Introduction to incremental reading
Traditional linear reading is highly inefficient. This comes from the fact that various pieces of the text are of various importance. Some should be skipped. Others should be read in the first order of priority. Old-fashioned books are quickly being replaced with hypertext. Hypertext will help you quickly jump to information that is the most important at any given moment. Hypertext requires a different style of writing. All linear texts can assume that the reader is familiar with the preceding sections. This makes them context-poor. Within hypertext, individual texts become context-independent, and all difficult terms and concepts are explained primarily with additional hyperlinks. In the same way in which the web helped delinearize the global sources of information, SuperMemo can help you delinearize your reading of whatever linear material you decide to import to SuperMemo. While reading with SuperMemo, you will see a linear text as a sequence of sections subdivided into paragraphs and individual sentences. SuperMemo will help you provide a separate and independent processing for each section, paragraph or sentence.
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. The review process is handled by the proven spaced repetition algorithm known as the SuperMemo method.
Incremental reading converts electronic articles into durable knowledge in your memory. This conversion requires minimum keyboard&mouse work:
- Input: electronic articles (e.g. collected from the net)
- Output: well-remembered knowledge (quizzed regularly in the form of questions and answers)
In incremental reading, you read articles in small portions. After you read a portion of one article, you go on to a portion of another article, etc. You introduce all important portions of texts into the learning process in SuperMemo. This way you do not worry that you forget the main thread of the article, even if you return to reading months later. Your progress with individual articles may be slow, but you greatly increase your efficiency by paying less attention to less important articles and spending more time on articles that are more beneficial to your knowledge. Difficult articles may wait until you read easier explanatory articles, etc. Last but not least, incremental reading increases your efficiency because it is fun! You never get bored. If you do not like an article, you read just a sentence and jump to other articles. This way your attention and focus stay maximized.
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!
Five basic skills of incremental reading
Incremental reading requires skills that you will perfect only over months and years of use. This overview will only help you master the basic skills and help you make a start with incremental reading. The 5 basic skills are:
Skill 1: Importing articles
Five article import methods
Initially, you may limit your imports to a simple copy&paste of individual articles. Later, you will want to master automatic imports from the web that offer many advantages.
Here are the 5 main article import methods in SuperMemo:
- Copy&Paste: select a text of an article in the browser (or any other application that allows of copying texts), copy it to the clipboard, and copy it to SuperMemo with a single keystroke: Ctrl+N
- Mass import: use a dedicated web import option to import many articles from Internet Explorer. This methods allows of avoiding duplicate imports, marks your imports with references, imports only selected portions of texts, and offers many other advantages.
- Dedicated imports: SuperMemo makes it particularly easy to import material from Wikipedia (the recommended source of basic incremental reading materials) and from YouTube (a source of incremental video materials)
- Local file imports: import files that you have already collected on your hard disk
- Mail imports: for incremental processing of your mail
Import by Copy&Paste
To import an article with copy and paste, follow these steps:
- Select the imported text in your web browser and copy the selection to the clipboard (e.g. with Ctrl+C)
- Switch to SuperMemo (e.g. with Alt+Tab)
- In SuperMemo, press Ctrl+N (this is equivalent to Edit : Add a new article on the main menu). SuperMemo will create a new element, and paste the article. You can also use the Paste an article button () on the learnbar or the Read toolbar
- Optionally, use Alt+P to define priority of the imported article. Use the Percent field and remember that
0% is the highest priority, while
100% is the lowest priority
- Optionally, use Ctrl+J to specify the first review interval. For example: one day for high priority material or 30 days for low priority material
Please remember that if you have many articles opened in Internet Explorer, you can most easily import them with web import as described in the next section.
Import of multiple articles
The most convenient way to import learning materials to SuperMemo is a direct import of multiple articles right from the web. To import many articles at the same time, open these articles in Internet Explorer, and click the Import button on the learnbar (or press Ctrl+Shift+A, or chose Edit : Import web pages : All on the main menu). To avoid importing advertising and other garbage, in Internet Explorer, select portions of the text that is to be imported. If you select texts before imports, you are less likely to need filters to get rid of troublesome HTML (available by pressing F6 on the imported article). If you prefer to use other browsers, e.g. Chrome or Firefox, you will need to use Copy&Paste method, or re-open the selected articles in Internet Explorer. This is because, at the moment, SuperMemo supports direct imports only from Internet Explorer.
For more details on importing multiple articles see: Web import
Dedicated imports (Wikipedia, YouTube, and pictures)
The most popular sources of learning materials are Wikipedia (for incremental reading) and YouTube (for incremental video). For those sources, you have separate options available on the import menu (right click on the Paste an article button on the learnbar). You can also use shortcuts Ctrl+Shift+W (Wikipedia) and Ctrl+Shift+Y (YouTube) to import from those two sources. If you choose those options, only articles available from those sources will be displayed on the import list. Additionally, a dedicated filter will best prepare the imported pages for convenient learning.
Figure: After importing an article about the greenhouse effect from Wikipedia (e.g. with Edit : Import web pages : Wikipedia (Shift+Ctrl+W)), its entire text is stored in a single topic.
If you want to import pictures, you can also use a picture filter that will ignore all non-picture pages opened in Internet Explorer. Use Import pictures on the Paste an article button menu on the learnbar (right click). You can also click Filter : Pictures in the web import dialog when importing pages (e.g. with Ctrl+Shift+A).
For more details see: Web import
Importing articles from local files
If you want to import articles from files that reside on your local drive, you can use the following methods:
- Single article from Internet Explorer into a new element
- open the local article in Internet Explorer
- import in the same way as you import articles from the web (e.g. Import by Copy&Paste or Import of multiple articles)
- Single article into existing HTML component
- choose File : Import file on the HTML component menu
- Multiple articles (stored in a single folder)
- use File : Import : Files and folders
- point to the folder that contains the articles (make sure no other files are stored in the folder or its subfolders, otherwise, they will also get imported to SuperMemo)
Skill 2: Reading articles
Here is a simplified algorithm for reading articles:
- Choose an article: Import an article as explained earlier or bring up previously imported articles with Learn (Ctrl+L). Learn will display only articles imported in the past. If you import an article, and want to have it shown later during a learning session on the same day, you must place it in the outstanding queue (e.g. Learning : Later today on the element menu, Ctrl+Shift+J, etc.). If you import many articles that you want to process on the same day, you must place them all in the outstanding queue. For example, open the articles in the browser, and choose Learning : Add all to outstanding (or use Add to outstanding icon on the browser toolbar). Most of the time you can rely solely on Learn to schedule articles optimally for review.
- Click the article to enter the editing mode, in which you can modify text, select fragments, etc. Optionally, use filter (F6), if the text is hard to process (e.g. selections are hard, extracts not marked correctly, etc.)
- Start reading the article from the top or from the last read point
- Extract texts: If you encounter an interesting text in the article, select it and choose Remember extract on the learnbar (or press Alt+X). This operation will introduce the extracted fragment into the learning process as an independent mini-article. If you would like to specify the priority of the new extract, choose Reading : Schedule extract () instead of Remember extract. Also, if you have an impression that the article is difficult and you would like to read some fragments later, extract those fragments with Reading : Schedule extract and provide a review interval that will reflect the time you believe you will be better equipped to understand the extracted fragment.
- Optionally, use Delete before cursor (Alt+\). This will delete the text that you have read, clean up the article, remove garbage, and help tackle HTML that is difficult to process.
- Optionally, if you read a fragment that seems unimportant, select it (e.g. with the mouse) and either delete it (e.g. with the Del key) or mark it with the ignore style. To mark a text as ignore, choose Reading : Ignore on the component menu, click the Ignore text button () on the Read toolbar, or just press Ctrl+Shift+I.
- Optionally, if the selected fragment does not include all the important reading context, you can add this context manually. For example, if you are learning history, you may extract the following fragment from an article about Lincoln: On Sept. 22, 1862, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, one of the most important messages in the history of the world. He signed it Jan. 1, 1863. If you would like to extract the fragment related to signing the Emancipation Proclamation, you will need to change He to Lincoln and it to Emancipation Proclamation so that your stand-alone fragment is understandable: Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. You can use the Reference options on the component menu to easily add context to your extracts (see: References). Context added by Reference will be added automatically to all extracts of a given article. For example, select the text that you want to serve as the reference title of all extracts and choose Reference : Title on the HTML component menu (or press Alt+T). This text will appear at the bottom of all extracts (in reference pink font by default).
- Optionally, mark your last read point: Once you decide to stop reading the article before its end, mark the last processed fragment as the read-point (e.g. with Ctrl+F7 or by choosing Reading : Read-points : Set read-point from the HTML component menu). Next time you come back to this same article, SuperMemo will highlight your read-point and you will be able to resume reading from the point you last stopped reading the article. To go to your current read point, press Alt+F7. If you forget to set a read-point, SuperMemo will leave a read-point at the place of your last extract or last highlight.
- Go to the next article: After you finish reading a portion of one article, choose Learn or Next repetition to proceed with reading other articles. Those buttons are located at the bottom of the element window. You can also use Enter, which will work as long as the selection in the text is not empty (e.g. marked as a reading point), or if you have left the editing mode (e.g. with Esc). If no text is selected, Enter will add a new line in the text (as is the case with standard text editors).
- Optionally, determine the next review date (e.g. with Ctrl+Shift+R), or set the new priority for the article (e.g. with Alt+P).
- In incremental reading, interrupted reading is a rule, not an exception! With a dose of practice, you will quickly get accustomed to this not-so-natural state of affairs and learn to appreciate the power of the incremental approach. The main role of interruption is to prevent the decline in the quality of reading. Use the following criteria to decide when to stop reading the article:
- lack of time: if you still have many articles for review for a given day and your time is running out, keep your increments shorter. After some time, being in a hurry will be a norm and you will tend to read only 1-2 paragraphs of each article and dig deeper only into groundbreaking articles that will powerfully affect your knowledge.
