Sunday, June 21, 2009

Use SuperMemo


I'm about to suggest you spend about a half an hour every day (until
retirement) doing flash cards on a computer. I know it sounds nuts,
so let me explain.

You read stuff, you find it important, you forget it. It happens all
the time. We all know that repetition (repeated exposure to a
stimulus) helps you remember. It turns out that as you are able to
successfully recall facts, you need to review those facts less and
less often. This is spaced repetition, with the spaces expanding.
The trouble with normal flash cards is that you waste a ton of time
reviewing cards you already know by heart.

Now there are computer programs that decide which cards you'll look
at every day. The good ones are based on ``forgetting curves.''
These curves are from cognitive psychology. They determine the
probability of forgetting a reviewed fact over time. What these
programs do is show you cards to review at the right time-- just
before you would probably forget it.

The program I use most is the online SuperMemo.
You create cards, in a question-and-answer format. Every day you log on, and do the flash
cards for that day, which SuperMemo picks for you. So, for example,
a card might ask ``What is the Simon effect?'' You try to think of
the answer, then click ``answer.'' The program shows you the answer.
Then you indicate whether or not you recalled the answer correctly.
If not, you get the question again tomorrow. If you got it right, it
will create an even longer period of time before asking you that
question again. So if you get it right once, it will ask you in two
days. If you get it right again, you'll get the question again in
four days, then eight, etc. Some questions I only get asked a few
times a year, because the program knows that I know the fact very
well.

I like the online version because I can update it from home or from
work, or even from a conference. There are also SuperMemo versions
for the PC, PalmOS, Macintosh, etc. In addition there about 250
flash card programs out there. I suggest you pick one and use it
every day.

How does this relate to processing what you read? Well, as you go
over what you've read, if you find a fact you want to remember, you
should create a card in the program for that fact. As long as you're
doing the program every day, you'll probably never forget it.

This is particularly useful for when you're taking classes. Make a
``course'' for the class, and put all of the facts you need to
memorize for the class in the course. When you're done with the
class and are no longer in competition with other students, release
it to the public, let the instructor know about it, and help future
students with it. This is especially helpful for domains with lots
to memorize, such as life sciences, medicine, and law. But all
fields require that you memorize some things.

I do it every day, and the more I do it the more uses I think of for it.
I'll make another blog entry for those uses.

I am so excited about this that I talk about it constantly. I use the online version and the version for my Palm (which, surprisingly, has many more ready-to-use courses than the online version). I bought the PC version but I find it buggy and difficult to use properly.

Here is a very readable article about SuperMemo and the eccentric guy who writes it:


1 comment:

Marcin Rybacki said...

Take a look at this blog, About supermemo, maybe you'll find something interesting http://thesupermemoblog.wordpress.com/