becomes overwhelming, because you can set a limit to how many new cards or review cards per day a deck of flashcards can have.

Personally, my JavaScript deck has now over 1,200 cards. However, over time, the number of cards I had to review per day started going down as the concepts started sinking in. Now, I have about 10-20 cards a day to review. That is very manageable.

It Takes Me Around 20 Minutes a Day

As it stands, my JavaScript deck is just one of the decks I have in a folder called “Software Development Theory”. I also have a “Software Development Practice” folder, which has another JavaScript Practice deck, which prompts me to code up specific algorithms or problem solving patterns to keep my skills high.

In total, between all my decks, I currently have 2,033 cards, and that number is climbing daily as I keep learning new things. Sometimes just a few cards a day, other times a few dozen cards a day.

To do my daily routine of reviewing my flashcards usually takes me between 15 minutes and an hour, depending on how many new cards I added that day.

It may seem like a long time to spend on reviewing old information, but it’s not. Especially when you consider the cost of learning something, and then having to “re-learn it” later because you completely forgot the information.

Reviewing Is Just One Step of Learning

Reviewing the information is just one of the steps I take in my learning process (incidentally, it’s the last step). But I can talk about the 4 steps in my learning process in another post.