I failed with Anki (again)…my new approach to Anki reviews

As the title suggests, my relationship with Anki has its ups and downs. I haven’t been using Anki for Japanese vocabulary reviews on a regular basis for a couple of months, which I have been feeling guilty about recently.

The main reason for my guilt is that when I am consistent with Anki, I retain so much more information. Unfortunately, the problem I have is that I always end up falling off the bandwagon.

A few months ago, I was doing a pretty good job of keeping up with Anki reviews. I felt that I was retaining more vocabulary, especially in conjunction with daily tadoku reading. At first, I could get my reviews done in 20 minutes or less, which felt achievable even on a busy day.

But then I realised that I was spending more and more time reviewing cards – my review sessions were now at least 40 minutes. I began to dread opening up Anki and seeing how many minutes it would be until I finished my reviews, especially if I had missed a day. I stopped reading in Japanese as much because I felt that I needed to prioritise flashcards instead.

It seemed as if my Japanese study was being entirely dictated by Anki reviews and not any of the more exciting stuff. So at that time, sticking with Anki didn’t feel like the sensible choice and I stopped using it.

For the record, I do like Anki (and similar spaced repetition programs) a lot, but I find that after a couple of months I get burned out and have to take a break. This is probably the third or fourth time I have been in this situation, so I thought I would take a step back and think about how to be more consistent.

On reflection, here’s where I think I was going wrong:

I was learning stuff that was not important to me

I was using shared decks, which can be great, but it meant that there were words I was learning that I didn’t have any real interest in learning. I usually add interesting words I come across directly from Akebi (a wonderful free dictionary app) into Anki, which I find easier to learn because I discovered them in a context that interests me.

Eventually, I want to transition to making all of my flashcards myself but thinking more carefully about what vocabulary I want to learn is a good first step.

I was trying to do all reviews in one long session, rather than breaking it down into smaller chunks

Using the Pomodoro technique could work, but as I find it difficult to focus solely on flashcard reviews for 25 minutes at a time, I will change the time spent a little bit. I think I should be looking at focusing for 10 minutes at a time, perhaps at different times of day (eg. 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during my lunch break, 10 minutes in the evening).

I wasn’t balancing flashcard reviews with the fun stuff

Flashcards are not a replacement for reading, listening and speaking the language. For every 10 minutes I spend in Anki, I want to be spending another 10 minutes practicing Japanese in another way that I enjoy (such as reading, or watching TV shows).

The limit on the number of new cards was too high

If you miss a day, the number of cards that I had to review the next day was very disheartening. Going forward I will experiment with how many cards I can comfortably review in about 20 minutes, and set a limit accordingly.

I wasn’t being honest with myself about whether I had actually learned the card or not

It is very easy to conflate recognition of a kanji with knowing how to write it, which doesn’t help me in the long term. So following on from my previous point, I want to limit the number of cards I review, and then I can spend more time reviewing each card in more depth.

There are a lot of ways to customise Anki, and I think that making better use of these will help me stay engaged with my vocabulary reviews.

It’s going to be a bit tough getting back into the rhythm of daily Anki reviews again, but I hope my new approach means I can keep an Anki habit for longer!

0 thoughts on “I failed with Anki (again)…my new approach to Anki reviews

    • kotobites says:

      I think I’ve only ever changed them once or twice – silly I know. I always thought I could keep on top of the reviews and that failing was a sign I wasn’t being disciplined enough.

  1. Rachel says:

    This is really helpful! I have been studying Farsi with Anki for the first time seriously, and as I get into it more I’m noticing the sessions lengthening as you described. I’m going to try tweaking some settings but also some of tour other ideas to evaluate how I’m using Anki.

  2. RisefromAshes says:

    Ugh, I feel the same way about Wanikani. You miss one day level, and suddenly you have 200 things to review. >..< I haven't tried Anki yet, but it's good to know there's some pitfalls to the system and where to change things.

  3. Melissa says:

    I’ve been having the same trouble keeping up with my kanji cards, especially now that I’m not in Japan anymore, either. This was really helpful advice. I’m going to try it, too. 頑張りましょう!

  4. 7-seasons says:

    I am wrestling with this as well. Anki reviews and new cards take ~40 minutes a day leaving me to feel satisfied enough to avoid other lessons and studying… And Anki cards are endless.

    • kotobites says:

      It is so hard to find that right balance sometimes… I’m going to keep tweaking the settings until I can do my reviews in a reasonable window of time.

      I’m definitely going to post an update on this as you and I are far from alone in this!

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