What is incremental reading?
Incremental reading is a learning technique that makes it possible to read thousands of articles at the same time without getting lost. Incremental reading begins with importing articles from electronic sources, e.g. the Internet. The student then extracts the most important fragments of individual articles for further review. Extracted fragments are then converted into questions and answers. These in turn become subject to systematic review and repetition that maximizes the long-term recall of the processed texts. The review process is handled by the proven repetition spacing algorithm known as the SuperMemo method.
|Incremental reading converts electronic articles into
durable knowledge in your memory. This conversion requires minimum
Warning! Incremental reading may seem complex at first. However, once you master it, you will begin a learning process that will surpass your expectations. You will be surprised with the volume of data your memory can process and retain!
Advantages of incremental reading:
|Only SuperMemo makes it possible to implement incremental reading. Incremental reading requires continual retention of knowledge. Depending on the volume of knowledge flow in the program, the interval between reading individual portions of the same article may extend from days to months and even years. SuperMemo (repetition spacing) provides the foundation of incremental reading, which is based on stable memory traces that would not fade between the bursts of reading|
See also: incremental reading from user's perspective by Len Budney.
Five basic skills of incremental reading
Incremental reading requires skills that you will perfect only with passing time and growing experience. This overview will help you handle the most basic skills and help you make a start with incremental reading. The five basic skills are:
Skill 1: Importing articles
To import an important article to SuperMemo, follow these steps:
Skill 2: Reading articles
Before you start reading articles, you can place the Read toolbar in an easily accessible location on your screen. The toolbar may be helpful before you learn to use the keyboard to access all its functions. Choose Window : Toolbars : Read, place the toolbar in a convenient place on the screen and press Ctrl+Shift+F5 (to save the current layout of windows as your default layout). If you do not see the Window menu read about levels.
This is the Read toolbar:
Here is a simplified algorithm for reading articles:
Warning! Some texts rich in pictures and tables may be handled with difficulty by SuperMemo. It may be very useful to learn to use HTML filters (press F6). See: Problems with HTML. Some of those problems stem from bugs in Internet Explorer that SuperMemo employs to display and edit HTML. This particularly refers to Internet Explorer 6. It is therefore highly recommended you install Internet Explorer 7 to make your life easier. With a dose of patience, you will learn to work around these problems.
Skill 3: Extracting fragments, questions and answers
In the course of traditional reading, we often mark important paragraphs with a highlighter pen. In SuperMemo, those paragraphs should be extracted as separate mini-articles (elements) that will later be used to refresh your memory. Each extracted paragraph or section becomes a new element that will be subject to the same reading algorithm as discussed above. Extract important fragments and single sentences with Remember extract (Alt+X). Remember to add necessary context to make sure that the extracted fragment does not become meaningless with time. You can use the Reference options on the component menu (esp. Alt+Q) to easily add context to your extracts. For example, select the title of the source article and press Alt+T (Reference : Title). This way, each extract will be marked by the title of the source article. If you fail to provide the context, you can use the reference link button on the element toolbar to jump to the source article from which the extract had been produced.
In the picture (click to enlarge): typical snapshot of incremental reading. While learning about henipavirus, the student extracts the fragment saying that "flying foxes are unaffected by Hendra virus infection". The extracted fragment will inherit illustrations placed on the right, as well as article references (not visible in the picture). The selected 'n' at the end of the extracted fragment is a read-point. The student can move on to reading another article by pressing Enter. The pictures on the right are stored locally in the Image Registry (on the user's hard disk) and can be reused to illustrate other articles or questions.
SuperMemo will show you that extracting important fragments and reviewing them at later time will have an excellent impact on your ability to remember and benefit from your learning material. However, it will also show that once the time between reviews increases beyond 200-300 days, reading and re-reading (passive review) will often result in insufficient recall of the material. For this reason, sooner or later, you will need to use Remember cloze by pressing Alt+Z (or clicking the blue Z icon on the Read toolbar or on the element toolbar). Remember cloze will help you convert a sentence into a series of questions with answers. This way you will move from passive review to active recall. You do not need to wait until a paragraph or a sentence become hard to recall in passive review. For your most important material, you can create cloze items immediately after finding a piece of information that you need to remember well.
In the picture (click to enlarge): the sentence extracted during incremental reading (see the previous picture) is converted into a cloze deletion. (i.e. a type question-answer pair). Pictures from the original extract have been inherited (on the right). The picture of the bat embedded in the question remains remote (i.e. it is located on the Internet, not on the user's hard disk). The student has just graded his answer as Good and is informed that he will be tested again on the same question on Oct 20, 2006. Pink texts at the bottom of the question are references generated automatically when importing an article from Wikipedia.
