Relative ineffectiveness of flash cards for learning

I expect most of you will tell me “No ■■■■ sherlock” but…
I have been playing with becoming familiar with 100 images for the major system.
Got my rules quite quickly and tailored a set of 100 images that suit me.

Created a memory set a few weeks ago and began drilling them daily.
Early in the process, I found it quite effective. Image, sound, done… Quick progression to about 60-70%. Then relative failure, I find myself stuck in a world of a, e, i, o, u mumbling to myself trying to recapture an image that isn’t really there.

Spaced repetition may be a good way of engraining information but it’s not a terribly good way of learning.

Again I suspect everyone but me already figured this out or just skipped doing it the wrong way and followed directions in the wiki but, I’m not the sharpest tack in the box.


The way I learned my number system was to print out a few sheets from this random number generator, and keep them in my pocket. I read through a set of them a few times per day, marking numbers that I missed. If I couldn’t consistently remember an image, I would change the image.

I also converted the numbers around me into images whenever I saw them – prices, license plates, signs, etc.


“My Turtle Poncho…” is a mnemonic for the first 100 digits of PI. It’s quite quick to learn. Repeatedly decoding that ( some day I intend to win a bet ) gave me good practice.

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Spaced repetition attempts to repeat the information at a usually non-fixed delay where this is usually before or just after you forget the information.

If it is before you forget the information ,then you can’t really be stuck in a world of a,e,i,o,u. The reason you are stuck in this world is because your spacing timing isn’t accurate enough for the load. Also to note that a high load in a go implies high interference which also impacts your ability to recall upon spacing and acts indirectly as quickening your forgetting.

There is no spacing timing that is accurate for a 100 card load.

There is if you split it into chunks of 10 or 5

How does that expand to 100 digits?

My brother challenged me to remember 50 digits of Pi. It took me 3 minutes using 00-99 in a memory palace. He was impressed. :slight_smile:


My last project similar to that was to memorize the squares to 100. I did that in chunks. Once I had the first 35 or so down reasonably well I moved on to another batch. Perhaps 100 from the start is too big a chunk?

I suspect that somewhere around 30 might be closer to optimal’ish. I seem to be able to run 30-40 pretty quickly in most things but after that it begins to get noisy. I am seeing a similar pattern in my squares as well. Quickly knocked off the first 30’ish then started to stumble piling on all of them. I have not been pushing my squares very hard on the idea that I will leverage the major system to do my squares for fun(??). I had my squares to about 120 last time round by rote and I wouldn’t mind seeing if I can push to 999 but there are other number sequences that I have an interested in; primes, exponents, roots so after I get to 120 I will likely tread water there for a bit.

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Yesterday I put 100 French words into a memory palace. Then I put them into my phone using an app called Flashcard Deluxe. I plan to never walk the memory palace ever. I’ll use the app instead. I see this more as a linkword + location method rather than a memory palace.

The advantage of the app is that it includes an audio file of the spoken word and that is what I am most interested in learning. When I arrive at a card it speaks the words and displays the IPA. The other side of the card is the meaning and my mnemonic location and description.

Also, the app allows me to scroll through the flashcards in the order they are in my memory palace, or in random order, or using spaced repetition. I’ll start with them in order, then switch to random and then suspend individual cards when I’m confident I know them until there is none left.

Perhaps this is not a Flash cards problem but more a major system problem where it’s just not a good fit for you?

Have you tried just forgetting flashcards for a while and just apply it to phone numbers, card numbers, bus schedule s, etc.?
Have you tried placing them in a memory palace ? Maybe just 10 at a time? Or every ten in a different place? Sometimes it eases me into learning harder info, breaking it up in various ways…

It would help to know where you are having problems exactly because it sounds like pretty much what I’ve lived.
I guess you can rarely see the necessary image when you encounter the numbers?

Have you tried mixing in some shapes?

I guided more than one friend through the creation of images for 00 to 99 and it is learned and used right away in an afternoon. Perhaps a different approach into learning them could help you.

It me a long time to accept and realize the major wasn’t entirely for me and I did a lot of flashcards waiting to get better at it till I finally started to create my own number images in various ways (major, Dominic, by shape, by theme…)

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I cannot easily apply what I do not know. I think I have stated it fairly well and there have been a few quite relevant comments. I am learning 100 images from scratch. Having too many unstructured images to learn using spaced repetition overwhelms the practice. Using spaced repetition to engrain concepts is far more useful than it is to learn them.

I have used the major system to memorize long sequences previously and found that it got me excited about memorizing because journeys with images work BUT that practice did not make me quick and comfortable in using the major system on demand because I had not memorized a solid 100 images for my immediate use. The mental load of constructing imagery would interfere with any reasonable use of the system. Being able to use it, and being able to use it well are quite different. I suspect that is why you found it was not for you. Although an afternoon’s play can amuse it does not achieve the objective; to have strong and easy access to a 99 image peg based number system that takes little to no mental effort so that I can hang calculations and several thousand numeric facts off of to access very quickly while I am doing mental calculation.

