Fowl's Blog

How to approach school through SuperMemo - Mnemonic Subjects

October 14, 2020

Now, now. Let’s explore the very hard question:

“Can I use SuperMemo for school [effectively]?”

The answer is way more complex than what we would ever think.

Many people feel that Anki is actually better for school. And why is that?

Anki has been used mainly by med students, who are now utilizing pre-made decks to wade easily through the jungle of medicine. Anki has not been made for school. People have made it into that. This simple association Anki-Medicine - to better say, school - is what causes people to be wary of SuperMemo when it comes down to school stuff.

Considering the amount of non-native functions that the average med student has to employ through add-ons that are not developed organically in the same environment by the same team/person, it looks quite funny how these people usually stick their fingers out toward SuperMemo saying: “OMG, SuperMemo is really difficult!”

Nah. You’re dumb, mate. You’re just leading yourself into a rabbit hole.

People associate stuff with stuff and then believe in the absolute rationality of this link. Anki was made to create flashcards to remember stuff. That’s it. That’s it.

SuperMemo was coinceived, developed and optimized for free learning. Not school. Not. School. SuperMemo is great at free learning, the best of the best. Why? It has been made exactly for that. If you free learn with SuperMemo, you will realize just how great the program is.

Now. Neither Anki nor SM have been made to study for school. Please, keep this in mind while we go through with our argument and, subsequently strategies.

Why SuperMemo and not Anki

Ok, let’s make this quick pitch in favor of SuperMemo. I’ll make it as easy as possible.

SuperMemo is faster at creating flashcards.

“That’s it?”

That’s it.

Anki has some collaborative functions which, however, are still not great and perfected. The majority of decks are created by small groups of people, if not individuals.

If you’re studying for exams, speed and efficiency is the only thing you’re after.

Why?

Too big

Your syllabus is too big. It’s simply too big - that’s what she said. I’ve now taken 6 exams with SuperMemo. Passed all 6 of them at first shot. I’d say that on average, I used to try an exam two to three times before actually managing to get a passing grade. So, lacking any meaningful real-setting experiment with SRSs - which, by the way, we’re going to have in Italy in a couple months - I only have my direct experience to speak from.

There’s not ONE exam I could take studying normally with an SRS.

Studying normally = read the notes, makes extracts and clozes, do the same with the most important parts on the book.

Small digression: I’ve the transcripts of each lesson ever made in my faculty since 2013. We have a collaborative group where we divide ourselves into group, record lessons and transcribe them; if something is lacking or the explanation is not clear enough, we take it upon ourselves to complement the material.

So, I’ve the best possible notes on the planet, directly from the source of what will be the exam questions.

However, even with all this Godsend Manna, I couldn’t make it in time. There was not a single instance in 6 exams, smaller or bigger they were, in which I managed to simply do what I do in my free learning: read, extract, cloze.

It takes too much time. It simply takes too much time.

You have to consider that I am currently behind with exams and so I’m taking on more courses than I normally would. I figure that in an ideal magical world with flying pink elephants and gold-shitting unicorns, a freshman with the perfect discipline could create the perfect amount of flashcards needed for all exams each semester.

Maybe, if I weren’t so busy with multiple projects, I’d be able to do it. Who knows?

How do you slay a huge fucking dragon?

Medical schools are notorious (probably Gold Olympic Medal) for asking you to learn far more than is humanely possible. Hopefully, SuperMemo will help you measure your progress and rationalize the process. - Supermemopedia

Answer: form a big fucking party.

In Warcraft, you can be as skilled as you want, but you will still miserably die if you face a 50-people raid by yourself. That’s what exams are, raids. You’re trying to solo-speed run a fucking raid.

Many people will soon realize that the biggest bottleneck in studying is just the speed at which you can process information into atomic/semantic/epistemological clozes (add link https://geniuschecklist.com/blog/the-answer-field-is-useless/).

I can say, without a doubt, that the Anatomy 1 exam in my faculty is way beyond any normal human capacity to memorize. The amount of details requested out of you is so enormous that your only choice is cram so much that you’re not memorizing anymore, you’re trying not to forget everything.

Why am I talking about this exam now?

Multiple reasons:

  1. It’s the hardest exam I know of, memory wise.
  2. We’re going to run two cohorts of people on the Anatomy 2 exam with SuperMemo and without, just slightly below the 1 when it comes to memory power requested.

Long story short: I asked to write a thesis, and consequent research paper, on med students using SuperMemo. I’m fed up with medicine and I’d really love to give something back to these poor souls.

How would you study for the anatomy exam using SM?

This question has been bugging me since the anatomy professor showed interest in being the one subjecting his class to the experiment.

On one hand, exploratory learning becomes simply impossible. IMPOSSIBLE. There’s no way on this planet it can be done on an individualistc basis with just incremental reading. It’s just impossible. I’m not going to elaborate any further on this possibility. I simply believe the chance is so low to success that I immediately discarded it. This means that the experiment itself is impossible to run following the sacred teachings of the manTM.

Single individuals trying to do that would miserably fail. Again, not even the shrewd of a doubt.

On the other hand, the anatomy class is the biggest, same for both channels - that’s how we call them, don’t look at me. In reality, they’re more like factions, similar to some disgustingly cringe american competition between frat houses. We even have football matches, cheerleaders and so on.

So, for this exam, we all come together bringing our own cross. What if people got in groups and started carring one cross at the time, instead of one cross each. You should already have guessed where I’m going with this.

