Avoid yes-no spaced repetition memory prompts

Yes/no Spaced repetition memory system prompts are an attractive nuisance. Many simple statements you might read are basically saying “X is true.” An apparently easy way to turn that into a question is to ask “Is X true?” But these questions aren’t very useful: Spaced repetition memory prompts should ensure reviewers must retrieve answers from memory

Yes/no questions can usually be transformed into more elaborated forms: Spaced repetition memory prompts should encode ideas from multiple angles. For example, if you’re reading In the Cells of the Eggplant - Chapman, you might have just learned that meta-rationality isn’t an “alternative to” rationality—it’s its own thing. So you could ask: “Is meta-rationality an ‘alternative to’ rationality?” But knowing that the answer is “no” isn’t very helpful.. A better question would be “Why isn’t meta-rationality san ‘alternative to’ rationality?”

I noticed while watching Issa Rice write prompts for Terence Tao’s Analysis book that one way to solve this problem may be to write several related yes/no prompts with different answers, to force more careful attention.


Nielsen, M. (2018). Augmenting Long-term Memory. http://augmentingcognition.com/ltm.html

Last updated 2023-07-13.