Creating cards in Anki is easy. But creating good quality cards is far more important than just adding cards without thought. Although the spaced-repetition software is amazing in helping you remember anything, simply trying to cram information into your brain is a pointless task.
Imagine trying to remember random word+number combinations:
Apple = 231
House = 8762
Tree = 119
Bike = 0991
Cake = 12
No matter how hard you Anki the life out of these pairings, it will take forever to remember. These would be bad cards.
This shows the two most important rules when it comes to creating cards in Anki:
- You need to care
- It needs to make sense to you
Caring About Your Cards
Obviously, sometimes you just need to cram for a test and you don’t actually care that much what year Freud was born. But your brain is much better at remembering facts when you care about knowing them, so try to find those ‘giving a crap‘ hooks when you’re creating cards in Anki (even if it’s just imagining passing the test!).
Don’t add cards to Anki just to add cards into Anki. Remembering pointless facts is a waste of your time.
You can get better at caring about your cards by imagining situations in which you want to remember the information. Picture yourself in settings where knowing the answer to your card would actually matter to you. If you want to remember the French word for house (“la maison”), when do you think you’d use this word? In what setting would this knowledge be of any use to you? Don’t be afraid to go silly with this question, let your imagination run wild. I know I’ll never forget that garçon means boy!
Remembering =/= Understanding
Make sure you understand what you’re trying to learn before you try to memorise it. I could give you an Anki card that asks “What substance does Sertoli cells produce that effect the Müllerian ducts” and tell you the answer is “Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH)” but if you don’t have a clue what I’m even talking about, you won’t remember. There is no use in remembering it either, because it will be like the random word+number pairings before.
So study the material first, before you convert it into Anki cards. By studying and thoroughly understanding what you’re learning you’ll also acquire enough information on the subject to create good quality cards.
Less Is More
A common beginner’s mistake is to cram too much information into one flashcard. Your goal is not to put everything you need to learn into one small block of text. A good quality card is a simple card.
Make sure each card only asks for one piece of information. Say you want to learn the days of the week in French, it might seem like it would make sense to ask:
Q: What are the first three days of the week in French?
A: lundi, mardi, mercredi
The problem is though, if you only forget ‘mardi’, you will have to click ‘again’ for all three words, even though you remembered lundi and mercredi correctly. Another problem is that learning is context sensitive. When I was studying French in secondary school I memorised “onze douze treize” in that order. For years after that I had to recite “onze douze treize” if I wanted to remember the French word for twelve. I memorised the sequence instead of the correct word!
Make sure the correct answer is answerable. “Who was Kinsey and what did he do” seems like a short and simple question. But if the correct answer is “He was an American biologist and sexologist, born in 1894, who researched human sexuality” you’re adding too much information to your card. Split it up as far as it can be split.
Q: Where was Kinsey from?
Q: When was Kinsey born?
Q: What was Kinsey’s profession?
A: Biologist and sexologist
Q: What did Kinsey research?
A: Human sexuality
Q: Who was the American biologist and sexologist, born in 1984, who researched human sexuality?
The best cards ask for simple and short answers that should never be longer than a few words.
Involve your senses
Think of the piece of information you’re trying to remember as something that needs to be tied and connected to existing pieces of knowledge that already exists in your brain. To remember the new fact you need to create as many connections as possible. Those connections don’t need to make sense to anyone but you. The more associations and images and stories you can connect to the fact, the better your chances of remembering. When you’re creating cards in Anki, try and see if you can incorporate some hooks and connections.
The easiest way to do this is by adding images to everything. And yes I mean everything.
Mnemonics make use of elaborative encoding, retrieval cues, and imagery as specific tools to encode any given information in a way that allows for efficient storage and retrieval.
Don’t be afraid to get a little silly when you’re creating cards in Anki. For example, I wanted to memorise the different states in the USA. I was having some trouble remembering Minnesota. When I noticed the card had become a leech, I took some time to create hooks and connections that would help me remember.
Minnesota sounds a bit like mini-soda. Minnesota looks like a glass. A glass in which you could pour the contents of a can of soda. A really small can of soda, a mini-soda.