- boredom: if the article tends to make you bored, stop reading. Your attention span is always limited. If your focus is poor, you will benefit more from the article if you return to it after some break. Go on to reading something that you are not yet tired of. If SuperMemo schedules the next review at a date you consider too late, use Ctrl+J or Shift+Ctrl+R to adjust the next review date.
- lack of understanding: if you feel you need more knowledge before you are able to understand the article, postpone it (e.g. use Ctrl+J or Shift+Ctrl+R and schedule the next review in 100 days or so). If you believe you have already imported articles with relevant explanatory knowledge, you can search for these articles (e.g. with Ctrl+F). Once you find them, you can (1) execute a subset review, or (2) add the articles to the outstanding queue for reading on the same day, or (3) advance the articles (for example, in the browser, you can execute: Learning : Review all, or Learning : Add to outstanding, or Advance : Topics). If you have not yet imported any explanatory articles, you can do it now (e.g. search the web and import articles as explained before). Note that you can select a piece of text in SuperMemo and use Ctrl+F3 to search encyclopedias or dictionaries for more material on a given subject.
- lower priority: read lower priority articles in smaller portions thus reducing the overall time allocation to low priority subjects.
- overload: if you have a long queue of articles to read, you will naturally read in smaller portions
- Once you complete reading the entire article and have extracted all the interesting fragments, choose Done! () on the learnbar. You can also press Shift+Ctrl+Enter, choose Done! in the Commander, or choose Learning : Done on the element menu. Done! will dismiss the article and delete its contents (without deleting the extracted material). Done will delete a childless article (i.e. an article that did not provide any interesting extract). Using Done will greatly reduce the size of your collection and eliminate "dead hits" when searching for texts.
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 can be extracted as separate mini-articles 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 the original article. Extract important fragments and single sentences with Extract (). Use Alt+X, Extract on the learnbar, or Extract on the Read toolbar.
In incremental reading, you always need to quickly recover the context of a question or a piece of text. The easiest way to recover context quickly is via references. References propagate from element to element as you produce extracts and cloze deletions. With all child elements produced from a given text marked with references, you would never need to worry about losing the context of the question. When you import from the web, references are added automatically. You can also define them manually field by field. Exemplary references are shown in pink in the picture below. For details see: References.
Figure: Typical snapshot of incremental reading. While learning about the greenhouse effect, the student extracts the fragment saying that "In the absence of the greenhouse effect and an atmosphere, the Earth's average surface temperature of 14 °C (57 °F) could be as low as -18 °C (-0.4 °F), the black body temperature of the Earth.". The extracted fragment will inherit illustrations placed on the right, as well as article references. The student can move on to reading another article by pressing Enter. The picture on the right is stored locally in the image registry (on the user's hard disk) and can be reused to illustrate other articles or questions.
Cloze: Generating 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. However, it will also show that once the time between reviewsincreases beyond 200-300 days, reading and re-reading (passive review) will often result in insufficient recall. For this reason, sooner or later, you will need to convert your texts to specific questions. For that purpose you will use cloze deletion.
A cloze deletion is an item that uses an ellipsis ([...]) to replace a part of a sentence.
Question: The capital of Sierra Leone is [...]
In incremental reading, cloze deletions are generated from topics that have a form of a sentence or a simple paragraph.
To create a cloze deletion do the following:
- make sure a topic contains a short sentence only (e.g. The capital of Sierra Leone is Freetown)
- select an important keyword in that sentence (e.g. Freetown)
- do one of the following:
Remember cloze will convert a sentence into a specific question with an answer. By using cloze, you will move from passive review to active recall. You do not need to wait until a paragraph or a sentence becomes 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.
The examples below show how to effectively use Remember cloze.
Figure: Two numbers from the extracted sentence are used as keywords for generating questions and answers (temperatures of 14 °C and -18 °C)
Figure: The sentence extracted during incremental reading (see the previous picture) is converted into a cloze deletion. (i.e. a question-answer pair forming the final product of incremental reading used in strengthening the memory of a given fact (here: hypothetical temperature on Earth devoid of atmosphere)). The picture from the original extract has been inherited (on the right). Pink texts at the bottom of the question are references generated automatically when importing an article from Wikipedia.
When you click Cloze, you will not see your newly generated cloze. Only the selected keyword will change the color. This will speed up your work. However, if you would like to immediately edit the newly created cloze deletion, choose the Back button () on the navigation bar or press Alt+Left arrow. This will make it possible to add context clues, shorten the text, improve the wording, etc.
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 that 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 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:
- clearer purpose of the question: the fact that the question is about the year in which the Internet began is emphasized by using the red-colored (year) hint.
- brevity: by removing superfluous information, you will not waste time on information that is not likely to be remembered (only actively recalled material will be remembered for years). You will answer the question and never focus on which universities were originally connected by the early Internet. If you believe this information is also important, you will use the original extract to produce more cloze items that will focus solely on the universities in question by naming them in the answer field (if you disagree, read: 20 rules of formulating knowledge).
- understandability: "the ARPA agency" phrase may defy grammar rules you have learned in primary school, but it is by far more understandable than just the ARPA. In SuperMemo, understandability is more important than stiff rules of grammar or spelling!
Skill 4: Repetition and review
SuperMemo is based on repetition. You will review the learned material from time to time to make sure you prevent forgetting.
If you have never tried SuperMemo before, you will need to get the hang of standard repetitions as described here.
In incremental reading, your review will be based on similar principles as in classical SuperMemo. The main differencesare:
- the learning process will intermingle reading of new articles with reviewing your items
- your items will mostly have a form of cloze deletions, i.e. sentences with a question posed by a missing part [...] (e.g. The planet nearest the Sun is [...])
- as the entire learning process is incremental, your cloze deletions will often show up in an unfinished form
Incrementally processed articles will be subject to periodic review/reading. When you resume reading an article after a certain period, you will proceed to new sections, extracting newly acquired wisdom intoseparate elements with Alt+X (i.e. Remember extract). Usually, you will delete the remnants of the processed article with Delete before cursor (Alt+\).
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 not processed early. 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 your priorities change, you can modify the way you process important articles. At review time, you can either read the entire article without interruption, or bring it back for review in 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 intervals of articles, or review them all when needed (see: Subset review).
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 that you achieve a high level of knowledge retention, which might be compromised by manual intervention. However, the algorithm for determining inter-review intervals for topics 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. Priorities and A-Factors are determined and modified 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. You can change the priority and A-Factor of an article by pressing Alt+P. You can also use Shift+Ctrl+Up arrow and Shift+Ctrl+Down arrow to increase or decrease an element's priority. Note that 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 Shift+Ctrl+R (Execute repetition) to determine the date of the next review. Ctrl+J will increment the current interval, while Shift+Ctrl+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 repetition date will be set in 3 days, and the last repetition date will not change (the new interval will be 103). 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 other words, Reschedule increments the interval (it can also shorten intervals), while Execute repetition sets the length of the interval (while leaving a trace of a repetition executed in the learning process). Note that Reschedule (Ctrl+J) executed at Next repetition stage will first complete the repetition and will have the same effect as Execute repetition (Shift+Ctrl+R). To delay a repetition during learning, use any of the earlier stages of the repetition cycle.
In a heavily overloaded incremental reading process, you will often want to focus on a specific subject on a given day (e.g. before an exam). For that purpose, read about the priceless tool: subset learning.
- use the Learn button to process, learn, and review all your knowledge
- the review of items is handled by the SuperMemo Algorithm. Grade your items well, formulate them well, and mark them with honest priorities. SuperMemo will take care of the rest
- review of topics/articles also occurs in increasing intervals, however, you can always manually set the next date with Execute repetition (Shift+Ctrl+R). Make sure you mark your top articles with high priority. Otherwise, they can quickly fade from view
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 you can swiftly handle the overload, SuperMemo uses the priority queue.
Using Alt+P (Priority : Modify on the element menu), you can set each element's priority from 0% to 100%. Note that 0% correspondswith high priority!
By default, the 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:
- manual sorting of elements,
- defining sorting criteria,
- turning off auto-sort and auto-postpone, and more.
For more options for handling the overload, see:
- the postpone dialog to postpone portions of the learning material and to define the postpone criteria
- Mercy to spread the excess of the learning material over a period of time (or to advance the material before a vacation, etc.)
- to learn more about different options, see also: Postpone, Advance and Mercy
Other basic skills
Evolution of knowledge in incremental reading
3 main principles will underlie the evolution of knowledge in SuperMemo:
- decrease in complexity - articles will be converted into sets of paragraphs. Paragraphs will be dismantled into sets of independent sentences and statements. Sentences will be shortened to maximize the information-vs-wording ratio, etc.
- active recall - all pieces of information will ultimately be converted into active recall material such as question-answer pairs, cloze deletions, picture recognition tests, sound recognition tests, etc. This is to maximize your recall of knowledge
- incrementalism - all changes will take place gradually in proportion to available time, with respect to your selected material's priority, and in line with the gradually increasing strength of memory traces. Incremental nature of learning in SuperMemo will help you get the maximum memory effect in minimum time. See: The value of interruption in learning
For additional information, mnemonic cues, and a sheer fun of learning, an article that you read incrementally in SuperMemo can be illustrated with meaningful pictures taken from its contents, or from other sources. Press Ctrl+F8 to choose one of the pictures embedded in the article.
If you happen to import from Wikipedia, SuperMemo 16 or later makes it possible to illustrate an article and all its extracts and clozes with full resolution images instead of just thumbs.
Figure: Download images (Ctrl+F8) makes it possible to download remote images referred to in the HTML code of an HTML component and import them into the image registry. In the picture, pictures to illustrate the Donald Trump article from Wikipedia are being downloaded. At first, images are snapped from the browser renderer as thumbs. Full size images are downloaded in parallel. 5 images of the 34 listed have already been downloaded (as indicated in the caption) while the other 2 are still being downloaded (marked with → followed by the current download progress, i.e. 27.9% and 38.2% completed). You can illustrate the element with the thumbs or you can wait until the full images are downloaded. On an average speed connection, images usually download faster than you can review them. In other words, unlike in SuperMemo 16, you usually do not need to wait for image downloads. Insert will insert the picture to illustrate the article and all its extracts and clozes (those which are ready for insertion are marked with ✔). The thumbs/pictures that have not been inserted, will be available for download in all portions of the text that include the corresponding images.
