When it comes to learning methods, there is spaced repetition,
and everything else.

When it comes to learning methods, there is
spaced repetition,
and everything else.

Spaced repetition:
learn much more material in much less time.

Watch this 4 minute simulation or read below

Key point: The strength of memories fades over time, but not at the same rate

When you learn something, you create a memory. The strength of that memory fades over time, and can be lost.

The chart below shows memory strength on the left and time on the bottom:

Srs1

When you first learn something, the memory is very strong.

Srs2

As time goes on the strength of the memory decreases:

Srs3

From experiments we know that memory strength fades quickly at first, resulting in a line that looks more like this:

Srs4

If the line goes too low, the memory is lost: Srs5

In order to prevent memory death, you must refresh it before you lose it. Here's a good time to review:

Srs6

When you review, two things happen. First, the memory is rejuvinated:

Srs7

More importantly, the rate at which the memory fades from your mind is decreased (represented by a line on the graph that is less steep):

Srs9

Although the memory fades more slowly after a review, at some point you'll need to refresh the memory again: Srs10

The power of spaced repetition is in what you do during the increasingly long intervals.

Each day you’ll have a mix of work: quizzing yourself on previously-learned knowledge (that you’re about to forget), and learning new stuff.

There are two possible outcomes when you quiz yourself on previously-learned knowledge.

Most of the time, you'll remember.

Because the algorithm makes statistically educated guesses when you're likely to forget, you usually remember. This means you can wait longer before checking your comprehension again.

Occasionally, you'll forget what you learned.

Traditional spaced repetition then behaves in the opposite way: it shortens the amount of time before your next comprehension check.

The effect: all your knowledge is test-ready

Almost everything you've ever learned is recallable. Some facts you just learned, and you can recall them easily. Some facts you've reviewed recently, so these are fresh in your head, too.

The facts you haven't reviewed in months or years are also recallable -- because you've reviewed them several times, each time strengthening your memory of those facts.

Time savings are enormous

Repeatedly checking your understanding may seem like unnecessary extra work. But after the first few reviews, the amount of time before a memory will expire is measured in weeks, months, or years.

The real potential wasted time is forgetting what you've already spent so much time learning -- and having to learn it again.

You’re already familiar with this. Just think back to every exam you crammed for… could you still pass those exams today? If you had used spaced repetition, you could!

Remember: it's a marathon, not a sprint

True fluency in Mandarin Chinese requires a robust reserve of knowledge (words, grammar, chengyus, etc.) to call upon. You'll be in the game for at least half a year (to be conversational), or several years (to reach real fluency).

How you approach the memorization game is up to you. Choose poorly and you will feel like you are making little progress, no matter how long you study. Choose wisely, and within a few months of dedicated study, a new world will be open for you.

Common Complaints with SRS (and how hackchinese handles them)

Spaced repetition is uneven

When you're a few months in, learning many new words each day, and devoting a set time every day to tackle your SRS quizzing, you may have a day where you have no reviews due (no knowledge is about to die), and then the next day have a mountain of reviews (500+!). The next day? Back to zero.

Such variation is frustrating, demotivating, and oftentimes the reason people quit using SRS, despite the potential benefits.

The Hack Chinese Solution

Study sessions are scheduled by time, not # of reviews.

Whether you can dedicate 5, 10, or more minutes per day, we’ll keep your sessions to this timeframe, every day.

Getting started is too complicated

Generalized spaced repetition software exists. It can be used for any topic imaginable. After choosing a platform, your next step is preparing the material you'd like to study.

The slowest route is to create the material yourself. This involves manually typing every piece of knowledge into the system.

A faster route is search for “decks” created by other users.

With either option, it is very difficult to be sure the material is comprehensive (includes everything you need for your goals) or error-free. When you install user-made content and notice several errors, your confidence in the material, and perhaps SRS itself, drops precipitously.

The Hack Chinese Solution

By specializing in a single knowledge domain (English speakers learning Mandarin Chinese), we can prepare all the content for you ahead of time, and continually check it for accuracy.

Students can browse our menu of focuses that includes textbook series, exams, television shows, and more -- and begin studying straight away.

Focuses are checked for accuracy by qualified, native Mandarin-speaking teachers, so you can be sure you are studying the right tones, definitions, and characters.

Spaced repetition systems require too much administration

It is virtually impossible to find (or create) decks with all the knowledge you will ever want to study.

Imagine you are studying for the first Chinese language exam, the HSK 1. You decide to leverage SRS (good choice!), find a user-created deck for whichever platform you are using, and pass the exam with flying colors.

Now you want to study for HSK 2. You have two (undesirable) options:

Option 1: You can find a new cumulative deck that has all the knowledge from HSK 1 and 2. With this option, you’ll have to re-study the HSK 1 material from the beginning.

Option 2: You can find a deck that only has words from HSK 2 (and not words found in HSK 1). With this option, you'll have to manage two separate decks: HSK 1, and HSK 2.

When HSK 3 rolls around… these problems compound.

If you ever want to add a textbook, podcast series, or other study material to the mix, you’re spending most of your time managing flashcard decks instead of studying. You may just decide to abandon SRS altogether.

The Hack Chinese Solution

Your progress follows you.

Regardless of where you learn something, all future sources of knowledge reflect what you’ve already learned, and your reviews stay on an optimal schedule. If you’ve studied from a textbook and decide to study for an HSK exam, you’ll know exactly which words are “new to you” and which to keep to an optimum SRS review schedule.

Spaced repetition becomes difficult and boring

Material you remember easily is quickly scheduled into long intervals, and you see it infrequently.

For material that is difficult for you, traditional SRS has a single solution: more frequent review. This leads to study sessions that seem packed-full of stuff you don’t know (and can’t seem to remember). Not fun.

The Hack Chinese Solution

Your performance against every piece of knowledge is tracked. Most of the time, we don't interfere with the magic of traditional spaced-repetition (more frequent reviews usually lead to mastery).

But when you consistently forget any piece of knowledge, several plateau-busting techniques are automatically applied to your individual difficulties:

  1. If you've linked a tutor, she can see your dashboard to identify concepts which are difficult for you to remember so she can focus on them in class.
  2. Component characters are added to your study schedule. If you can’t seem to remember 羡慕, we’ll make sure 羡 and 慕 are both in your study plan.Coming Soon!
  3. The quiz order (Chinese > pinyin > English) will temporarily be swapped (to English > pinyin > Chinese).Coming Soon!
  4. We'll hide the word for a while (to reduce frustration) and re-introduce it later with additional context.Coming Soon!
  5. Additional techniques are being tested all the time and this list will change according to efficacy.