Sunday, July 31, 2011

How many flashcards does it take to change a lightbulb?

Some people do it daily (some people wish they did it daily!), and others only do it infrequently, or even never.

For me, spending time on flashcards has become an (almost) daily routine. I have recently already written that you should just do it, about how effective it has been for me, and to tell you how to test whether you should be using flashcards - so take a look if you haven't seen those articles.

In this next in the series, I wanted to go personal (yes, even more personal than writing about my love affair - In fact, I'm going to let you look into my actual set of flashcards, through sample sentences, numbers & dates.

Deck Statistics
Anki has a feature which gives you a whole bunch of facts about your specific deck. Here are some of mine, covering the deck itself, as well as how I've used it.

total numbers
  • deck created 2.1 years ago
  • total number of 'facts' is 1530 (a fact contains english, pinyin, simplified hanzi and (sometimes) traditional hanzi too)
  • total number of cards is 3680 (in the early days, a fact only generated two cards: english-to-pinyin & pinyin-to-english; but after a while I extended it to three: english-to-pinyin/simplified/traditional, simplified-to-english/pinyin/traditional, pinyin-to-english/simplified/traditional)
  • according to Anki, 76% of my cards are 'mature' (I've basically seen these often enough that they're 'known', 6% are 'young' (I'm currently actively working through them), and 18% are unseen.
  • In the last week I did 500 cards, averaging about 70 a day. According to Anki, I missed one day in the last week.
  • My average over the last 3 months is 45 cards a day, and over the last year is 52 cards a day. 
  • Since the deck was created, I have averaged 53 cards a day, and used Anki just under 5 days a week.
  • Since the beginning, I have added less than 5 cards a day, but this has only been around 2 a day in the last year. (Remember that by entering a single 'fact' Anki automatically generates a number of 'cards' - so I would say this averages about 2 new physical entries a day, that's all.)
sample entries

From humble beginnings ...
  • The first six entries in my deck are:  (know / zhīdào / 知道), (formal / zhèngshì / 正式), (about / guānyú / 关于), (accept,approve / tóngyì / 同意), (after / zhīhòu / 之后), (agree / shuōhǎo / 说好).
To a long way down the line ...
  • The six latest entries are:
  1. profit commission adjustment request / 盈佣调整询问函
  2. There were a lot of groupies at the Michael Jackson concert in Japan / 迈克尔·杰克逊在日本的演唱会招来了许多追星族
  3. to accumulate over a long period of time / 日积月累
  4. Unless you say it so that your word becomes another, then it's no problem / 除非你说的词变成另外一个词,否则没问题
  5. tomorrow;daybreak / 明天;天明
  6. You have to tighten up the handle, it has become loose / 柄松动了,你得把螺丝拧紧

I think you'll agree that I've improved my skill level over the last two years!  And don't let this mislead you ... I don't know all the latest ones. For example, I recently needed to know the word 'loose' while talking to someone and realised I didn't know how to say that. So I looked it up in the dictionary, found a good sentence, and entered it into my deck. A few weeks will pass before this sentence comes up to the top of the pack, and then I will 'learn' it through spaced-repetition.

So that's me

If you'd like to share some of your desk statistics, I'd love to see them - whether you're a beginner or really advanced.

Most interestingly, I would love it if you could leave a comment below to say what your first few words were, what your most recent entries are, and what the time period is in between.

And if you've just started a deck of your own, perhaps since reading this series on flashcards, let us know what your first few entries have been.


  1. I've been using Supermemo every day for more than five years. I've never missed a day, even if that meant I had to do it at 11:50pm on a bus in Canada when I was traveling.
    I have more than 50,000 flashcards. These consist of Japanese, English, Chinese and a great deal of non-language material (Science, history, etc.).
    I do about 250-300 every day, along with 30-60 incremental reading topics (Incremental Reading is a feature of Supermemo, I absolutely love it. I'm using it to read your blog, in fact).

  2. 50,000 cards? Every day for 5 years? 250+ a day? Wow - you blow my mind. That's fantastic! I'm suddenly feeling a little inadequate :(

    Would you mind posting a few recent cards (sentences? words?) that you've reviewed or added, from your Chinese collection? Just curious ...

  3. Just downloaded anki for my computer. I often read this business magazine but I don't understand a lot of the vocabulary, so after I look it up, I will enter it into the anki cards. Is there any way to sync anki on the computer with your iPhone/iPad?

    Thanks for the helpful post.

  4. Hey Tom

    Thanks for stopping by. Actually, although I haven't bothered syncing Anki with my iPad, it can be done. The desktop version is free, but the iOS version is not - still worth it though! Then you create an online account, and all the computers you use can then access the deck on that account, and update it when done.

    Let us know how it goes ...

  5. Sorry it took so long to respond, I had a bookmark in Supermemo, and I finally got around to seeing it again (Respond to any comments from this blog post).

    A great deal of information is processed through "incremental reading," which is a reading management technique used in the new versions of Supermemo. Information starts off as an article and eventually becomes bite-sized chunks that become flashcards down the line. This process can take a long time depending on how important the information is. Important information and language stuff usually become flashcards right away, while topics of interest go at whatever pace I feel.

    For example, I plan on going to Greece next year, so I'm learning a bit about it. One extracted piece of information is "As of 2011, the population of Greece is nearly 11 million". Eventually this would become "As of 2011, the population of Greece is nearly [...] million" as the question and "11" as the answer.

    As far as language goes, most of them consist of a Japanese/Chinese sentence with the target word in English.
    Q: blahblahblahblah CLOCK
    A: tokei (Cannot type Japanese on this computer)

  6. Thanks for clarifying. Am still amazed by your numbers, nice!

  7. By the way, this article was referenced in another about flashcards - which is well worth reading. The comments there are also insightful.

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