Using Spaced Repetition with Memrise and Anki


What is spaced repetition?

Everyone is always on the lookout for a method or tricks to help them learn more effectively, and one of the most powerful “hacks” that I have come across is the learning method of spaced repetition. For the uninitiated, spaced repetition is similar to the flashcards you may have used to learn back in high school. The big difference is that instead of blindly cycling through an entire deck of flashcards repeatedly, spaced repetition uses an algorithm to optimize the learning process by showing you cards only when it thinks you are on the verge of forgetting their content. Whether you get it right or wrong is then recorded, and impacts how much time will pass before you are shown the card again. That is the general concept, but you can take a look at the deeper mechanicsa and theory behind the spaced repetition method.

What is spaced repetition good for?

The best application for this method is learning languages (specifically vocabulary) or courses like biology that involve memorizing large quantities of bite-sized, disconnected chunks of information. I initially starting using spaced repetition halfway through a course on Greek & Latin, and it brought my grade up from a 65% to a 90% after the final exam.

How do I use spaced repetition?

One of the most popular and versatile spaced repetition apps is Anki, which runs on your computer (Mac or Windows) and smartphone. It offers a ton of customizable features, and you can change the learning settings at a very granular level. It may not be the most beginner-friendly app, but it is hands down the most versatile and powerful. The biggest disadvantage I found with Anki is that it can be difficult to find good pre-made decks online. That is okay if you are building your own decks anyways, but it is not ideal if you want to replicate something common like a frequency list.

I’m a big fan of Memrise, an online site (with smartphone apps) that mimics the core features of Anki. It doesn’t give you the same granular level of control over learning preferences, but it makes up for it in other ways. Using anki you would need to create your own decks, or search the web to download other people’s decks, while Memrise has a catalogue of popular decks in each language, shared between users. I’ve been mostly using Memrise recently, because I am currently using spaced repetition to help learn foreign language vocabulary. A popular method to jump-start your learning of a foreign language is to memorize the most often-used words, defined by a frequency list. Learning the 500 most popular words covers up to 80% of the average conversation, which really helps you pick up grammar and other elements of the langauge more quickly. If you search Memrise, you can already find a pre-built frequency deck for most languages, and some even come with built-in word pronounciations, and “mems”, which are little picture/word combinations to help you remember word meanings.