For more, see: Visual learning
Topics vs. Items
In SuperMemo you see pieces of information presented to you in 2 basic forms:
- topics: these are usually longer articles that you want to read
- items: these are usually specific questions that you will need to answer
Topics and items are presented in a different manner and at different times. Topics keep the knowledge you want to learn (i.e. things you want to read about), while items keep the knowledge that you want to remember (i.e. the knowledge you already posses, but might forget).
A topic in SuperMemo is an article, its part, or a sentence that you want to learn. Topics can also have a form of a picture, a video, a piece of music, etc. Unlike items, topics do not test your knowledge. They are used in passive reading, watching, or listening only. Short text topics are used to generate cloze deletions. Topics take part in the incremental learning process. Once they are converted to items, they are often dismissed (i.e. ignored in learning) or done (i.e. deleted from the learning process altogether). Both Done! and Dismiss must be executed by the user (i.e. they are not automatic).
Topics are marked in Contents with a green T icon (). Topics may be very long (entire articles) or very short (single sentences). This is how you work with topics:
- read the topic from the top
- if you find some interesting information, extract it (e.g. with Alt+X); the extract will form a new independent topic; the new topic will be shorter and will be handled in the same way as all other topics
- decide how far you want to go into reading the topic depending on its priority and available time (e.g. interrupt fast, if you are in a hurry, or read it all, if the topic is of top importance)
- if you finish reading the topic, execute Done! (e.g. Ctrl+Shift+Enter); this will delete the topic without deleting the material that it produced
- only if the topic is as short as a single sentence, create cloze deletions (e.g. with Alt+Z)
- return to reading the topic next time it comes for review
On longer topics you read and extract, on very short topics you generate cloze deletions.
Item in SuperMemo is a piece of knowledge that you want to remember. It usually has a question&answer form. The main difference between an item and a topic is that an item actively tests your memory (e.g. with a question), while a topic is used for passive review only (e.g. for reading, viewing, watching, etc.).
SuperMemo 17 introduces a new element type: concept (denoted in Contents with an orange lightbulb icon ()). Such an element represents an important idea or subject. Multiple topics and items (or even tasks) can be linked to a concept. The link associates them with the idea/subject represented by the concept. The concept-based network of links is called a concept map. It forms a skeleton for the spreading activation which underlies neural review.
In addition to items, topics and concepts, you can also use tasks in incremental learning. Tasks are jobs sorted by Value/Time or Value/Price ratio.
For an extensive comparison of items, topics, concepts and tasks in SuperMemo, see: Element types in SuperMemo.
Overload occurs when the student has more outstanding items or topics to review than (s)he can handle. Few users can sustain more than 200 item repetitions per day. When the Outstanding parameter in the Statistics window starts going above that number, overload is likely.
Overload can best be handled with Auto-postpone. However, a one-time big load can be resolved efficiently with Postpone (delaying all elements), or Mercy (spreading all review in time).
You can also postpone a specific topic with all its extracts using the following method:
- Go to the topic in question
- Press Ctrl+Space to open the topic, its extracts, and clozes in the browser
- Choose Process browser> : Postpone on the browser menu
Note that you may need to use Learning : Locate extracts on the element menu if you have moved portions of your learning material to other branches.
Auto-sort and auto-postpone
As long as you prioritize your learning material well, you should make your life easier by checking the following 2 options:
Auto-postpone always leaves a number of top-priority elements in the queue. The purpose of the postpone is to get rid of the main mass of low-priority material and focus on top-priority material. You are most likely to use Postpone after a day of learning, while Auto-postpone is executed before your learning day begins. This is why it never affects today's material, and does not postpone top-priority material from previous days. If you have Auto-postpone checked on the menu, you will always start the day with all the repetitions scheduled for that day, and a number of unexecuted top-priority repetitions from previous days. Even though Auto-postpone increases the intervals and reduces the retention of low-priority material, it also makes you benefit from the spacing effect. Research shows that longer intervals may paradoxically increase the speed of learning (up to a certain point). This comes from the fact that the default retention in SuperMemo (around 95%) is higher than the retention that delivers the largest number of items remembered per unit of time invested.
You can start with default settings of the sorting criteria, however, if you feel you make insufficient progress with items (e.g. high forgetting index), you can reduce the proportion of topics. If the inflow of new material is too slow, you can increase the proportion of topics. If your priorities are imperfect, increase the degree of randomization. If you think you miss too many high priority items (see: Tools : Statistics : Analysis : Use : Priority protection from the main menu), reduce the randomization. By trial and error, you will arrive at your optimum. Even after you find your optimum, keep experimenting with different randomization and topic levels. This will help you avoid various cognitive biases that develop through the routine of learning. It may also be helpful to execute random review from time to time (just to get a general feel of your overall progress).
With Auto-sort and Auto-postpone, you will nearly never have to worry about material overload. Each time you start SuperMemo for the first time on a given day, it will first postpone repetitions that you failed to execute on previous days. It will use default postpone criteria which you can always modify (e.g. with Learn : Postpone : All elements). After postponing the backlog of repetitions, SuperMemo will sort today's repetitions and those that were left outstanding by Auto-postpone. Auto-sort will use sorting criteria specified earlier with Learn : Sorting : Sorting criteria.
With Auto-postpone and Auto-sort, you can always begin your day with a manageable portion of material sorted by priority. Your learning sequence will be optimized with no action on your part (i.e. no options to choose, and no keys to press).
- With or without Auto-postpone, your only sure remedy against forgetting is always the same: complete your repetitions!
- Auto-postpone affects all days except for today. If you have low-priority topics scheduled for today, Auto-postpone will delay them only tomorrow and only if you do not review them today. This is to ensure that low-priority topics also have a chance to enter repetitions as determined by your Randomization/Prioritization balance in the sorting criteria
- In the Postpone dialog, Skip the following number of top priority elements skips only elements that were skipped by Skip conditions on the Parameters tab. It will not protect elements from being postponed if they are not protected by the postpone criteria. Whatever the value of this parameter, you can still have all your elements postponed. You can best view it as a pro-postpone parameter that is used to force extra postpones (not an anti-postpone parameter that protects your from extra postpones). Skip here means "skip postpone protections" not "skip postpones"
- Simulate in Postpone can be used to tell you how well your current postpone criteria work. It ignores Skip the following number of top priority elements because this parameter needs no simulation (it will always enforce skipping the said number of elements protected from Postpone by the postpone criteria)
Subset review is a review of a portion of the learning material (e.g. before an exam). The portion may be identified with search, by branch selection in Contents, by concept group, and other means that determine a subset of elements. The reviewed subset material may be sorted by its sequence in the knowledge tree (Contents), priority, difficulty, interval, recency, etc.
For more, see Subset learning
Hints and tips
- Importing articles from Wikipedia is easiest:
- to search for Wikipedia articles press Ctrl+F3, type in some keywords, choose Wikipedia, press Enter
- to search for an article on a subject you are reading about, select a portion of text and press Ctrl+F3. Choose Wikipedia as described above
- to import Wikipedia articles from Internet Explorer, press Shift+Ctrl+W (Edit : Import web pages : Wikipedia on the main menu)
- To quickly import many articles from the web, do the following:
- find the articles (e.g. with Google),
- open them in Internet Explorer,
- in SuperMemo, use Shift+Ctrl+A (Edit : Import web pages : All from the main menu)
- To quickly search for articles on the subject you are reading about, select a portion of text, press Ctrl+F3 and choose Google
- To type your own notes in SuperMemo use Alt+N (Edit : Add a note on the main menu)
- If you would like to store pictures locally on your hard disk (in the image registry), and make them proliferate in incremental reading (e.g. show up in all extracts even if the extracts do not include the picture, etc.), then you must import the pictures to image components using one of the following methods:
- to import pictures included in a single article use Ctrl+F8 (Download images on the component menu), select images and click Insert
- to import pictures from the web, use Copy on the picture in your Internet browser and then press Shift+Ins or Ctrl+V in SuperMemo to paste the picture (if the picture does not paste, press Esc a few times to get to the display mode and try Shift+Ins or Ctrl+V again)
- to import many pictures from many articles in Internet Explorer, use Edit : Import web pages : Pictures) and choose Local images only or Page of images as the import mode
- to optimize the tiling of many pictures after the import, use Components : Tile components on the element menu
- see also: Adding pictures to SuperMemo
- Instead of scanning paper books and doing OCR for the sake of incremental reading, always begin with looking for electronic equivalents. In most basic areas of knowledge, there are multiple sources of learning materials available. There are fewer and fewer cases where you need to do any scanning. These days, you can even be finicky and search for HTML texts to replace your nice PDF materials (to avoid the pain of converting PDF to HTML)
- Some texts rich in pictures and tables may be handled with difficulty by SuperMemo (the older the SuperMemo, the more difficulty you may experience). It may be very useful to learn to use HTML filters (press F6). Some of the problems stem from bugs in Internet Explorer that SuperMemo employs to display and edit texts formatted in HTML. This particularly refers to older versions of Internet Explorer (e.g. IE 6.0). It is therefore highly recommended you install Internet Explorer 7 or later to make your life easier
- If you are pressed by exam deadlines and still not too fluent with incremental reading, it would make more sense to do some of your old and new learning in parallel. For example, 30% incremental reading and 70% traditional learning. You are bound to make many mistakes in strategy and the discovery process may take longer than until the exam. At the beginning you will have a big overhead cost (strategy, material selection, formulation, learning SuperMemo itself, etc.). It would not then be surprising if your performance on the exam actually dropped at your first try! You could pick a couple of chapters that you particularly enjoy and use them in your incremental learning practice. You would then process the rest of the material using your old methods. You cannot possibly embark on a massive conversion of textbooks into SuperMemo material before you get the feel of how to do it right! It can backfire and discourage the use of SuperMemo. As always, proceed carefully and incrementally
Inflow of new articles
- SuperMemo uses 2 basic element types: topics (articles) and items (questions and answers). Those are treated differently in the review process. Topics represent what you want to know, while items hold what you know. To better understand the difference, see: Topics vs. Items
- Keep your topics/articles in check. Use your sorting criteria to make sure you get a solid dose of daily items/questions in addition to your reading. High topic overload may slow your item flow and damage the active recall process. High topic load will make SuperMemo resemble traditional reading where your retention is unacceptably low. You can decide your optimum ratio on the basis of time needed for repetitions. For example, 5:1 item:topic ratio would probably still make you spend more time on reading than on reviewing. Increase that ratio to increase your retention, reduce the ratio temporarily if you need to do a great deal of reading. If you are not sure, set items:topics to anywhere between 3:1 and 8:1. Still too hard to decide? Review 5 items for each topic in the outstanding queue.
