Things to avoid with Anki

— 1272 words —

There are some common mistakes people make when getting into flash cards and spaced repetition for the first time. Considering that Anki is generally used for years, correcting bad habits ends up paying large dividends.

For those unaware, Anki is a free app that implements active recall with spaced repetition. If you’re new to Anki, the very first thing I recommend doing is reading the manual, or at least the basics.

So with that said, let’s get into it!

Not doing Anki daily

If you take away only one tip from this post, let it be this one. Nothing else here matters if you don’t consistently review cards daily.

The entire point of Anki is spaced repetition. Every time you skip a day’s reviews, the following session will become more difficult. For non-mature words (less than 30 day intervals) it’s crucial that you review. If you don’t review for a long time, you will soon have hundreds of reviews stacked up, which is super demotivating.

I used to do Anki before bed, but this sometimes led to me skipping it due to work, friends, or life just taking up more time and energy than expected. Now I consistently do anki either in the morning after I’ve fully woken up, or around lunch.

If you change your study time, make sure to update your Anki Preferences, under Basic > Next day starts at. This tip goes hand in hand with the next one.

Mixing reviews and new words

This is Anki’s default behavior. I personally recommend against this as sometimes you don’t have the time or energy in a day to sit down and learn the new cards. It’s okay if you don’t learn new words, but missing reviews is really bad.

But you can’t only do the reviews, since they’re mixed in with the new cards! So guess what ends up happening? Both the reviews and new cards get skipped…

By changing Anki preferences to Show new cards after reviews, you can always do reviews without worry. After you wake up, while you commute, et cetera.

Studying too many new words

Do not go over 20 words/day unless you are studying at least 1-2 hours every day. Initially it may be doable but reviews will pile up so fast it’s scary.

If you do 20 words a day, every day, for a year, you will learn 6,720 words. That is pretty darn good! For most, if not all, languages, 3-5k words will let you have basic conversations.

Having the foreign word on the front side

If you’re using Anki to learn a foreign language, you want to speak that language with someone, right? Think about how a conversation goes as a beginner. First, you think of the word in your native language, then you think of the equivalent foreign word.

If you put a foreign word on the front of your anki cards, then you’re doing it totally backward! That just trains you to recognize a foreign word when you see it; it doesn’t train you to remember a foreign word from your native word.

You can also make automatically make cards that go both ways if you use the Basic (and reversed card) template. So adding a card with [dog, 강아지] will make another card that’s [강아지, dog]. If you only want -some- cards to have a reverse, you can use the provided Basic (optional reversed card) template. This one only makes a reverse if you put something in the Add Reverse field (it can be any input, it doesn’t show anywhere).

See the manual for more information on reverse cards.

Only using premade decks

If you’re a beginner to studying a language, using a premade deck is fine due to the sheer amount of time it takes to add words to a deck. However the longer you study, the more you need your own personal deck.

If you use someone else’s deck, it’s basically a random collection of words that you lack the context for. For your own personal deck you have to see the word somewhere first, giving you more of a feeling for the context.

If you’re trying to mass-memorize words (say, for a language test), I recommend using Anki’s parent/subdecks feature. That way you can use a premade deck and your personal deck at the same time. Spiffy.

I explain subdecks a bit more in my Better Anki Usage post.

Not including sample sentences

A lot of language learning decks just have the word and its translation. For very basic words this can be fine, but for most words you really do need sample sentences so you can see the context as well.

I include 3 sample sentences in all the cards I make, as well as notes, common word pairings, and the grammar type.

Having too many concepts per card

A good anki card should have one concept. Avoid memorizing lists if you really have to. If you do have to memorize a list, turn it into an enumeration (1. 2. 3…). If you have multiple concepts, make multiple cards.\{\{cite(n=0)}}

When memorizing foreign words it’s really tempting to put every definition into one card. Don’t do this. Putting related definitions together is fine, but if a word has multiple different meanings, it needs different cards.

I see this a lot in premade decks, with 1 card having 4 or 5 totally unrelated usages of a word–and no sentence samples either, of course.

Pressing `easy' too easily

It’s can be tempting to give a review card the `Easy' grade, quickly giving it large intervals. Don’t do this unless you know the word quite well (in which case, why even have the card at all?). Otherwise the interval will increase rapidly, and you’ll have forgotten it by then.

Actually, due to how Anki works, pressing Easy (or Hard) permanently modifies that card, giving it way longer intervals than what it should be. I go over this in detail in my Better Anki Usage post. Almost all long-term Anki users that I talk to do not press Easy often, or ever.

Not syncing all the time

You should always sync after every session, especially if you edit anything.

Did you know y is the sync shortcut?

Not memorizing keyboard shortcuts

Last but not least, learning a few shortcuts is useful since Anki is used so much.

When reviewing a card:

  • undo → ctrl/cmd-z

  • Spacebar ⇒ Flip the card

  • 1,2,3,4 ⇒ The numbers follow the order of the grading buttons. So for a review, which has Again, Hard, Good, Easy, those are 1,2,3,4 respectively. A new card has Again, Good, Easy by default, which are 1, 2, 3.

  • e ⇒ edit card

Other shortcuts:

  • r ⇒ replay audio

  • @ ⇒ suspend a card

  • m ⇒ mark a card (adds a marked tag so you can find it easily later)

  • ctrl or cmd-1,2,3,4 ⇒ flag a card with red, orange, green, or blue, respectively

  • - ⇒ bury a card (hide it until tomorrow)

Window/tool shortcuts:

  • y ⇒ sync

  • d ⇒ go to decks overview

  • b ⇒ browse cards

  • a ⇒ add card

  • t ⇒ stats

  • / ⇒ custom study session

  • f ⇒ create filter deck

Overkill, you say? Well.. yeah, probably. Aside from spacebar, 1,2,3,4, r, and y, you don’t really need to know the rest unless you like being super duper efficient.


These are some of the problems I’ve encountered while using Anki. Are there other ones you think I should talk about? Let me know.

If you’re interested in Anki, I recommend reading my Better Anki Usage post to fix some of Anki’s wonky defaults and unintuitive behavior.

other memorization posts
Better Anki Usage Guide
other anki posts
Better Anki Usage Guide