Oh how I wish I had had this software in school as it would have saved me so many late-night cramming sessions. Anki is the easiest way to memorize anything. It's so easy you won't think you're learning anything at all.
Here's what it looks like (click to embiggen):
That's one of my Morse Code flash cards. The one on left is the question and the second one is after I clicked "show answer".
Big deal, right? You've seen flash cards, what's so great about that? Two things. Active recall testing and Spaced Repetition.
Active recall testing
Anyone who's studied knows that reading the same thing over and over doesn't help much. That's why you end up getting someone to ask you questions. You don't know what you've retained until you try to answer a question.
With Anki, you replace the person with software. After you show the answer on each card, you rate how easy it was to answer by choosing Again, Hard, Good or Easy. That leads us to the best part about Anki.
Rating the difficulty of a question determines how long it will be before you see that question again. If you chose Good or Easy it might be a while before you see it again. If you chose Again or Hard, it will show up more often, maybe in the same study session.
Anki also limits your study time. That's because of research that shows that humans remember things better if studied over time rather than trying to cram it all into our heads at once. You can read more about it here or just read my perspective in the next paragraph.
You won't feel like you're learning anything (and that's awesome)
The first time I really used Anki was to learn the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (Alfa, Bravo, Charlie). I studied every day and was frustrated when the program would tell me I was done after only a few minutes. Surely I wasn't retaining anything! After about ten days I was so frustrated that I decided to see what I could remember, certain that I had memorized about 4 words. To my utter shock I made it all the way through the alphabet with no trouble. I had learned the whole thing with what felt like no effort on my part. This was a long way from my days of struggling to memorize vocabulary words for Spanish class. I can still remember it all two years later.
The same thing happened when I took up Morse Code and the Periodic Table. You will always feel like you should be working harder but you don't need to. There are ways to study more if you want but you should resist this temptation. Trust the software.
There are lots of Flash Cards already made up
You can make up your own flashcards and they can contain pictures and audio. Before you do, though, you should search through the shared decks made available by other users. Decks are collections of flashcards. All the decks I've studied were already available from other users. Here are some of the subjects you can download and study (for free):
This list really doesn't do it justice since the specifics make a difference. There are cards for learning a guitar fretboard, studying for GCSEs, Human Rights Laws, there are a lot. Here are some of the things recommended by the developer:
- Learning a language
- Studying for medical and law exams
- Memorizing people's names and faces
- Brushing up on geography
- Mastering long poems
- Even practicing guitar chords!
Anki can do tons of things
Despite its simple interface Anki is an incredibly robust program. In addition to its advanced study algorithms it does some pretty nifty things such as reversing questions to make sure you know it both ways. For example, when I'm studying Morse Code sometimes it will show me “...” and sometimes it will show me “s”.
If you do make up your own decks you can share them with your friends or be extra cool and share them with all the other Anki users.
So what's wrong with it?
Anki's user interface can be a little confusing at first. It is infinitely customizable and that means there are lots of options. You don't have to do any of the complicated things but they can get in the way when you're trying to figure out how things work. That said, there is a detailed User Manual with information about how and why it works and clear instructions for everything.
The iPhone and iPad app costs $25
While it's free for your desktop and for Android users the Mac folk have to shell out $25 if they want to use it on the go. That might sound expensive but it's the only way the developer (just one guy) makes money. You only need to buy one copy for the iPad/iPhone/iPod. If you don't want to pay you can always use it for free on your computer. However, I can tell you I have never regretted my purchase. Looking at the 4-star rating from 698 reviews it's obvious I'm not alone.
Here's where you can get it: