Spaced repetition memory prompts should be concise

Related to but distinct from Spaced repetition memory prompts should usually focus on one atomic unit, it’s generally best to keep Spaced repetition memory system prompts concise.

For example, Wozniak (1999) gives this example of improving a prompt:

Q: Aldus invented desktop publishing in 1985 with PageMaker. Aldus had little competition for years, and so failed to improve. Then Denver-based … blew past. PageMaker, now owned by Adobe, remains No. 2
A: Quark
Q: PageMaker lost ground to…
A. Quark

One key reason for this is simply that it maintains a light, fluid rhythm in review sessions. “Heavy”-feeling questions can make concentration difficult, but perhaps more importantly, they can contribute to review sessions feeling like a chore: The critical thing to optimize in spaced repetition memory systems is emotional connection to the review session and its contents.

I don’t understand it, but concise wording often seems to help me remember answers in fewer repetitions. This might be because long questions make it hard to focus on the most important retrieval details. Or maybe it’s just because long questions reduce my concentration.

As a prompt becomes longer, it becomes more likely that it’ll include a word or texture which will trigger the answer, but without meaningful connection to the answer (“pattern matching”): Spaced repetition memory prompts should be written to discourage shallow “pattern matching”.


Piotr Wozniak - Effective learning - Twenty rules of formulating knowledge

Last updated 2023-07-13.