While converting extracts into questions and answers, you should make sure your questions are simple, clear and carrying the relevant context. For example, if you have extracted the following fragment from your reading about the history of the Internet:
The Internet was started in 1969 under a contract let by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) which connected four major computers at universities in the southwestern US (UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, UCSB, and the University of Utah)
you may discover than when review intervals become long enough, you may not actually be able to recall the name of the ARPA agency or even forget the year in which the Internet started. You can then select an important keyword, e.g. 1969, and use Remember cloze to produce the following question-answer pair:
Question: The Internet was started in [...] under a contract let by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) which connected four major computers at universities in the southwestern US (UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, UCSB, and the University of Utah)
In the course of learning, you will yet need to polish the above item by manual editing it to a more compact and understandable form:
Question: The Internet was started in [...](year) under a contract let by the ARPA agency
Or better yet:
Question: The Internet was started in [...](year)
As for the precious information "lost" during the editing, it can (but does not have to) be learned independently with separate questions generated by Remember cloze.
The mini-editing of questions presented above added the following benefits to the newly created question-answer pair:
Skill 4: Repetition and review
SuperMemo is based on repetition. You make repetitions of the learned material in order to ensure that your knowledge retention (i.e. your ability to recall facts) reaches the desired level (usually 95-98%).
In SuperMemo, incrementally processed articles will also be subject to repetition. We will often use the more intuitive term review in reference to incrementally processed material; after all, when you resume reading an article after a certain interval of time, you are not actually repeating anything. You are simply reading new sections of the same material and extracting newly acquired wisdom into separate elements with Alt+X (i.e. Remember extract).
The algorithms that determine the timing of (1) repetitions of question-and-answer material and (2) reviewing reading material are analogous but not identical. Most importantly, all repetitions and article presentations happen in increasing intervals by default. In incremental reading, you will see a constant inflow of new articles into your collection. Unprocessed material will need to compete with the newly imported material. Increasing review intervals make sure that your old material fades into lower priority if it is not processed quickly. The speed of processing will depend on the availability of your time and the value of the material itself. Articles that are boring, badly written, less important for your work or growth, will receive smaller portions of your attention and may go into long review intervals before you even manage to pass a fraction of the text. That is an inevitable side effect of a voluminous flow of new information into your collection and into your memory. However, intervals and priorities can easily be adjusted. If the priorities change, you can modify the way you process important articles. At review time, you can either read the entire article without interruption, or revert it to a shorter interval. You can manually change its priority (e.g. with Alt+P). You can also use search tools (e.g. Ctrl+F) to locate more articles on the subject that you feel you have neglected. You can reprioritize a bunch of articles by changing their priority. You can shorten their interval or review them all when needed (see subset operations in the browser).
The algorithm for reviewing questions and answers (e.g. cloze deletions) is quite complex and limits your influence on the timing of repetitions (see: SuperMemo Algorithm). This is to ensure a high level of knowledge retention, which might be compromised by manual intervention.
However, the algorithm for determining inter-review intervals in incremental reading is much simpler and is entirely under your control. Each article receives a specific priority. The priority determines which articles are reviewed first and which can be postponed in case you run out of time. Each article is also assigned a number called the A-Factor that determines how much intervals increase between subsequent reviews. For example, if A-Factor is 2, review intervals will double with each review. Priority and A-Factors are set automatically, but you can change them manually at any time. Both are determined heuristically on the basis of the length of the text, the way it is processed, the way it is postponed or advanced, and by many other factors. Long texts will receive low A-Factors (e.g. 1.1), while short extracts will receive higher A-Factors (e.g. 1.8). Manually typed texts have higher priority and lower A-Factors than automatically imported texts. You can change the priority and A-Factor of an article by pressing Alt+P. You can also use Ctrl+Shift+Up and Ctrl+Shift+Down to increase or decrease element's priority. A-Factors associated with items cannot be changed by the user, as they are a reflection of item difficulty that determines the length of optimum inter-repetition intervals (see: forgetting index).
You can control the timing of article review by manually adjusting inter-review intervals. Use Ctrl+J (Reschedule) or Ctrl+Shift+R (Execute repetition) to determine the date of the next review. Ctrl+J will increment the current interval, while Ctrl+Shift+R will first execute a repetition and then set the new interval. For example, if your current interval is 100 and you specify the value of 3 in Reschedule, your new interval will be 103 and the last repetition date will not change. If you do the same with Execute repetition, your new interval will be 3 and the last repetition date will be set to today.
