Anki Reviews or Learning New Info — Which Should You Prioritize?


Short answer:

  • You should prioritize reviews, then structure your day around it — it doesn’t have to take your active time
  • Using the mobile client whenever possible is an awesome way to implement this

And here’s the long answer that doesn’t omit the important elaborations…

Why you learning new things needs to take a step back for due reviews

Back during my review for my Board Exams, I felt like learning something new is always better.

Because of the time pressure, I felt like I had to finish reading everything as much as possible because it’s supposedly “better” and gives you “time to reread them.”

But then I thought, “why not just do it right the first time, anyway?”

I thought it was stupid advice, but then it was exactly what I did.

It turned out to be the wrong decision.

I was right about prioritizing retention over the finished materials, after all.

Seriously, if you can’t even remember what you read, then what’s all your learning for? Accumulating finished textbooks? That’s messed up!

I mean, just ask yourself — what’s the point of spaced repetition?

The point of spaced repetition is to make learning permanent.

If your memories were prisoners in your brain’s cells (pun intended), then Anki is the warden of it.

But why do we have to make it permanent? The answer is, so that new knowledge can build upon them.

…it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

Elon Musk in his Reddit AMA

If you don’t have the prerequisite knowledge in the first place, then you don’t have any solid base to build new learning off of.

And if you don’t have anything for them to hang onto, then all you’re doing is making future learning more difficult than necessary, leading to a lot more re-learning, “huh, I didn’t get it” moments, and racing with horses as you create your flashcards and finish ALL of your materials.

The point:

Anki reviews, then, take priority over new learning. Thus, you have to structure your days around it because it’s your lead domino.

It does NOT matter how much information you have consumed and understood if you can’t use them for later.

Even better: Using Anki consistently makes the traditional “review weeks” and “re-learning” irrelevant. It becomes distributed all throughout the semester instead of only when nearing exams.

I tell you this to emphasize the value of both understanding and memorization.

This is exactly why I’m telling you to finish all due reviews every day in the How to use Anki lesson.

Forgetting doesn’t stop just because you skipped your reviews.

If anything, skipping reviews could only worsen forgetting by creating a cycle of dread because of cards being “too hard.” That is, unless you’re using your knowledge by connecting them to new ones or as is. (by retrieving/using them outside of Anki)

But I understand that due reviews can indeed be overwhelming.

So how do you implement this nicely if you’re overwhelmed with the amount of reviews each day?

You know, sometimes there are just too many damn cards, yet when you skip reviews because “they are just too many”, you’re gonna get even more cards as a reward! (Thanks a lot, Mr. Anki — you never give us a day off.)

This is how syncing to your mobile client is pretty powerful — it helps you turn all your downtimes into review time.

If your commute time is around 1.5 hours, well heck yeah, because you could finish 400-500 due reviews in that time. That’s more than enough for most people. (And you don’t even have to review them all at once.)

Plus, answering “10 cards whenever I get bored” is far easier to handle than “Answer ALL due cards”.

Five minutes of dead time × 5 times a day already removes 25 minutes from your daily reviews already.

I don’t really track review time that much, but since you can answer 300 cards in an hour, extrapolating it means you could easily do 120+ cards using this tactic of 5×5 minutes.

The best part: you won’t even feel like you’re studying.

In general: Prioritize your highest leverage tasks!

Double down on tasks that multiply your efforts!

That way, you can work hard and reap disproportionate rewards over time.