- Tools : Statistics : Statistics : Protection can be used to inspect your progress in processing top priority material on a given day
- Tools : Statistics : Analysis : Use : Protection can be used to inspect the degree of processing of your top priority material over time
- While reading, you can display the Read toolbar on the learnbar by clicking the Reading options button (). You can also choose Window : Toolbars : Read to place the toolbar in a convenient place on the screen and press Shift+Ctrl+F5 to save the current layout of windows as the default one. The toolbar may be helpful before you learn to use the keyboard to access all its functions
- If you do not like the large spacing between the lines when you press Enter, use Shift+Enter. Remember this trick! Many users struggle for months with line spacing only to discover this precious tip. This tricky behavior is by Internet Explorer, not by SuperMemo
- Once you finish processing the article, use Done! () on the learnbar or Learning : Done from the element menu (e.g. with Ctrl+Shift+Enter followed by all necessary confirmations with Enter). This will clean up your learning process without affecting the work you have done (all extracts and clozes will remain in the learning process). Done! deletes (1) the article, (2) its repetition history, (3) its components, etc. However, it leaves the original empty element as a source of reference and as a holder for the derived structure of extracts and cloze deletions. Done! is executed at the moment when you believe you have completed reading and processing a given piece of text. This usually means skipping all unimportant parts and extracting all important parts of the article. You repeat Done! on all topic extracts generated from the article. You will quickly discover that keeping the original articles for reference only clutters your collection, increases its size and produces an excess of search hits. Getting rid of the original is usually the preferred action. You can always get to the original article on the net using its reference link
- If you return to an interrupted article in the learning process, the cursor in the text is set on the last-processed text. That text selection is called a read-point. When leaving the article, you can also manually set the read-point' at the place where you interrupted reading. Choose Ctrl+F7 to set the read-point, or click the set read-point button () on the Read toolbar
- Highlighting texts automatically sets the read-point
- Use Clear read-point () on the Read toolbar, or press Ctrl+Shift+F7, to remove the read-point
- Enter is the default key used when progressing through the learning cycle. When a read-point is selected and you press Enter, instead of inserting a new line, SuperMemo will automatically begin or resume repetitions. This will also be the case if you make any selections in the text. Enter will play its usual function only if there are no selections in the text. Although using Del and Enter instead of just Enter in these circumstances may seem cumbersome, you will quickly find this behavior indispensable in learning. If you still do not like this Enter behavior despite giving it a try, set
Allow Read-Point Enter=0 in [BIN]\supermemo.ini
- If you use Delete before cursor, you may be annoyed by lack of Undo. However, if you mistakenly delete important texts (e.g. when using After instead of Before), you can find a temporary backup of the deleted text in collection's [TEMP] folder (the file is named Last text portion delete with element number and delete time appended). The backup file is deleted only at Repair collection or at File : Tools : Garbage, i.e. it will not disappear if you quit the element
- Horizontal lines can be used to split articles. If you insert a horizontal line and call Split article, the article will be split into separate elements. Split article is also available from the Commander. To insert a horizontal line press Shift+Alt+H or type <hr>, select it, and press Ctrl+Shift+1 (or choose Text : Convert : Parse HTML on the component menu). Parse HTML () is also available on the learnbar
- Use Ctrl+] and Ctrl+[ to change the size of the font in the selected text
- In incremental reading, you should always strive at converting passive texts into active questions. Ideally, all passive texts should be deleted when done with. All interference from "outside world" makes SuperMemo less precise. Passive texts provide little extra help in learning. At the same time, they provide interference, and should only be used to generate new clozes (or for reference)
- When you press Alt+Z, the currently selected keyword in the current topic is marked as clozed. The newly created item is not visible (i.e. you will not immediately see the answer nor the deletion brackets). You can see the newly created item by pressing Alt+Left arrow. Use that key to edit the newly created cloze (e.g. to add context clues, shorten the text, improve the wording, etc.). However, if possible, you should do such mini-jobs incrementally, i.e. on the next encounter with the clozed item
- If you want to cloze more than one keyword, before you apply Cloze, you should make sure that the processed statement or paragraph is as simple as possible. You should try to use only one-sentence extracts to generate cloze deletions! Some newcomers dislike incremental learning at first. Monster cloze deletions are a chief reason for their negative feelings. Simplifying the parent paragraph to a simple statement will produce simple clozes that will require little processing. Using Cloze on complex texts multiplies the cost of re-editing when simplifying texts (in all cases where you cloze more than one keyword). If you use Cloze on a longer multi-sentence paragraph, you will have to put extra effort in simplifying the resulting items. All cloze deletions should be short enough to ensure you read them entirely at repetition time. Otherwise, your brain will tend to "deduce" the answer from non-semantic cues. This will defeat the purpose of learning! By using one-sentence extracts for cloze deletions, you will save ages on repetition time and eons on time needed to simplify clozes and converting them to the final form based on the minimum information principle. If you plan to cloze only a single keyword along the incremental principles, you can afford less pre-cloze simplification/editing, esp. on the material that still needs more work on its "big picture" structure
- Your work on extracting fragments, producing cloze deletions and editing them should be incremental. In each review, do only as much work on the learning material as is necessary! Extracting and editing in intervals adds additional benefit to learning and is more time-efficient. Each time you rethink structure and formulation, you hone the representation and "connectivity" of a given piece of knowledge in your memory. In addition, your priorities change as you proceed with learning. At times, you will over-invest in a piece of knowledge that quickly becomes irrelevant or out-dated. The incremental approach will reduce the impact of over-investment. Incrementalism should then be used not only while reading, but also in the follow-up processing and formulation of knowledge. See: Examples. Unless you work with top-priority material, do not generate all your cloze deletions in one go. Make it incremental. Generate a cloze today, and another one at the next review. The incremental nature of the learning process, variegated coloring of texts marked with processing styles, and a complex extract hierarchy seem to quarrel with the perfectionist nature of many. However, the purpose of incremental reading is the maximum effect in minimum time. For that reason, at extract time, you are already forming passive trace memory engrams of the extracted sentence. The optimum strategy then is not to proceed with generating cloze deletions, but to move on to other elements in the queue or to other extracts in the same article (if the high priority of the article justifies it)
- Once you finish processing a paragraph with cloze deletions, use Done! () on the learnbar or on the element menu (e.g. with Ctrl+Shift+Enter). This will clean up your learning process without affecting the work you have done. All clozes will remain in the learning process. Done! deletes the extract/paragraph, however, it leaves the original empty element as a holder of the derived cloze deletions. Once you believe your cloze deletions cover all vital keywords of the statement that forms the topic, you execute Done! again. In the end, only cloze items remain in the learning process. Note that the process of descending from the source article to individual clozes may take years. The whole process is incremental and is paced by the declining traces of memory. A single cloze generated from a short sentence often allows of retaining good memory of the entire statement for months. Except for mission-critical pieces of information, you do not execute cloze deletions on all keywords until individual keywords raise questions as to whether they can be recalled individually
- Converting to plain text: Plain text takes much less space. Collections rich in plain text are faster to back up. You can convert short pieces of HTML to plain text as long as they do not contain formatting information that may be needed to effectively remember the text. In the long run, simple plain text items might do their work better by depriving you of additional cues carried by the formatting. Leave some of your items as HTML and convert some to plain text. After some time you will probably have your own preferences as to which do their work better
- After generating a cloze, the last character remains selected. On one hand it indicates which keyword has just been processed, on the other, selections make it possible to use Enter to move to the next element in repetitions
- If you keep getting questions about the template to use at cloze, use Search : Concepts to inspect the concept group to which you imported the article and uncheck Auto-Apply
- You can change the appearance of extracts and cloze deletions with stylesheets. See: Changing the appearance of cloze keywords
Changing the appearance of cloze keywords
This is how you can modify the default cloze style in SuperMemo:
- From the main menu, select Tools : Options
- In the Options dialog box, click the Fonts tab
- On the Fonts tab, click the Stylesheet button
- In the SuperMemo Stylesheet dialog box, select the Clozed option in the drop list at the top; then use Font, Color, and Background buttons to set individual properties of that style
Removing cloze keyword formatting
Display the HTML code behind a given cloze text (e.g. with Ctrl+Shift+F6). In the HTML code, replace class=clozed with an empty string.
|HTML||This is my example <SPAN class=clozed>element</SPAN>||This is my example <SPAN>element</SPAN>|
|WYSIWYG||This is my example element||This is my example element|
Your cloze keywords will be formatted in the same way as the surrounding text.
Mimic real life situations to combat memory interference
Some texts present knowledge in the form that is difficult to remember. Lists and sets are a good example of knowledge that does not stick to memory. Even if you perfectly know the map of Africa, answering the request: "List all countries of Africa" may be pretty hard. There are proven techniques that will help you tackle repetitive, list-rich, or boring knowledge with SuperMemo. All solutions are costly at memorization stage, but will pay handsomely in the long run due to lesser forgetting rate. The basic 2 principles are:
- gradually glue individual pieces to your overall knowledge structure
- be as visual and mnemonic as possible
Here are some specific hints:
- use a mind map: search the net for a nice mnemonic picture of the subject studied (e.g. political map of Africa). The picture will provide the basic skeleton for your memory. Like ornaments on a Christmas tree, you will hang new pieces of knowledge on this mnemonic skeleton. Use the picture to illustrate all topics and items in the studied concept group.
