A question for you…
How many repetitions do you think you need to be able to remember an idea for 3 months?
A hundred? Twenty? Ten?
When you create good flashcards + use these settings I’m going to show you, the answer is approximately 5 successful repetitions.
In this lesson, you’re going to learn my recommended Anki settings and how settings work in a more practical manner.
That’s because I don’t only want you to have “ready-made” templates, but also a complete understanding of how the advice I’m giving you works.
Why? Because I want you to be able to think for yourself so you can adapt the settings to your own situation.
That’s because in my experience, there are two problems to the default settings:
- The default intervals (both for new and older cards) give a really poor review experience. Newer cards don’t get reviewed as frequently, and older cards start back to zero when you’ve lapsed even partially. (i.e. during tip-of-the-tongue moments)
- Some settings just don’t make sense at all. Going back to the first problem, sometimes Anki would have you review an old card as if it were a new card the moment you lapse on that card.
Once you use these settings I’m going to give you, you’ll be able to avoid these two problems right away so you’ll have a smooth review experience every single time.
With that said, I will also share with you the underlying concepts (and provided supplementary materials) so you can tweak them on your own.
For Daily Limits:
New cards/day = 9999. New information lacks depth, and should therefore be studied immediately. So you need to retrieve them in order to make them stronger — at least, before they fade into oblivion when more complex concepts are still far ahead.
Maximum Reviews = 9999. Retention of past knowledge makes future learning easier. But take note that this can only be true if you have encoded what you’ve learned before making flashcards. Otherwise, you only get fragmented, useless retention that cannot be used as an activated semantic context.
For the New Cards, I recommend these settings:
The Learning steps setting is set to 10m 1d 3d.
This means that pressing Again shows the card in 10 minutes and pressing Good would show the card after 1 day, then after you press “Good” on that, you’ll see it again after 3 days.
So the first number is actually the number of minutes the card will show up again if you pressed “Again”.
The next two numbers determine the intervals when you press “Good”.
And like the tab says, all of these only apply to New Cards.
Graduating interval is set to 7d.
My rationale here is to have a graduating interval that is a bit longer than 2x the last one — so we’re essentially just continuing the spaced intervals we set in the learning steps.
The advantage in setting this number is that when the Anki algorithm kicks in, future intervals will be based on this number. More on this in a bit.
“Insertion order” is set to Random.
What this does is make the questions show up in a “shuffled” way.
I found from experience that this kind of interleaved practice not only leads to stronger retention, but also helps you dissolve boundaries between subjects.
This is also why I recommend letting relevance determine deck creation.1
“How do I choose answer buttons for New Cards?”
I don’t recommend you pressing “Easy” right away because that tends to skip the “learning steps.”
Now, just because a card is easy to remember now doesn’t mean it’s going to be remembered in the future — we have a bias to believe otherwise (cf. Stability Bias) and that’s the trap we will fall into if we don’t “filter the bad cards out.”
So, just to be on the safe side, go through all of your learning steps for your new cards by pressing “Good.”
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to graduated cards — which is what a new card turns into once you’ve surpassed the learning steps.
You’ll know it when the value you put in the Graduating Interval appears in your “Good” answer button.
When you see that option, it means that that specific card will graduate after you get it correct. (Think of the steps as a “grade” in grade school — you graduate once you’re done with it)
When a card has graduated, the buttons you press after answering that card will then determine how often that card will show up in the future, rather than the learning steps.
Settings for Graduated Cards
When the card has graduated, it will use the “Lapses” and “Advanced” settings:
For the re-learning steps, 10 minutes is already fine for avoiding “mindless recall” when reviewing lapsed cards/
I don’t want my poorly-encoded cards disappearing, so I recommend not changing the Leech Action to “Suspend Card.” (This usually happens when your cards aren’t encoded or future-proof)
Then here’s the “Advanced” settings.
Set “Maximum interval” to a realistic number, like 180 or 365.
It makes no practical sense to set the maximum spaced repetition intervals to more than 365 days no matter how much you repeat it. If anything, there is a risk that the retention has faded and experienced interference before it can be repeated again if it’s scheduled for review again after 2 years.
You can ask yourself, “At least how many times should I see this in one year?” then divide 365 to that number to compute for maximum intervals.
I primarily used Anki when I reviewed for my board exams, and I noticed that sometimes there were cards that are supposed to be extremely easy but have very low intervals.
If you find that you have those cards, this means that you have forgotten them somehow after they have graduated, and that they have already used the default “New Interval”, which is 0%.
Starting Ease is largely determines how your Graduating Interval grows over time.
Using a Graduating Interval of 7d, your review schedules will look like this by default:
- 17.5d (7d x 2.50)
- 43.5d (17.5d x 2.50)
- 108.75d (43.5d x 2.50)
Translation: You just need 5 successful recalls to be able to remember a card for ~3 months.
So I’ve set the “New Interval” setting to 0.60.
This is crucial, because if you forgot something you’ve been successfully recalling for 3 years, do you really have to test yourself as if it’s a new card?
CLEARLY NOT. And it’s an inefficient use of time and energy for a well-learned card.
That’s why we concede by turning the new interval to 60%. It’s arbitrary, of course, but I wouldn’t recommend going below 50%.
So if you have a graduated card, and you’ve pressed “Again,” then the next interval will be set at 60% of the original. Meaning, if you’re supposed to see that card 100 days for a “Good” rating, then pressing “Again” will make it pop up after 60 days (0.6×100=60) instead of 100.
Don’t bother too much with the “Easy bonus” and “Hard interval”.
The settings you place in the Graduating Interval + using a 0.50~0.60 New Interval are already the vital few settings that give the MOST impact to your review times. You risk complicating the review experience further when you change them.
“How do you pick answer buttons for Graduated Cards?”
I recommend being more conservative in pressing Easy and Hard. I recommend only pressing “Easy” if:
- You have known the information in a card for a very long time
- You could recall it the instant you were asked the question
- You have been applying the information within the card to understand new knowledge
You’ll know it once you get there.
Settings aren’t “exact science”!
If you’ve noticed already, these intervals are incredibly simple to tweak.
That’s because they aren’t exact science.
Anki designers were actually criticized for not having “optimal intervals”, but to their defense, Nielsen argued:
I’ve heard this used as a criticism of the designers of systems such as Anki, that they make too many ad hoc guesses, not backed by a systematic scientific understanding.
But what are they supposed to do? Wait 50 or 100 years, until those answers are in?
Give up design, and become memory scientists for the next 30 years, so they can give properly “scientific” answers to all the questions they need answered in the design of their systems?
If your goal is to just use Anki more effectively and more efficiently in a practical way…
You only have to focus on the HIGHEST IMPACT knowhow rather than minutiae.
That’s how you “80/20” your study workflow.
Want to become truly efficient with Anki?
Read the free mini-course: Using Anki Efficiently: Root Cause Edition (Lesson 1) →
- See this article for more.