I Hate Anki

Anki Universal is a completely free flashcard app (no forced ads, paid models, etc.) that will help you memorize whatever you want with minimal efforts. You can add text, image, audio, and video to your cards and sync between your Windows 10 devices through OneDrive.

Seriously, am I using it wrong? I downloaded the Genki deck and I have tried to use it a handful of times, but I just don’t find ANKI as easy to use as WK is. I guess it’s the automatic thing WK has going for it. Also, I have always hated rating things in gradients. I’m pretty all or nothin’. So, I find it hard to decide how well I know something, I guess.

  1. How Did I Come to Hate Reviews? But flashcards depend on daily reviews. And after a few years, I just couldn’t stand the reviews anymore. I started skipping days. Today, if I fire up Anki, I have over 2000 cards due. What went wrong? At first, I blamed myself. I lacked stamina. But the solution isn’t.
  2. I’ll make a confession here, as a die-hard Anki aficionado: I haven’t read the manual. That is, at least, from cover to cover. For one thing, the Anki user guide is pretty thick (in digital terms). For another, I hate long instruction manuals. Instead, I learnt to use Anki by playing.Just dive in, have a go.

So, maybe you could tell me why you like ANKI and how do you use it? How do you fit it into your life? How much do you study at a time, etc.

Thank you so much

You can use flashcards and spaced repetition to memorize almostanything – so why did I come to hate my reviews? Explore the darkside of this amazing memory system.

[UPDATE: You all left so many amazing comments on this article with awesome solutions! So I’ve compiled my favorite solutions into a whole separate article, “How Flashcards Succeed.” I’ll link to it at the end – don’t miss it!]

In my last post, I shared howspaced repetition flashcards made my memory feel like a superpower.I learned to remember thousands of things that would otherwise havemisted away.

How Did I Come to Hate Reviews?

But flashcards depend on daily reviews. And after a few years, I justcouldn’t stand the reviews anymore. I started skipping days. Weeks.Months. Today, if I fire up Anki, I have over 2000 cards due.

What went wrong?

At first, I blamed myself. I lacked stamina. Determination. Something.

But the solution isn’t that simple. On reflection, I’ve realized thatflashcards and spaced repetition have some inherent dangers anddifficulties. We can work around them, but only if we step back andthink about them.

Review Clusters and Adding New Cards

The first problem: spaced repetition is uneven. That’s the natureof the math. Some days will have only a few reviews. Others will havea ton of cards. Those huge days can be demoralizing. You fireup Anki, and you have hundreds of reviews.

There are several ways to deal with this.

At a minimum, if you have a ton of cards due, don’t add any new cardsthat day.

You can also break up your reviews into several short sessions. But Irarely did that. I wanted to get reviews done (more on that later).

Also, Anki has a feature where you can see which days coming up willbe big days. If you know tomorrow’s going to be a big day, you couldreview some of those cards today, ahead of time.

But there’s a deeper problem: depending on how you add new cardstoday, you could be creating mammoth review days down the road. Thatmath is just too complex for a normal person to do on the fly. I wantto know: if I add 20 cards today, are they going to land on some daynext week that’s already huge?

This seems like a problem the program could address. It can’t predictexactly how much you’ll need to review. But perhaps it could estimate,and warn you if new cards today will land on a day next week that’salready overbooked.

Boredom Bias

A much more difficult problem is the boredom bias. The more boringa card is for you, (unless it’s boring because it’s easy), the morelikely you are to get it wrong.

But the whole point of spaced repetition is to focus your time on thecards you get wrong!


Pretty soon, you’re spending most of your review time precisely on themost boring and/or difficult cards.

Damien Elmes, the lead Anki developer, is aware of this problem. His“leech” feature will remove a card after you miss it a whole bunch oftimes. But when you have thousands of cards, it can take a long timeto purge each leech.

I Hate Anki

Card Laziness

Of course, you can set leeches to disappear faster. But is that theanswer? You don’t want to disappear a leech. You want to figure outhow to learn it. Isn’t that why it’s in your deck?

Either it’s important, and you need to fix it, or it’s not important,and it’s been a waste of time from the start.

But fixing leeches is a pain. It’s especially a pain if you’rereviewing with AnkiDroid, or another mobile app.

Yes, Anki on your phone is tantalizing. You can slip life-changingmemory building into the dribs and drabs of time that are otherwise“wasted”.

But when you trip up on a leech, the last thing you want to do iswrestle with your tiny onscreen keyboard.