- do not learn it all at once: Add individual items gradually at a point when they acquire some special meaning. Add them when they fit snugly with the rest of your knowledge. Add them when you specifically need them or when you learn about a related subject. If you need enumerative knowledge for an exam, cram it using traditional methods, and still continue adding individual pieces in unique contexts later on when you feel they are interesting or important.
- associate with stories: if you ask an expert in the field, you will probably hear that (s)he mastered enumerative knowledge by association with individual case stories. Whatever he or she learned at school was quickly forgotten, but individual cases or problems to solve leave a good and durable imprint due to their uniqueness. Once you hit upon a story that is relevant to your hard-to-remember items, try to learn those items in the context of that particular story (e.g. hang the Cameroon up on your knowledge tree only when reading about Eto's move to Chelsea). If you encounter cases in the course of your practise, describe them shortly and use them to supply context.
- supplement with incremental reading: instead of formulating all items along the same repetitive and monotonous template, try to use incremental reading to generate cloze deletions that work on separate storylines. Ideally, you would review your topic and generate just a single subtopic (e.g. on a single country in Africa). Always choose the one that seems most obvious or most important to remember. Always try to add some supplementary material. Be sure you do not provide clues that will make you answer correctly without forming an appropriate association
- compare with experts: ask an expert in the field how (s)he remembers a given fact or association. In some cases you may be dismayed to see how poorly experts recall compulsory college material. At other times, you will see how their memory tackles the problem with ease by using a simple mnemonic. This will help you emulate real life learning at a compressed timescale without ever wasting time on trying to master what others never manage to master anyway. That's the basic difference between school learning and your efficient incremental learning: you do not cram it dry along a rigid prescription. You use your creativity to incrementally build a durable structure of useful knowledge!
Example: dealing with enumerations
If you happen to learn the geological periods, you are bound to generate nasty leeches, esp. if you are new to the subject. Using the top-down learning rule, be sure you know the eras, before you learn the periods, and before you move on to the epochs, and further down the tree of knowledge.
A typical mistake would be to start from cramming the meaningless sequence of periods. For example, clozing the Paleozoic Era sequence: "Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian" could result in a question that is bound to cause problems: "Cambrian, Ordovician, [...], Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian". This cloze will trouble anyone who is not privy to the field. In other words, only those who come with the knowledge ready in their mind will be able to tackle this type of question at little cost! Conclusion: there is no point in learning lists the hard way unless you already know what you are trying to learn! Catch 22!
Instead of using the above approach, it would make far more sense to first anchor the Silurian period in your mind with some meaningful event. For example, the appearance of the bony fish. This way, we might start with a cloze based on "The bony fish appeared in Silurian (443-419 mn years ago)". The following question will be far easier to remember: "The bony fish appeared in [...](period)(443-419 mn years ago)". Even if the answer is the same as in the original unfortunate cloze, that question is not semantically equivalent. You will need more cloze deletions. However, working with similar sequences should always proceed incrementally and in proportion to anchoring individual periods in memory. Later on you can move on to clozing dates, epochs, and other details. All the time you should try to add new interesting anchors and work with the material in parallel to the inflow of meaningful information that is likely to stay long in memory.
- Use Ctrl+W (Tools : Workload from the main menu) to view the calendar of repetitions. Double-click a day to see which elements will be reviewed on that day. You can also inspect which elements had been reviewed on individual days in the past (switch from Workload to Repetitions mode)
- To inspect the number of today's outstanding elements, peek at the status bar which can be saved at the bottom of the screen in the default layout. You can also look at the Statistics window (e.g. with F5). The Statistics window can also be saved in the default layout (with Ctrl+Shift+F5)
- The optimum time allocation for reading (topics) and learning (items) depends on a number of factors: the subject and the importance of articles, their difficulty, fun factor, your interests, your preferences, your knowledge, your mood, your circadian cycle, etc. The optimum allocation of time can vary from seconds to hours! This is one of the factors where the power of incremental reading comes from. For some texts, you may find it difficult to reach reasonable attention levels for longer than a few minutes. Often you can retain your maximum processing power for just a single sentence or paragraph. On other texts that are highly interesting, well written, highly useful, or highly important, your curiosity and rage to master may kick in and let you go on for several hours without a break. In incremental reading, the primary criterion for time allocation is your level of concentration. You can literally lick a hundred articles in a continuous block of time and still keep your mind highly focused and alert. Some articles will be processed in depth, others will be quickly postponed. The concentration criterion is all-inclusive. It includes all factors listed above: difficulty of an article may affect your concentration, your tiredness will always reduce optimum allocations for difficult texts and increase allocations for interesting or enjoyable texts (those who help you "survive" a bad learning day)
- You can leave some low-priority material in the passive form (i.e. without generating cloze deletions). Naturally, this material will gradually become difficult to recall or entirely forgotten. The best moment for using Remember cloze is when you notice that the material becomes volatile. Do not convert the entire passage into clozes at once (unless it is very important). Pick the most important keyword and create just a single cloze deletion. When the next review of the passage comes along, you will be able to determine which other keywords must be used with cloze deletion to prevent forgetting the key information. It is very difficult to predict how many clozes you will need to generate to attain perfect recall of the whole passage. On occasion, a single cloze suffices. At other times, a single passage can require a dozen of clozes!
- The better you get, the more often you will want to resort to incremental learning. The stronger your incremental learning skills, the shorter the working period that makes employing incremental learning effective. For a proficient user, even a next day's assignment might make sense to be done with incremental learning tools. For a beginner though, it is enough to consider that it may take you a few months of practise to truly understand the flow of knowledge in incremental reading (and in your memory). This alone might make it ineffective in learning for a test that comes in a month or two
- Auto-postpone brings you closer to the ideal spaced repetition learning by reducing the load of low priority material that you cannot possibly master due to excess volume. In a sense, auto-postpone separates high priority material (spaced repetition) and low priority material (traditional learning). Without it, you are stuck in the middle of those two extremes
- You can increase the randomization of your material by adding to Randomization degree in sorting criteria (Learn : Sorting : Sorting criteria from the main menu). Randomization can be set separately for topics and items. It should help you avoid tunnel vision and the priority bias
- You can shorten or increase the interval for individual elements. If you want to schedule a given article for review on a selected day, choose Learning : Reschedule on the element menu (e.g. by pressing Ctrl+J). You can also use Learning : Execute repetition (e.g. by pressing Ctrl+Shift+R). Execute repetition works like Reschedule with this difference that a repetition will be executed before rescheduling. Choose between the two depending on whether you have seen the contents of the item and have attempted to recall it from memory. Execute repetition requires providing a grade (unless you execute it on day when a repetition has already been done).
- For items of lesser importance, reduce priority (Alt+P), increase the interval (Ctrl+Shift+R), or even increase the forgetting index. Forgetting index can be used to optimize the trade-off between the knowledge acquisition rate and knowledge retention. Giving items low priority in an overloaded collection is similar to giving it a higher forgetting index.
- The degree of damage incurred by material overload can be seen in Tools : Statistics : Analysis : Use : Priority protection. On one hand you want to increase the value of Priority protection. On the other, limiting the speed of importing new articles in proportion to the progress of learning might make your collection "get stale" resulting in less fun in learning and lesser motivation. Some older articles may be pushed away to lower priorities by overload only to be deleted later as not important enough, not good enough, or outdated
- You should never stop thinking about the value of items that you keep in your memory. See: Re-evaluation of items
- Use Learning : Spread in the browser to change the distribution of your learning material in time. You can speed up learning before an exam by compressing your learning schedule in a selected period. You can also redistribute the material in a longer period after a boring exam (for incremental review, re-learning, deprioritization, and/or elimination). For that latter job, you can choose a specific portion of the material to be served per day. Read about Mercy
- Derivation steps in reasoning/mathematics. If you are learning mathematics, you might wonder if you should commit individual derivation steps of a mathematic proof or solution, or should you just focus on the final outcome. The choice will depend on your goals. If you only need the final formula, time spent on learning the derivation steps could be better spent learning other important portions of the material. If you are not sure today what you will need in the future, you could just type in the whole derivation into a single topic and memorize the final formula. Later, in incremental reading, you will make incremental decisions whether portions of the derivation are or are not important in your work or further learning. This piece of knowledge will compete with others in the learning process and in the long term you may ultimately decide if you want to memorize the details, keep them for passive review only, dismiss/delete some of the steps, or dismiss the entire derivation as redundant (or too costly to learn). Naturally, derivation will often enhance your ability to efficiently use the formula. Hence the decision is never easy. Once you have derivation steps committed, you can always play with their priority to determine the probability you will review them well enough to make a difference to your knowledge.
