To review chapters from a long text, I skipped Anki this time around
and tried ... a paper chart. I can see a whole month's worth of
scheduled reviews at a glance.
I love smart flashcards with Anki, but as you
may know from previous posts, my early enthusiasm led to flashcard burnout. Over the last few
months, I’ve experimented with new ways to reclaim the material I
Long Texts: Renew Whole Chapters
Long texts, like the Gospel of Mark or the Glugs of Gosh, bring special problems for review.
When I learn a long text, I start with small clusters of verses,
then slowly connect the clusters to make stories, and then connect
stories to make chapters. Eventually, I renew the text by saying
entire chapters at once.
Saying whole chapters may seem inefficient and long, but trust me, you
want to renew texts in sensible, natural sections. Hopping around from
bit to bit forces you to waste time “looking things up”. It also
destroys the larger rhythm.
By now, I have a long list of chapters that I’ve learned in their
entirety, including the 16 chapters of Mark, the 13 “cantos” of the
Glugs, and several chapters from Luke and Matthew.
I had an Anki deck where each card reviewed a whole chapter. “Recite Mark 1.” “Recite Mark 2.” Simple. Elegant. But it drove me
Why? The deck turned into a game of chapter roulette. I never knew how many chapters I would have to say on a given day.
Some days were reasonable: 2 or 3 chapters. You can spread those
through a day. No problem. Other days, the mischievous sprites of spaced repetition would converge, and I’d be
looking down the barrel of 5 chapters, 6 chapters … 9 chapters …
And of course, if I choked and didn’t make it all the way through that day, they’d be waiting for me tomorrow. Blocking up the line,
making the next chapters age and fade as I procrastinated.
And none of this helped me slow down and appreciate reviews for their own sake.
So, I quit.
But of course, I couldn’t leave those chapters alone forever. I knew
from past experience that no matter how well I’d learned them before,
they would eventually fade if I didn’t renew them.
Solving the Problems of Chapter Review
What were the real problems with using Anki? I needed to limit my
reviews to a reasonable amount each day. But the premise of
spaced repetition requires that you follow the schedule. How could
I do both?
By spacing new cards properly. Every single new card adds lots of repetitions. I can’t control these repetitions once I start
learning the card (at least not much), but I can control when I put
new cards into the system.
If I started all over again, with no scheduled repetitions, I could
carefully add one new chapter each day. If adding a new chapter today
would mean that one of its future repetitions would fall on a busy
day, then I’d wait to add this chapter until tomorrow.
It might sound extreme to start all over again. But I wasn’t starting
from scratch. I mostly remembered it. I was going to review entire
Besides, I wasn’t in a rush to learn any more new material, so it
didn’t really matter (much) how long it took me to get through
everything. It had already been too long. I’d be polishing the rough
edges off my memories anyhow. All that mattered was that I would only
have to review 3 or 4 chapters a day.
But how could I plan this? How could I see ahead?
Reboot With a Chapter Chart
Anki does have a feature that shows you future reviews. (Open a deck,
Tools -> Graphs...) But I needed to see hypothetical future
reviews, that could recalculate depending on when I planned to add a
new card. Anki needs a “forecasting” feature. Maybe I’ll write a
But a paper chart was a lot easier. Lately I’ve become a huge fan of
paper charts, like this chart for tracking a “chain” of daily efforts. So,
I got a piece of graph paper, and made a chart like this:
(NOTE: If you hate charts, there’s a simple alternative. Add a
new chapter every fourth day. Don’t add them any more often. This
won’t be quite as refined as the chart, but it’s a lot better than
piling up too many reviews.)
Each row in the chart is one day.
The first column is the day of the month.
Each column after that is an interval of spaced repetition. The
“names” of the columns (the alphabetical letters) don’t relate to how
long the interval is. They’re simply a short label that helps me stay
in the correct column (especially when I continue the chart onto
multiple pieces of graph paper).
The numbers in these columns are chapters of Mark. In the first row,
on June 26, I started with Mark 1.
Four Days of Initial Reviews
The next day, June 27, Mark 1 had moved to column B. The first four
columns are the first four days. I repeat each chapter at least once,
preferably two or three times, over the first four days.
This isn’t how Anki works. Anki doesn’t make you repeat new material
over the first few days. But I read this idea a long time ago, and it
works. At least for texts, I need this initial period of lots of
So, going down the rows, you can see how every day, for the first few
days, Mark 1 gets repeated in the next column. The next repetition
is always in the next column.
Then Longer Intervals
On the fifth day, June 30, I could stop saying Mark 1. Now I could
begin the usual spaced repetition intervals: 4 days, 7 days, 12 days,
and so on. Each column, moving right, is for one of those intervals. E
is for four days, F is for 7 days, etc.
So, the next day to say Mark 1 was four days from June 29, which was
July 3. And on the chart, there’s Mark 1, in the row for July 3, in
the E column.
I didn’t need to say Mark 1 again for another 7 days: July 10. On July
10, Mark 1 is in the F column.
Hopefully all that explaining actually helps. Basically, the next
repetition is always in the next column. And each row is a day. So, if
the next column is E, the four-day interval, you move down four days,
and write the chapter in the E column.
The Rows Show You Each Day’s Reviews
The goal is to limit our daily reviews to three, or four at the
Each chapter always gets reviewed in the same pattern: every day for
the first four days, then wait four days, then wait seven days, etc.
(See the full schedule).
So, adding a new chapter is easy. Look at the “cascade” pattern in the
chart. You can fill a new chapter in quickly: every day for four days,
skip down four rows, skip down seven rows …
But, here’s the brilliant part. You can see how many chapters are
already slotted in each day’s row. If the row already has three
chapters, don’t start a new chapter that day. Skip it.
Look at June 29th. Column A, where a new chapter goes, is blank. I
already had three chapters scheduled for review that day: 3, 2, and 1.
So I skipped June 29th, and started chapter 4 on June 30th.
Look down the rows. You can see how every time a day has three older
reviews, I don’t put a new chapter into column A. I skipped days 2, 3,
7, and 8.
That skipping makes all the difference. By knowing when to skip adding
a new chapter, I keep my daily reviews to three or four chapters a
day. It’s a whole different experience.
Mark Is Fresh Again
Using this chart has completely freshened my memories of Mark. I can
say the chapters with ease. Now I’ve moved on to the first two
chapters of Luke (the birth and childhood of Christ).
You might be thinking: what about conflicts with later reviews?
Couldn’t you do this in Anki? Excellent topics for my next post.