Even if you have a usable mobile keyboard, fixing a leech feels likebreaking the flow. I’m trying to review here. Get this done. Idon’t want to slow down and … um … think?


Flashcards As Tests

At last we poke the raw nerve. What exactly am I doing when I reviewflashcards? What’s the “flow” that I don’t want to break by fixingbroken flashcards?

Am I taking a test?

I’ve spent about half my life (at this point) in school. School isabout tests.

When I started doing flashcards, I was excited about how differentthey are from tests. Tests are a single snapshot of your recall at aparticular time. Unfortunately, most students, includingvaledictorians, forget almost everything they ever get tested on.Traditional tests are a complete failure.

Flashcards are different, because you maintain knowledge. Spacedrepetition ensures that you keep seeing things before you forget them.

But flashcards still feel a lot like school tests. Yes, in theory, itdoesn’t matter much whether I get a card wrong, since I’ll see ittomorrow. But in practice, I hated getting cards wrong.

At first, I thought this dislike was an old school hangup. I expectedthat, in time, I would adjust to this awesome new world of gradelessreviews.

But the opposite happened. As time went on, my hatred for mistakesgrew.

Spaced Repetition Collects Your Worst Cards

And because of the “boredom bias”, I was spending more and more timereviewing my least favorite cards, getting them wrong, and knowing Iwould have to see them again.

I began to amass a mental collection of cards that I could remembermissing. The card would come up, and I’d think, “I always missthis.” And I would.

That is amazing. Think about that. Whatever I was doing, it wastraining my brain to remember that I couldn’t remember this. Somehow,I had spent enough time to make that connection, instead ofconnecting to the actual fact.

Why? Because I was mostly thinking about whether I’d get it right, notabout what I was trying to learn.

Flashcards As Video Game

Flashcard review has an intense gravitational pull towards focusing onthe actual flashcards:

  • How many cards you’ve gotten wrong.
  • How many cards are left.
  • How long it’ll take to finish them, so you can get back to your reallife.

As a friend put it, flashcards feel like a video game. Wow! Theyreally do. And I like video games, but they’re fundamentally gearedtowards success. Points. Levels. Defeating obstacles.

Should memorizing be a video game?

No. Flashcards are a huge step forward from tests, but if you’refocusing on success, you’re still fundamentally focused on grades.And that leads to absurdities like, in my case, actually memorizingthat you always miss a question.

It also leads to the flashcard flow. I wanted to get through thesecards as fast as possible! The last thing I wanted to do is hit thebrakes and reformulate some broken card. That felt like losing.

Atomizing and Randomizing Knowledge

Flashcards seemed to disconnect me from the actual knowledge.Instead of immersing myself in the knowledge, I found myselfcontrolling a flashcard slot machine.

The knowledge was atomized and randomized. I’d get a Spanish word,then some obscure fact from Edible Forest Gardens, then a letter inMorse Code.

This randomization is essential to spaced repetition. I needed to seethat Spanish word, on that day.

For vocabulary, this might have been fine. Words are tiny bits ofinformation that need to be random. We want to be able to reach forany word at any time.

It’s interesting that both SuperMemo and Anki were developed byprogrammers who were trying to learn a language. Despite all myproblems with flashcards, I still think they could be an essentialtool for mastering large quantities of vocabulary.

But what about the facts from books? Does it really help that aparticular fact is only associated with the question on oneflashcard? Is that really how our minds work?

I Hate Anki

Flashcards Kill Clustering

No. Our minds use chunks and clusters. You want more connectionsto each fact, not less.

Flashcards work directly against this mental need. Flashcardsatomize each fact completely out of any context, except its context asa random flashcard.

I Hate Ankle Pants

Think about your friends, or even acquaintances. You think of a name,and instantly you get a face, hair color, voice, an outfit, the roomswhere you see this person – and that’s all in less than a second. Ifyou focus, you can pull tens, hundreds, probably thousands of discretefacts that cluster around this single person.

Spaced repetition and flashcards kill clustering. Instead ofassociating multiple facts from the same book with one another, yousplit them all up. Divide and forget.

For me, almost all this knowledge began to have no other meaningthan as a flashcard. The only time I thought about it was when I wastesting myself.


In short, this tool for remembering more of reality had morphed intoan oppressive, self-contained computer game. The only way to win wasto finish as fast as possible.

How can I fix this?

By questioning my underlying assumptions about the whole method.

I Hate Anki Roblox

Next time: Reviewing as Thinking

I Hate Tanki

[UPDATE: As promised, here’s the followup article with an epic list of Anki solutions:How Flashcards Succeed.]