- You can separate reading (topic) from review (items). However, variety is a spice of life. A random mix of reading and repetitions is a very powerful tool in overcoming the monotony of the earlier versions of SuperMemo. Interspersing topics with items provides for many of the advantages of incremental reading as opposed to traditional learning or classical SuperMemo. To review topics only (reading) choose (1) View : Outstanding, (2) Child : Topics and then (3) Process browser> : Learning : Learn (Ctrl+L). To make repetitions only (items), use an analogous method. It might be a better strategy to mix topics and items during the reading phase, and consolidate knowledge by making item-only repetitions later in the day. In the end, sticking to priorities, auto-sort, and auto-postpone will be the best least-biased long-term strategy
- Fun is the key to success: If your learning text is too "dry", not too meaningful, too wordy, etc. the fun of learning will drop. If learning is not enjoyable, it is less likely to be effective. If you dislike a specific article, perhaps a Wikipedia replacement would be fun and more meaningful? Even if this is a bit longer, you can process it pretty fast with incremental reading, illustrate with pictures, and enjoy the process
- Nurse your hunger for knowledge: You have to find the clear-cut link between knowledge and the value it brings to life. The hunger for knowledge grows as you get more educated (the more you know the more you know you don't know). So there is an excellent remedy for poor motivation: learn more and see how it can impact your and others' life
- You determine the speed of learning in incremental reading! You can determine the frequency of presentation of topics (e.g. using A-Factors, priorities, Mercy, etc.). You can determine the level of retention for items (e.g. with the forgetting index, priorities, auto-postpone, etc.). You can execute forced ahead-of-time review of any material (see: Subset review)
- You MUST NOT memorize material that you do not understand! There is some hope that by doing more learning in other areas you will at some point understand. It is far more likely though that you will build up frustration with items that mean little. If you do not understand a term or concept, you need to dig deep into why. Is it terminology? This can be easily investigated and fixed. Or is it a problem with the material itself? Perhaps you can find an alternative on the net? Perhaps you can find a nice picture on the net to illustrate the item? Obviously, each little investigation takes time, but it is better to master 10-20% of the material well, that to cram an encyclopedia without comprehension. Even if you fail an exam, those 10% can be useful in the future (e.g. if you retake the exam). In general, schools load more than students can master and this leads to lots of stress and frustration. By choosing SuperMemo, you have already made the first good step. Now you need to make order in the process and think carefully about your best long-term strategy. Comprehension is the key to success!
- If you want to grade an item Null or Bad, press 0 or 1 respectively
- SuperMemo is not yet equipped with tools to help you efficiently use your knowledge for good causes. It will boost your knowledge but... you must be vigilant: Do not spend your time on gaining knowledge for the knowledge sake! Think applicability! Luckily, as your knowledge grows, so does your ability to use it efficiently
Re-evaluation of items
You should remember that all items introduced into your learning process require endless attention in reference to their applicability, formulation, importance, logic, etc. In a well-planned learning process, it should not be necessary to review items in the periods between individual repetitions. However, when an item comes up for a repetition, you should make a quick and nearly instinctive assessment of the following:
- Do I really need this item?
- What is the honest priority of this item in the entire spectrum of my (desired) knowledge?
- Is this item difficult to remember? If so, why?
- Is it factually correct?
- Is it as simple and clear as it could be?
- Do I really need to know it now?
- Do you need supplementary knowledge to understand all ramifications of the item?
Here are some typical actions you will take depending on the answer to the above questions:
- edit the item. You will use keys such as Q, A, or E to enter a desired text field and edit it. In more complex items you will use Ctrl+T to circle between components, Alt+click to switch a component between editing and dragging modes, or Ctrl+E to enter the editing mode
- de-prioritize the item. For items that are not important enough, or you are not sure are important enough, use Alt+P and reduce their priority. You can also use Ctrl+Shift+Down arrow for minor deprioritizations
- reschedule the item. If you know the item well or for some reason want to manually increase (or decrease) the length of the inter-repetition interval, press Ctrl+Shift+R to select the date of the next repetition
- dismiss the item. If you are sure you are not likely to need the item in the future, but you would like to keep it in your collection for reference or archival purposes, press Ctrl+D. Dismissed items are removed from the learning process
- delete the item. The key Del is very useful in cleaning your collection from garbage that results from your desire to know more than your memory can hold. In the editing mode or in spelling items (i.e. at times when Del plays text editing functions), you may need to use Ctrl+Shift+Del instead. Please note that deleting an element in SuperMemo will delete all its children! You may therefore wish to learn to always use safer Done (Ctrl+Shift+Enter) instead
- delay or forget the item. If you think the item is too difficult at the moment, you can postpone learning it. For this purpose, choose Ctrl+J to set a new interval or use Forget to transfer the item to the pending queue. This will give you some time to import some supplementary material that will help you understand the item
- Use minimum information principle which says that simple elements formulated for active recall bring much better learning results than complex elements. This holds true even though one complex element may be equivalent to a large number of simpler elements. See: Minimum information principle.
- Some information may be presented as a list. Lists should be avoided. However, some are inevitable (e.g. list of nerves, list of tributaries, list of EU admissions, etc.). If you need to memorize lists, use mnemonic techniques and try to mimic real life situations to combat memory interference. See also: Learning lists
- The way you ask the question in SuperMemo may differ from the way your life asks you the same question. In other words, you may store some material in SuperMemo, but a real-life situation will trick you into being unable to recall it. In other words, you need to properly formulate the material to maximize its recall in all potential contexts
- Remember about the universality of memorized rules. For example, it is better to learn a universal mathematical formula than just the examples of its use. Examples can be used to emphasize applicability in various contexts
- You can use Parse HTML (Ctrl+Shift+1) to convert selected HTML code into formatting (e.g. try inserting <hr> or <br> and parsing it with Parse HTML). You can also use this option to remove formatting (e.g. if you want to get rid of line breaks)
- You can edit your more elaborate texts using your favorite HTML editor. You need to associate that editor with the filename extension *.HTM. For example, if you associate Microsoft Expression Web (free) with *.HTM, you can edit your texts by just pressing Ctrl+F9. If you would rather leave your associations unchanged, you can use F9 to view the file in Internet Explorer, and choose File : Edit with Microsoft Expression Web (that menu item is added to Internet Explorer by Expression Web). For more see: Open HTML files in the default HTML editor
- Background color styles are used in incremental reading to preserve the original font used in documents. However, for this to work you must uncheck the following option in your Internet Explorer: Tools : Internet options : General : Accessibility : Formatting : Ignore colors specified on webpages
To learn more about efficient formulation read: Effective learning: 20 rules of formulating knowledge
- Important pictures should be kept in image components (not inside HTML texts). Use Ctrl+V or Shift+Ins to paste a picture from the clipboard. You can paste the picture to a new element or to an image component. Do not paste pictures to HTML. Having pictures pasted into an image component makes it easy to resize, tile, fit, or move the image, as well as to change its attributes such as stretch, transparency, display time (e.g. at answer time only), etc. Pictures pasted or imported to image components are stored in the image registry and can be searched for by their name. They can be reused in many elements. They are automatically used to illustrate all extracts and clozes generated from the article that holds the picture. They cannot be easily lost when editing texts, etc. HTML components can keep remote pictures stored on the web but, naturally, you will lose them once the picture is removed from the remote server
- Use Download with Insert or Localize in Download images on the component menu (Ctrl+F8) to transfer remote pictures to your hard disk
- Use Rename (member) (Alt+R) to give pictures meaningful names for an easy search in the image registry
- To search for a picture, use Search : Find elements (Ctrl+F). Alternatively, you can locate it via the image registry with:
- Search : Images (to open the image registry), and
- Ctrl+S to search the registry (same as Search : Find texts on the registry menu)
- If you want a picture to be part of the answer (i.e. not visible at question time), mark it with Answer on the image component menu
To learn more about using pictures, see: Visual learning
See: Hints for using references
Your own discoveries
In incremental learning, you will quickly discover why some of your own ideas about the learning process might not be optimum. Here are some things that you will discover on your own within the first 2-3 months of intense incremental learning:
- recognition is good for your exam, but recall is vital for your professional skills in the long-term
- manually organizing the timing of review is not what suits your memory best; it is actually quite the opposite to the idea of SuperMemo, which says that you review the material at moments that help stabilize memories
- manually organizing the order of review is not what suits your memory best (even though subset review is a very useful tool in SuperMemo when preparing for an exam)
- for beginners, traditional learning might be superior to SuperMemo in a very short-term (perhaps up to 1-2 months) because of the steep learning curve. You need to learn the toolset of incremental reading before you can reap the benefits (unless you employ simple Q&A learning when SuperMemo might be superior even within a week's perspective)
- you may reach 95% recall within 1-2 weeks on condition that you do not postpone your review. However, if you dump 1,000 pages of topics into the process at once, you will simply not manage to review all that material as scheduled by SuperMemo, and your retention might hover around 60-80% depending on how much time you invested in making repetitions
- once SuperMemo learns a bit about your memory and habits (1-3 weeks), you will oscillate around 95% recall as of the first repetition (if you do not delay, and if you stick to the rules of formulating knowledge)
- you will quickly discover that multiple cloze deletions on a single paragraph are not a good idea (e.g. compare the measured forgetting index with items that have the same cloze keywords separated, or just see how thus gained knowledge works in practice)
- you can look at learning parameters in SuperMemo to see how different approaches to learning affect your progress
Advantages of incremental reading
In incremental learning, you learn fast, you acquire massive loads of knowledge, retain memories for life, remember almost all that you have learned, understand things better, develop harmoniously in all directions, enhance your creativity, and all that while having incredible fun! If that sounds too good to be true, please read more below or just give it a solid try.
Incremental learning offers a possibility of studying a huge number of subjects in parallel. In traditional reading, very often, one book or academic subject must be completed before studying another. With incremental learning, there is virtually no limit on how many subjects you can study at the same time. The volume of processed knowledge can be staggering. Only the availability of time and your memory capacity will keep massive learning in check.
As incremental learning is based on spaced repetition, all memories that you form while learning will be indefinitely protected from forgetting. See: General principles of SuperMemo. 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
In incremental learning, the review of the learning material is governed by a spaced repetition algorithm known as the SuperMemo method. The algorithm ensures 95% knowledge retention by default. That fraction can be increased at the cost of higher cost in time (i.e. more frequent review). Retention can also be reduced to increase the overall speed of learning. In heavily overloaded collections, 95% retention figure refers only to top-priority material. To save time, low priority material may be reviewed less frequently, resulting in lesser retention.
One of the limiting factors in acquiring new knowledge is the barrier of understanding. Building knowledge in your brain is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces cannot be placed in the puzzle before the others. Some pieces capitalize on others. There is no point in memorizing facts about Higgs boson before you learn what the standard model is and that, in turn, should follow the general understanding of particle physics which itself requires some ABC of physics. In incremental reading, if you encounter texts related to Higgs boson you can manually delay it until the time you hope your Physics ABC will provide the ground for understanding the boson. In traditional reading, you would just waste your time on reviewing Higgs boson material just because you would not have tools to effectively reschedule and reprioritize your reading in the middle of a longer article. Traditionally, your decision to skip the material would provide no definite way of coming back to the skipped material in the future. With incremental reading, you waste no time on reading material you do not understand. You can safely skip portions of material and return to them in the future. You become the master of the conscious knowledge building process. You can gradually build understanding of complex phenomena.
