Writing good spaced repetition memory prompts is hard

People regard flashcards as something trivial from their school days, so they don’t take writing them very seriously. But it’s awfully hard to write good prompts for a Spaced repetition memory system. For example, good prompts:

  • access an idea from multiple angles
  • capture one precise thought (likely reflective of “Chunks” in human cognition)
  • avoid unintentional ambiguity
  • are concise
  • get to what really matters about the topic, not just what’s easy to memorize

For more, see: Important attributes of good spaced repetition memory prompts

It’s harder than people think

Unfortunately, it’s not obvious when the prompts you’ve written are bad, so people often don’t realize that their prompts are bad. This can cause them to underrate the performance or overrate the tedium of spaced repetition memory practice. More: To what extent do review sessions offer prompt-writing feedback?

One solution: The mnemonic medium may help scaffold prompt-writing through author-provided prompts

It’s taxing even if you know how

Even if one develops the skill to write good prompts, it’s quite time-consuming and cognitively taxing to do it. I believe that this is another significant barrier to widespread adoption.

One solution: The mnemonic medium supplies expert-authored prompts to remove the burden of prompt-writing. Or, maybe Using machine learning to generate good spaced repetition prompts from explanatory text.


Matuschak, A., & Nielsen, M. (2019, October). How can we develop transformative tools for thought? https://numinous.productions/ttft

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

Using spaced repetition systems to see through a piece of mathematics - Michael Nielsen


Anki Practice Cards: Language, Music, Mathematics - Album on Imgur some examples and notes from Eric Siggy

Last updated 2024-04-16.