In heavily overloaded incremental reading, you will often want to learn only a portion of material related to a given subject. For that purpose, read about the priceless concept of subset learning.
Skill 5: Handling large volumes of knowledge
In incremental reading, you may quickly import and produce more learning material than you can effectively process. To make sure that your learning does not suffer from overload, you should use the priority queue. Using Alt+P (Learning : Priority : Modify on the element menu), you can set each element's priority from 0% to 100%. Remember that 0% corresponds with high priority while 100% with low priority. By default, your outstanding repetitions will be auto-sorted from high to low priority. This way, if you fail to complete your daily load of learning, it will only be the lower priority material that will suffer. Also by default, at the beginning of your working day (i.e. at your first run of SuperMemo), your outstanding material from previous days will be be auto-postponed (again with high-priority material being least affected).
Read an article about the priority queue to learn more about (1) manual sorting of elements, (2) defining sorting criteria, (3) turning off auto-sort and auto-postpone, etc.
Read about the postpone dialog to learn about defining postpone criteria.
To effectively work with material belonging to different subjects of different priority, you might also want to study the following:
Optional: History of incremental reading
Incremental reading might be as important for SuperMemo as the original repetition spacing algorithm. Incremental reading eliminates a number of bottlenecks that limit the first stage of learning: knowledge acquisition.
Older SuperMemos: In the years 1987-1998, users of SuperMemo had only two alternatives in the area of collecting learning material for learning with SuperMemo: (1) type it in and formulate it manually or (2) obtain ready-made learning material from colleagues, SuperMemo Library, etc. The only way SuperMemo supported learning from electronic sources was via Copy and Paste
SuperMemo 99 made the first step towards efficient reading of electronic articles by introducing reading lists and the first primitive reading tools: extracts and clozes. Reading lists are prioritized lists of articles to read. Extracts make it possible to split larger articles into smaller portions. Clozes makes it possible to convert short sentences into question-answer format by means of cloze deletions
SuperMemo 2000 greatly increased the efficiency of reading by introducing the concept of incremental reading. Incremental reading makes it possible to simultaneously read dozens of articles. Each article is read in small increments fully controlled and prioritized by the user and/or the default learning process. Components of incremental reading introduced in SuperMemo 2000: new A-Factor-based topic repetition scheme (i.e. learning algorithm), read points, formatting in extracts and in clozes (SuperMemo 99 would ignore formatting), text highlights, source article link, reading toolbar, subset learning, subset postpone, and support for longer articles (SuperMemo 99 was limited to 64K articles)
SuperMemo 2002 brought incremental reading to a new level. For SuperMemo 2002, incremental reading become the primary learning mode for middle-level and advanced students. SuperMemo 2002 introduced HTML-based incremental reading. For the first time, the user would see little difference between the material in his web browser and in SuperMemo. Other new features introduced by SuperMemo 2002: wholesale learning material import from Internet Explorer, mid-interval repetitions that make it possible to review portions of material without damage to the learning process (Algorithm SM-11), search-based learning (i.e. subset learning in which the subset is defined by advanced search tools), dynamically modified A-Factors that fine-tune the priorities without user intervention, postpone wizard that makes reading lists obsolete, separate topic/item statistics and new incremental reading progress statistics, reference labeling, and more
SuperMemo 2004 has been developed solely with the view to perfecting the tools used in incremental reading. The data collected from months of actual incremental reading have been instrumental to enhancing the algorithm and the tools. Fine tuning of the modification of topic A-Factors enhances the optimization of new material review in a heavily overloaded process. New tools include: rich statistics for monitoring and optimizing the learning process, tools for handling excessive delays in review, browsing sources of extracts and clozes, one-key reference labeling, proliferating remote images, easy integration of remote images, and more
SuperMemo 2006 makes a major step in
rationalizing the overload of the learning material in incremental reading
by introducing the priority queue. It makes it easier to import
articles from the Internet (esp. from Wikipedia).
It simplifies importing, arranging,
compressing, converting, zooming and trimming pictures. SuperMemo 2006 can now pick any folder on your hard disk and convert
all your file archives into material that can be processed incrementally
(e.g. article archives, picture archives, family albums, movie clips,
documentation files, or assorted archives). SuperMemo 2006 also makes it
simple to do one-key searches and import of auxiliary learning material
on the web with customizable tools (e.g. Google, encyclopedias,
dictionaries, picture archives, etc.)
see Incremental reading from user's perspective by Len Budney