All written materials, depending on the reader's knowledge, pose a degree of difficulty in accurately interpreting their meaning. This is particularly visible in highly specialist scientific papers that use a sophisticated symbol-rich language. A symbol-rich language is a language that gains conciseness by the use of highly specialist vocabulary and notational conventions. For an average reader, symbol-rich language may exponentially raise the bar of lexical competence (i.e. knowledge of vocabulary required to gain understanding). Incremental reading makes it possible to delay the processing of those articles, paragraphs or sentences that require prior knowledge of concepts that are not known at the moment of reading. The processing of the learning material will only take place then when the new information begins to slot in comfortably in the fabric of the reader's knowledge. You can then gradually proceed through this material and gradually build the understanding from basic or simple facts towards details or more complex components of knowledge. You will build understanding, resolve contradictions and ultimately creatively discover new truths about the learned material. Over time, you will optimize the structure of knowledge in your mind in terms of coherence, integrity, and representation. Incremental reading will make it possible to tackle the hardest material that might otherwise seem unreadable.
Instead of focusing on a single subject of study, the student will review dozens of subject areas in a single day. Instead of monopolizing his or her knowledge with a single area of expertise, he or she will harmoniously deepen all facets of his knowledge in proportion to needs and/or interests. The growth of the knowledge tree will also be guided by the present level of understanding of individual subjects, in proportion to the growth of the supporting knowledge and specialist terminology. Instead of growing a few thick branches, the knowledge tree will grow twigs in all possible directions while still adding bulk to the trunk and main boughs. Incremental learning is inherently incapable of producing medical experts who have never heard of the Kuiper Belt, or astronomers who have no idea what constitutes a basic healthy diet. SuperMemo helps you prioritize the acquisition of knowledge in various fields. It also helps you fine-tune the balance between specialization and general knowledge. See also how SuperMemo prevents tunnel vision
The key to creativity is an association of remote ideas. By studying multiple subjects in unpredictable order, you will increase your power to associate ideas. This will immensely improve your creativity. Incremental reading may be compared to brainstorming with yourself. SuperMemo will throw at you various articles, paragraphs, statements and questions in a most unexpected order. In the long run, the greatest creative advantage comes from knowledge permanently stored in your memory (as opposed to knowledge that requires Google). It is only a matter of creative effort and invested time before different pieces of knowledge can be associated to form new quality. This will also provide your brain with an entertaining form of mental training that will be highly appreciated in all forms of professions based on intellectual performance.
With incremental mail processing, it is also possible to mesh your learning, creative writing, and creative problem solving with a creative mail exchange with other people. This may appear helpful in collective problem solving or in complex projects when you need to strike a balance between focused individual work and pulling the team brains together. This process is called incremental brainstorming. Incremental brainstorming is slower, but it does not need synchronization (circadian rhythm, time zones, motivation, etc.), and you do not need to interrupt each other's work. Incremental brainstorming will never replace face-to-face interactive collaboration, however, it has many advantages associated with incremental learning (creativity, prioritization, attention, meticulousness, long-term viability, etc.). It may provide an excellent knowledge-based supplement, or be your best creative collaboration tool when working at a distance (esp. via different time zones). The creative process is unpredictable, and when you hit your best ideas when the rest of the team is asleep, it makes a good sense to strike the iron while hot: employ creative elaboration and send your idea out.
For more on the employment of incremental learning in the creative process see:
Consistency (resolving chaos and contradiction)
Contradiction and chaos in your learning material comes from bad sources, from errors, from disagreements in science, or from the fact that you start the process from importing a set of unrelated or even chaotic articles describing a studied complex problem.
If your learning material contains contradictory information, your brain will quickly alert you to this fact. In classical learning, you would often relearn new facts that would contradict earlier learned facts. Then you would relearn the older version again and this wasteful cycle might repeat more than once. In SuperMemo, the same process can take place; however, there will be two mechanisms that will turn chaos and contradiction into a self-limiting condition. The first mechanism relies on high retention of knowledge in SuperMemo that will often make you instantaneously spot the contradiction: Wait a minute! I have already learned this fact and the answer was different! Unfortunately, even SuperMemo isn't hermetic to contradiction (your retention actually never reaches 100%). The second mechanism is the convergence of contradictory material in time. If you, for example, learn two different answers to What is the size of human population?, say, 5.5 billion and 6 billion, you will naturally provide a wrong answer to one of these questions. Once you relearn it the new way, you will provide a wrong answer to the other question. Inter-repetition intervals for these two contradictory items will get shorter with each relearning cycle. The repetitions of contradictory items converge in time. Sooner or later, the red alert will be raised by your brain. You will quickly resolve the difference and delete one of the items. Similar process will affect hazy or incompletely specified information. Your knowledge will grow in consistency with time.
In scientific research, acquiring engineering knowledge, studying a narrow topic of interest, etc. we are constantly faced with a chaos of disparate and often contradictory statements. By introducing the chaos of new research into SuperMemo, you will gradually locate contradictions and strive at building better and more consistent models in your memory. Incremental reading stochastically juxtaposes pieces of information coming from various sources and uses the associative qualities of human memory to emphasize and then resolve contradiction. You will quickly lean towards theories that are better supported by research findings. Those supported poorly will be less firm and will often cause recall problems. Naturally, it may happen that you wish to learn contradictory statements too. For example, the opinions of dissenting scientists. In those cases, SuperMemo will help you emphasize the need of rich context. You will label individual statements with their proponent names or with the school of thought labels.
Observers and new users of SuperMemo believe that complexity of incremental reading must make it stressful. Some report that even reading about incremental learning is stressful. However, even though complexity always leads to a degree of stress or confusion, in the long-term, the opposite is true: SuperMemo helps you combat stress. Stressless learning is one of the greatest advantages of incremental learning. All the advantages listed in this section contribute to the sense of fun and relaxation. However, SuperMemo's ability to combat information overload might be the chief factor. Conversely, low stress levels have a miraculous impact on the effectiveness of learning.
Not everyone is stressed with information overload. There is a precondition for experiencing stress of having too much to read or too much to learn: obsessive hunger for knowledge, fear of not being able to keep up, pressing need for new knowledge, etc. This precondition is met in a great proportion of the general population according to a number of studies, and is actually less likely in younger individuals, including students, who are shielded from stress by their less crystallized motivation for learning.
The term Information Fatigue Syndrome has been coined recently to refer to stress coming from problems with managing overwhelming information. Some consequences of IFS listed by Dr. David Lewis, a British psychologist, include: anxiety, tension, procrastination, time-wasting, loss of job satisfaction, self-doubt, psychosomatic stress, breakdown of relationships, reduced analytical capacity, etc. The information era tends to overwhelm us with the amount of information we feel compelled to process. Incremental reading does not require all-or-nothing choices on articles to read. All-or-nothing choices are stressful! Can I afford to skip this article? For months I haven't had time to read this article! etc. SuperMemo helps you prioritize and skip articles partially (by decision) or automatically (i.e. behind the scenes). Oftentimes, reading 3% of an article may provide 50% of its reading value. Reading of articles may be delayed without your participation, i.e. not by stressful procrastination, but by a sheer competition with other pieces of information on the basis of their priority. In incremental reading, instead of hesitating or procrastinating, you simply prioritize.
If you happen to open a dozen of tabs in your web browser, you will often be stressed about the optimum course of action. You might be late for sleep, or late for work, and yet you do not want to lose the information. In SuperMemo, you just import&prioritize. Or just import. Nothing is lost. You will encounter the imported material as soon as your learning time allocations permit. Similarly, you can clear your 1,000 pieces mail Inbox in a few hours with all pieces of mail well prioritized and scheduled for review.
Once you know you can rely on SuperMemo in presenting review material for you, you can eliminate the stress and anxiety related to having too much to study or too much to read. You will never manage to read or learn all that you would hope for, but you will at least not lose sleep over planning and scheduling. SuperMemo is a promise of the best use of your potential. With this conviction, you can devote all your energy to comprehension, analysis and retention of the learned material.
SuperMemo helps you take away a big deal of information overload stress. In a typical IFS stress therapy, you will see that scrupulous notes, ordering one's desk, planning one's work, keeping a calendar of appointments, etc. all have a strong therapeutic value. SuperMemo does exactly the same: it helps you keep a scrupulous and well-prioritized record of what you want to read and takes away stressful chaos from the process of acquiring information and learning the collected material. SuperMemo eliminates disorder and the ensuing uncertainty that often characterizes wild searches for information on the net.
Human brain has an in-built limit on the attention span. We all get bored with things. This is particularly visible in kids. Limited attention helps maximize the learning input. This is why most toys have a short lifespan, and other kids' toys seem always more interesting. The same is true of reading. Even the best articles can become taxing if they get too long. Millions of people do a daily channel zapping on TV. This absurd activity is driven precisely by the craving for dense action and information variety. A gripping movie goes "too slow" for a typical channel zapper. This is why he or she prefers to watch three movies at the same time (even though the coherence of the plot of each will suffer). Incremental learning is a perfect remedy to the limited attention span. Even a single unlucky paragraph in an article may greatly reduce your enthusiasm for reading. If you stumble against a few frustrating paragraphs, you may gradually develop a dislike of reading a particular article. You may even become fed up with reading for the entire evening.
In incremental reading, once you sense any sign of boredom or distraction, you can jump to the next article with mostly positive side effects (expressed mainly in better memories produced by spaced learning). Unlike in channel zapping, you won't miss any information. Just the opposite, you will maximize attention per paragraph. Your attention to the same piece of information may depend on your mood, amount of prior reading, today's interest that may depend on the piece of news you heard on the morning radio, etc. With incremental reading, you can fit your best attention to each individual piece of reading. You can change the approach depending on your circadian status (i.e. the time of the day, mental energy, etc.). You can deprioritize articles that undermine attention. You can split intimidating articles into more manageable portions. The boost in attention is one of the main reasons why incremental reading is more fun than ordinary reading.
