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Spaced Repetition Systems


What is an SRS?

If you’re new to studying, or perhaps rather new to better ways to studying, the term SRS might leave you with a few raised brows. For the life of me I cannot understand why SRSs are not implemented into the learning system here in America. In fact, I’m more surprised that through all my school like adventures I’ve never even heard of it until one fateful day roughly a year ago.

The point of an SRS (spaced repetition system) is really simple. Basically it uses the idea that when you first learn something new you generally need to review it more frequently in order to keep remembering it. As time passes you will need to review less in order to retain it. Of course they have a nice little way of explaining why we’re this way: the Spacing Effect.

History of the SRS

Supposedly in 1932 Professor Mace noted that spacing out learning should be effective. It wasn’t until 30 years later that the idea had begun to be incorporated into language learning software first by Pimsleur. A German scientist, Sebastian Leitner, devised the Leitner system in the 1970’s for paper flashcards. You basically used a box system of moving cards around so that harder cards were always reviewed relatively soon and easier cards later on.

Spacing systems were pretty hard to use in the beginning with flash cards because you were usually shifting through thousands of (paper carded) facts! When computers began to hit the scene in the 1980’s this made things a lot easier.  Though not everyone agrees on the algorithms for just how to space the cards, research has backed up that spacing in intervals is a useful and more efficient way of learning. If you want to learn more about the algorithms you can find lots of articles on the web.

SRS Programs

There are a lot of programs out there deliver. Most of these can be placed on hand-held devices as well as MS, Mac, and Linux. Here is the most popular I’ve come across in the world of Japanese learning. (Web only srs’s like Smart.fm and SuRuSu will be covered in another article)

Anki -

Anki is a program which makes remembering things easy. Because it is a lot more efficient than traditional study methods, you can either greatly decrease your time spent studying, or greatly increase the amount you learn. Anyone who needs to remember things in their daily life can benefit from Anki. Since it is content-agnostic and supports images, audio, videos and scientific markup (via LaTeX), the possibilities are endless.

  1. Review anywhere. Anki lets you study on your own computer, online, on your cell phone or other portable devices like an iPod touch.
  2. Synchronization features let you keep your information across multiple computers.
  3. Shared decks allow you to divide work between friends, and let teachers push material to many students at once.
  4. Intelligent scheduler based on the SuperMemo SM2 algorithm.
  5. Flexible fact/card model that allows you to generate multiple views of information, and input information in the format you wish. You’re not limited to predefined styles.
  6. Fully extensible, with a large number of plugins already available.
  7. Optimized for speed, and will handle reviewing decks of 100,000+ cards with no problems.
  8. Clean, user-friendly interface.
  9. Open Source

I use Anki myself after a small start with mnemosyne. I really enjoy Anki and found that it was very user friendly and easy to start up. I also liked the community aspect of being able to share cards with other learners of Japanese. There is also a very detailed guide on how to use Anki, not to mention its best feature, Free :D.


Mnemosyne is another free SRS. Though they may not be superior to other SRSs out there, they’re not to be laughed at due to the large number of data they collect from participants for both short-term and long-term research. Because the study group encompasses people of all ages and backgrounds, and has no commercial bias, they believe they’ll understand the best spaced algorithm and be able to implement it.

These are some of the features of Mnemosyne:

  • Efficient scheduling algorithm, so you don’t waste time on things you know well
  • Support for languages using different scripts through unicode
  • Support for pictures, sounds and html formatting
  • Can be integrated with LaTeX to display mathematical formulas
  • Support for three-sided cards, e.g. foreign words where you are interested in written form, pronunciation and translation
  • Can be run from a USB key
  • Can display some basis statistical info on your learning process
  • Keeps a detailed record of your entire learning process for analysis
  • Your cards can be organised in categories, which can be activated and disactivated to control your learning process
  • Clean, deceptively simple user interface, yet fully customizable for advanced users through configuration files and plugins
  • Available in several languages
  • Support for a large number of import and export formats (text, XML, Supermemo, Memaid, …)


Perhaps just as well-known as Anki, if not more, is the oldie of the SRS world. They got started in 1985 and have since been creating quality work through their program. Of course it’s very similar to the two mentioned above because it is their foundation. They’re also not a free program either. The current up-to-date SuperMemo costs $50! You get a lot though for $50 if you check out their long list of features!

Tell us about your SRS if its different then the three above and why you think it’s best!

Mikoto Neko

The Ring leader of multiple projects who is studying japanese and raising a family! Who needs time for sleep?
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