Quote: The speed at which you can press the spacebar is the limit.

Anki people are doing good in exams because they have the premade decks. Anki is inferior on many aspects, possibly every single one of them. However, the premade decks make a huge difference for whoever has a similar curriculum to the US one. Speculating on a couple articles that examined how spaced repetition could be even better at encoding - first contact with the material or subsequent iteration when you put it in your head - than reading, summarizing and so on.

It’s also faster. Quality is important, obviously, but in the exam game being fast and able at prioritizing means the world.

In terms of perception on speed of learning, it can sometimes feel like you are stuck in the mud doing repetitions, but that is only because you are working to hold back a tidal wave of forgetting! Your classmates who aren’t doing repetitions simply allow the forgetting to occur, giving them a feeling of (ignorant) bliss. Therefore, in the long term you will have acquired many times more knowledge because of this extra work to actually retain it in memory. If any of the knowledge you are taught is actually useful (i.e. needs to be used in practice, or needs to be used to understand other areas of study) you will have it available in your mental toolbox while they will have to burden their short term memory by relearning it, slowing down their learning of more advanced concepts. Therefore, the increase in speed of learning comes from two main factors: 1) over any period of time you will retain more of the progress you make, whereas they will regularly take 4 steps forward and 3 steps back, and 2) whenever learning more advanced concepts, you will be able to learn quickly and smoothly without needing to “refresh” (aka “relearn”) the basics. This second point is very important as it can be the difference between trying to hold many things in mind (i.e. the basics and the advanced) or few (just the advanced, because you already know the basics); the latter not only feels easier but frees up working memory to take more things into consideration. - Supermemopedia on Speed of Learning

SuperMemo, is inherently faster for long term memories. However, it’s not faster for short term cramming. It’s not that effective, sadly. To clarify, I still think that you can cram with SuperMemo, but it’s still less effective if done by yourself.

Multiplayer Cramming

The cheat to leave everyone behind you is not to leave any fucking one behind you.

Personal note: God, if you’re a med student and you’re one of those competitive freaks, I really hope you can explode.

Note on the personal note: Sometimes people are evaluated on a relative scale. So, the top score is what goes for all the others. In Italy, we don’t do that - this is why I personally consider so fucking dumb to compete among each other. Even if you wanted to compete, you could still put down the core curriculum on flashcards all together and then try to excel in the exploration. You shouldn’t aim to be the top dog, dogs follow orders and are given dog cookies. You are a person and you should aim to walk on your own personal path.

A simple recipe to be the best all together, step by step: (Basically, how we’re going to conduct the experiment)

  1. Talk to all your fucking class and hope it’s big enough.

  2. Explain to people how to do very Atomic Flashcards. I give a definition in my YouTube course, https://youtu.be/xVsnIo-wH0c.

    If they are confused by this step. jacopofowl@gmail.com, and for 25 Euro/hour I can teach you everything you need to know about SuperMemo 💰💰💰

  3. Split ALL THE SYLLABUS among ALL THE PEOPLE. It’s going to be like one topic each or even less if your class is big enough. Hoping that your class is something like 200 people, in 7-21 days each and every one of you will have created 200 to 400 Superatomic Flashcards

    Why did I just invent a new term? Because I am obnoxious, that’s why. A Superatomic flashcard in this context is a flashcard in a set. If you’re studying muscle fibers and need to know the types, and you already know the definition of a muscle fiber, you just do flashcards on the types, right? WRONG IN THIS CASE. You’re working with other people. If the flashcards are atomic and in sequence (see Ordinals, for SuperMemo) the presence of 4000 flashcards more that make the knowledge a perfect circle will only speed up the process, not the other way around it. If you’re working with people, always work as if you were working with idiots. You see how I write in a very down-to-earth way? You think that I don’t know any fancy words? No, I need my message across the computer, so you can fucking understand it. Clear? That’s why, if you decide to employ this method and you even remotely dare to skip something because well, it’s so easy, God be my witness, I will find you.

  4. Put all the flashcards together. You now have a ginormous collection of 40.000 flashcards. Oh my God, now what?

  5. You have covered every single topic with the easiest composition possible. Every single detail is down and atomic, and in sequence. This is the perfect curriculum now. You only need to press the spacebar. Run a drill every 100 cards and you’re done.

You’re welcome, now you’re a doctor thanks to me.

In the next articles, I will cover how I studied Statistics and Programming with SuperMemo. I can’t really write anything about math, physics or languages, for now.

I thought about talking of my personal strategies for individual study, but I feel like they’re not the solution, just patchwork. The only effective way that does not require mad skills or anything is this: collaborate. Everything else is going to be a massive pain in the ass.

If you want to be taught on that, again, hit me up in my email and we can talk about strategies you can use as an asocial individual who does not want to collaborate with other people. I’m not sure whether or not I’ll talk about what to do by yourself for different reasons:

  1. it’s not really a behavior I want to encourage in people
  2. if you don’t want to collaborate with others, you’ll have to pay for it in life. Better to do it now than later, huh? 25.
  3. Life is not a race against each other. (See 1)
  4. I do whatever the fuck I want on my blog.

I also tutor people privately in SuperMemo for 25 Euro/h. If you feel like you want to draw up a specific strategy for your exams, hit me up!

If you feel like shopping good keyboards for writers, these two are my current babies:

Logitech K380 (really recommend this one)

Logitech G915

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