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Of course that objective cannot be obtained instantly, but after enough and relavent tweeking of images and practice,
with time, it became immediate with no mental effort, but daily practice has helped me there, not flashcards. I am sorry to hear practice is not getting you there. And I am eager to see how you will get to your objective.

I apologize, I didn’t mean to sound like I assumed you left helpful info out, it just got me to remember the period where I struggled to get exactly that, numbers to image instantly without effort ; and thought I could help.

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I think I should have probably just skipped creating the post as stating the obvious but the comments on using smaller card sets and learning the material outside of the context of spaced repetition did help me get a handle on my muddled thoughts. There are many tools and in this case rather than focusing on the objective I have been practicing swinging the hammer. It gives me a sense of the tool.

In this case simple spaced repetition.

  • Failure can occur if you throw too many facts at it.

    • The algorithm does not react well to this
  • It is not most productive to use as a form of first learning.

    • Simple chaining and or loci can knock off medium sized lists extremely quickly and should probably be used first.
  • Spaced repetition as a way of making something permanent may be valid (I haven’t proven this to myself yet but there are lots of folk that say this works).

It surprises me that people stack large language word lists into this algorithm in hopes of learning a language. Anki and language/word learning seem the most common use and I would suspect that it would suffer from the same type of problem. Add 100 words and get buried in the mud or add 5 words a day and take forever to build up.

Good tool when used for the right job but for me at least this is not a great tool for establishing initial knowledge. (at least that is the sense I have having tried my little experiment)

My feeling is that you don’t need to memorize a set list of images to fit your Major system, unless you’re planning to compete.

In competition, the quicker you can create an image and move on, the better. But in daily life, speed is not that important. I don’t see any problem with creating a brand-new image on the fly that fits the Major system and is memorable; after all, why does every example of 35 have to be a mule? It doesn’t. Image consistency isn’t the critical element here. What’s critical is your ability to associate an image with a piece of information. It doesn’t matter if you’ve used that image in every memory palace you’ve ever created or if you’ve only used it this one time. As long as it’s memorable, and you’re comfortable with the system used to create it (so you can always work backwards if you don’t immediately make the connection), you’re fine.

Now, just to be clear, I do have object lists for 0-99 and people lists for 00-99 based on Major. So most of my associations are always the same. But if I don’t feel like referring to a list—or a particular image doesn’t fit the scene that’s taking shape in my mind—I’ll just try something new to see if it will also work. As a result, some two-digit combinations have three or four different images I can use, depending on the situation.


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As per the 20 rules,, you first learn and then put it into flashcards

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I understand what you mean, I’m just not sure how to put it in words, but if I was to try, I’ll say it’s a mistransfer from learning to application.
Using myself as an example, when I read a book, I created questions and put them on anki to see if I could understand them by answering the questions.
But when I created images for cards, what I needed was to recall all the cards, they were pieces of information and not necessarily having any context, so instead of making 54 questions, I put them on palaces and practiced recalling them.
Basically what Josh,said but his style is even better, I think I’ll do that.
Back to your numbers, perhaps recalling them through practice is more suitable than an SRS software.
Pardon my typing, its blurry for some sort

With one exception that I can think of, the memory techniques here are about retention, not comprehension. The fact that you can confidently memorize a random sequence of 100 digits makes it clear that no comprehension need be involved.

Having the information at one’s fingertips makes it much easier to think about the subject and find relationships but that’s an additional step.

In general, the more you understand, the less you need to actually remember. You can memorize a commuter train schedule or you can notice that the trains run every half hour, on the hour starting at 4am till 12pm. Many times after learning a new topic, I have gone back and completely rewritten my mental description of it in a much more compact and useful form. On tackling a new subject I will try to bring some order or understanding to the material before committing it to memory but there are times where you just have to know stuff before you can understand it.

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Q1: Why would you need to suspend a card? Other SR tools will simply move that card further into the future. If you still know it when it reappears, then that card is pushed even further into the future. That’s the whole point of SR. The algorithm does the work based on your personal abilities. Your twin brother might have different spacings for the same words.

Q2: How long would you suspend it for? How would you remember to unsuspend it?

BTW: Tools such as Anki will suspend a card. The normal reason is that the card might be a “leech”. (See the Supermemo Rules for definition of leech.) A leech could be a pair of similar cards, and you keep mistaking one card for the other. Anki arbitrarily suspends one of those cards to allow it to be pushed into the future. When it’s far enough in the future, the other card of the pair is unsuspended. So they don’t conflict with each other.


Edited: Anki arbitrarily suspends one of those cards to allow the other card to be pushed into the future.

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After spending a lot of time with spaced repetition I can say that even your own timing changes after prolonged use.

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