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 rather than use something you don’t even know the purpose of.
Just to be clear, Anki’s default settings do work.
However, in my experience, I found the default learning steps (more on this later) gives a really poor review experience for both newer and older cards.
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)
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.
They’re made-for-you settings that I found the most optimal in my learning process. Again, I will also share with you the underlying concepts (and provided supplementary materials) so you can tweak them on your own.
That being said, I do have to note two things:
- My recommended settings are more geared for conceptual learning than for memorizing vocabulary or isolated facts
- Changing your settings this way won’t really make or break your overall retention for conceptual learning. It just enhances the review experience.
Which means if you’re constantly forgetting the majority of what you’ve studied even though you’ve already made Anki cards for them, mere settings NOT going to treat that problem.
Luckily, I have a solution for that — you’ll learn it at the end of this post.
The Made-For-You Settings
For the New Cards tab, I recommend these settings:
“10 1440 4320” means pressing Again shows the card in 10 minutes and pressing Good would show the card after 1 day, then after that — 3 days.
Put generally, the first number is 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.
Now, I don’t recommend you pressing “Easy” right away because that tends to skip the “learning steps.”
You don’t want that.
Just because a card is easy to remember now doesn’t mean it’s going to be remembered in the future — yet, we have a bias to believe otherwise. (cf. Stability Bias)
So, just to be on the safe side, going through all of your learning steps is the best thing you can do for your new cards.
Thus, I recommend you use only the “Good” button for NEW cards. (Obviously, this doesn’t apply to graduated cards — more on that in a sec.)
So how do you know if the card has surpassed the “learning steps,” anyway?
You’ll know it when the “Hard” option appears. When you see that option, it means that specific card has graduated. (Think of the steps as a “grade” in grade school — you have to go through all of them, right?)
When a card has graduated, the ease of retrieval (i.e. what buttons you press after answering that card) will then determine how often that card will show up in the future.
Also, the settings that will apply to a graduated card can be found in the Reviews tab, which I recommend you set like this:
Regarding your reviews with graduated cards, you should press whatever option in the “Easy” “Good” “Hard” suits your judgement.
That’s because from that point on, you want the Anki algorithm to do its magic for you.
- The New Cards tab settings apply to, well, new cards that haven’t yet graduated
- Press “Good” only for the newer cards to go through all your learning steps and avoid Stability Bias
- A specific card has “graduated” when you see the “Hard” option in your reviews
- The Reviews tab setting applies to graduated cards only
- Press whatever review difficulty option (i.e. Easy, Good, or Hard) for graduated cards
Now, for the Lapses tab:
Also, this Lapses tab only applies to graduated cards.
The “Steps (in minutes)” works similar to the one in the New Cards tab, except it’s for cards you’ve pressed “Again” on.
In case you’re wondering about the lapses tab, the magic of these settings comes when you experience a “tip of the tongue” attempt.
You see, the “New interval” setting defaults to 0% — but seriously, think about it:
If you forgot something you’ve been recalling for 3 years, do you really have to test yourself as if it’s a new 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%.
Settings Aren’t an Exact Science
If you’ve noticed already, these intervals are simple to tweak. That’s because they aren’t exact science.
If your goal is to just use Anki more effectively and more efficiently in a practical way…
Then do you really have time to overthink about the exact data instead of actually spending that time creating new cards that will improve your knowledge base?
Even if a study or a tool knew what the “most effective & efficient Anki setting” is…
It HIGHLY likely that it fails to take into account:
- The context of what you’re learning
- How specific your card is
- How future-proof it is
- How they relate to your previous knowledge
- …and so on.
Simply because these can’t be quantified.
In short, even if there’s available exact science out there, it likely fails to account the big picture.
So I argue it’s better to keep this simple.
One caveat, though, is when you’re not using Anki as a tool for learning concepts, but rather just to memorize facts.
I can’t speak for that — perhaps the most efficient intervals do exist for it.
(But hey, I doubt you’re even gonna make it this far if you’re not gonna use Anki for learning!)
Anki designers were actually criticized for not having “optimal intervals”, but in defense of Anki, 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?
We get that exact science is good for increasing the chance success, but every action doesn’t have to wait for exact data, especially if you want to make progress immediately.
Instead of waiting for memory scientists to somehow find the data for us, we follow the first principle of spaced repetition and learn the nuances for ourselves.
That is, to set increasing intervals for reviews.
Simple, and practical.
One might ask, “What if I’m overtesting/undertesting?”
You’d often hear this from other “advanced beginners”, but frankly, it’s impractical to stress yourself over them.
In case you’re asking the same question, here’s the solution:
Adjust the settings accordingly.
Of course, it’s easy to say that the overall review time can be sped up when you use setting X or Y…
But frankly, there are more important things to address in the grand scheme of things.
Next Step: How to Use Anki Efficiently
Like I said, settings alone won’t make or break your ability to retain most of the concepts you’re learning.
Sure, it might help a bit — but the gains would be marginal at best.
It’s more of an optimization thing rather than a viability factor.
And, as I’ve said in the beginning of this Anki Fundamentals series…
Anki — or more appropriately, spaced repetition — is just one-third of the things you need for learning effectively.
Listen, if you’re constantly tweaking your settings and you’re not seeing any substantial improvements, then the problem is probably not with Anki.
If you’re interested to know more, then the next course — How to Use Anki Efficiently — is for you.
It’s totally free, no signups required to start.