Everything we learn must be reviewed from time to time in order to be remembered. If you read an article in intervals, you already begin the consolidation of memory which may save you lots of time. In traditional reading, you would need to read the whole article, and then to review the article later several times. With earlier releases of SuperMemo, you would need to read the whole article, and then only review the most important parts of the article in SuperMemo at intervals determined by the program. Now you can begin the consolidation-review cycle already during reading! Incremental reading combines the process of extracting pieces of valuable knowledge with memory consolidation. This pre-consolidation will often dramatically reduce the number of repetitions required before your material gets to be reviewed in long intervals of months and years. By the time you convert parts of the material into clozes or question-answer items, you will already have it well-consolidated. This consolidation will be based on solid context, a degree of redundancy (that helps retention), and an easy-to-remember formulation based on cloze deletion. Extracting pieces of information from a larger body of knowledge provides your items with all the relevant context. This slow process of jelling out knowledge produces an enhanced sense of meaning and applicability of individual pieces of information. Semantically equivalent pieces of information may be consolidated in varying contexts adding additional angles to their associative power. In other words, not only will you remember better. You will also be able to view the same information from different perspectives.
You always have a long queue of articles to read, and there are always more articles to read than you can ever hope to remember. In incremental reading, you can precisely determine the priority of each article, paragraph, sentence or question. Evaluating articles and prioritizing them is difficult because you cannot do a good evaluation without actually reading a part of the article in question. In incremental reading, you can read the introduction and then decide when to read the rest. If an article is extremely valuable or interesting, you can process it entirely at once. Other articles can slowly scramble through the learning process. Yet others may ultimately be deleted. The prioritization will continue while you are reading the article. If the evaluation of quality or content changes while reading, so will the reading-review schedule.
Prioritization tools will ensure that important pieces of information will receive better processing. This will maximize the value of your reading time. This will also reduce the impact of material overflow on retention. You will always remember the desired proportion of your top-priority material. While the lesser priority material may suffer more from the overflow and be remembered less accurately. Priority of articles is not set in stone. You can modify it manually while reading in proportion to the value you extract from a given article. The priority will also change automatically each time you generate article extracts. It will change if you delay or advance scheduled reading. The priority of extracts is determined by the priority of articles. The priority of questions and answers produced from individual sentences is determined by their parenting extracts. Multiple prioritization tools will help you effectively deal with massive changes in your learning focus. With the prioritization tools you can always determine your learning focus in numbers!
This is one of the most important things about incremental reading: efficient fishing for pieces of golden knowledge!
Speed (of reading)
Incremental readers can beat speed readers in the speed of reading! This is true even for relative beginners with little or no speed-reading training. The caveat: all that is possible at the cost of delayed comprehension. In speed-reading, you always need to worry about the comprehension level. High comprehension is where speed-reading skills are vital. However, in incremental reading, you can quickly skim through less important portions of the text without worrying you will miss a detail. The skimmed fragment will be scheduled for later review. You can optionally determine when the review will happen and at what priority (low priority review may be delayed further, often automatically). You can quickly jump from paragraph to paragraph, get the overall picture, mark fragments for later reading, mark fragments for detailed study, etc. This speed-reading method, with a bit of training, is stress free. You will eliminate the greatest bottleneck of speed-reading: fear of missing important pieces of information. When you come back to the skimmed fragments in the future, they may have already become irrelevant or less important. That is one of a savings in time generated by incremental reading. You always focus on top priority material and you spend little time worrying about things that are left for later reading. Incremental reading is speed-reading without the loss of comprehension. Once you speed-read the entire article, you can slowly digest it again from the very beginning in the incremental reading process. Needless to say, speed-reading does not come close to incremental reading when it comes to long-term retention. Memories are always subject to forgetting. All valuable information that you collect while reading may be forgotten at any time. Pieces that would be retained without SuperMemo (e.g. through regular use) produce minimum workload. Other pieces will allow you to never need to come back to the article in question. In conclusion, all knowledge that you need in the long-run, should be best acquired via incremental reading. Traditional reading can still be used for entertainment, temporary knowledge (e.g. how to install a sound board), curiosity (e.g. news), etc. This is not to say that speed-reading skills are not useful in incremental reading. If you are already a solid speed-reader, you can add to your speed and comprehension with the help of incremental reading. In the process, you will hone your skills further and become even a faster reader.
See also: Speed-reading on steroids, which also explains the bell-shaped curve of changes in the cost of topic review.
Speed (of formulating items)
Cloze deletion is the fastest tool for converting texts into items. In addition to massive imports, you can introduce your own rough notes into SuperMemo and later gradually convert them into well-structured knowledge. Less important material may remain unstructured and, as such, less well-remembered. You will see how passive notes gradually fade in your memory and how their individual components will need to be reinforced by formulating specific well-structured items. You will make such reinforcement decisions on the one-by-one basis depending on the importance of the fading material and the degree of recall problems. Naturally, due to a typical learning overflow, you will always neglect some portions of the material. This is how you will gain additional speed understood as the time invested per item. You will generate items faster, re-formulate them with greater ease, and save additional time by neglecting less important material. This is prioritization via formulation. Less important material will remain in a less processed and messier state characterized by lower retention.
With well-prioritized stream of information, you are served knowledge in smaller chunks. This makes it possible to truly focus on most important pieces and discover things that would never get noticed in the mass of voluminous learning. Good attention brings meticulousness and creative discovery. In other words, this is a marriage of prioritization, attention, and creativity advantages with a new twist: noticing things that are hard to notice in massive learning.
With massive incremental reading, you will hone a set of skills that are vital for efficient learning. By repeating the same procedures over and over again, day in and day out, over the months and years, you will become a master of processing and retaining knowledge! If you want things well done, do them often. Here are some examples of skills that will get a boost and change your learning:
- Recognizing suitable texts at a glance of an eye. Some texts are great for efficient reading, some are full of chaff and waffle. The more articles you need to preview fast and prioritize, the faster you can do it and more accurate you become. This is an exercise in expert pattern recognition.
- Formulating knowledge efficiently. In terms of learning efficiency, the difference between well-formulated and ill-formulated items may be as high as 1:10 or even 1:100. Some items are mnemonic. Others are confusing. Some require 5-6 repetitions in a lifetime. Others permanently reside among leeches that come back for review and waste your precious time.
- Mnemonic skills. The more you try to remember, the better you know how to remember things fast and for long. Mnemonic skills can be developed in dedicated courses. They can also improve with each single item you formulate and memorize.
- Speed-reading skills. Fast reading is a hallmark of incremental learning. Traditional speed-reading is very different from speed-reading with SuperMemo. You nearly never need to worry about missing information. Incremental reading carries none of the burdens of a typical hit-and-miss speed-reading. There is no limit on the speed of skimming. Mastery of keyboard is as important as the eye saccades. The more you skim, the better you skim. The more you hurry, the more you skim. Incremental learning accelerates your hunger for knowledge, and the speed at which you devour it.
- Semantic skills. The language is a jigsaw puzzle of words and phrases played on a set board of grammar. Understanding the language is vital for speed-reading where the structure of a sentence needs to be parsed in a fraction of a millisecond at a single glance. In incremental reading, correct formulation of clozes will often require minor rewording. Like in a puzzle, you will need to shift a word from here to there, remove sections of sentences, insert context, change the tense, remove referential ambiguity, etc. Mastery of the grammatical sentence skeleton and the semantics will increase with every and each new cloze polished for long-term memory.
- Prioritizations skills. New students, however smart, are often totally blind to the priority of knowledge. They are unable to judge the extent of their present and future knowledge. They find it difficult to differentiate gold from garbage. Seemingly precious knowledge becomes garbage if it does not pass the priority test that ensures it can ever be mastered. The lifetime capacity of the human brain is limited. Without understanding the limits, newcomers to incremental learning will often embark onto a futile quest for mastering details that would steal room needed for memories that are essential to one's existence (professional and beyond). With every passing month and with the constant increase in the size of your knowledge and your collection (i.e. also "knowledge to-be"), you will better understand your ultimate limits. Your knowledge selection skills will keep improving for years to come.
- Editing and SuperMemo skills. SuperMemo is complex. It takes months to fully explore. SuperMemo is also keyboard-oriented. The list of keyboard shortcuts is overwhelming. Only with the mastery of the keyboard and SuperMemo itself can you become a true pro of incremental learning who can whiz through dozens of articles per hour. You will edit dozens of little pieces of texts to optimally formulate your questions. Speed-reading and semantic skills, combined with editing skills will help you instantly mold the texts in your collection to suit your long-term goals.
Once your collection grows rich in materials from various domains, you can use it before you use Google to search for information about a subject within the material that you already want to learn. The search results will not be as rich, but they will be far more focused on the areas of your interest. While doing search&review, you will be able to reduce the future workload in many areas. This is fun!
Once you become proficient with SuperMemo you can use it as an all-encompasing archive of all your media files. Those files do not need to be part of the learning process, however, you can combine archiving functions with the incremental process (e.g. when annotating your family photo album collection). SuperMemo may be a great way to get rid of those dusty paper documents, tape recorder cassettes, CDs, photo albums, school notebooks, etc. You can archive this in dedicated folders on your computer and import it all to SuperMemo. Incremental processing of archive has many advantages. For example, while annotating family pictures from two centuries ago, you can fill in the gaps in information by simple face recognition that may rely on a degree of learning or creative juxtaposition of photographs from different sources in close intervals. Incremental audio can also convert your jukebox SuperMemo into a stream of music with a maximized fun factor. There are millions of ways of sorting tracks on your media player device, by filename, by date, by annotation, by priority, by recent viewing... all that does not compare to the incremental review process. This is because the quality of your experience when processing music or photos is based on the same forgetting mechanisms that affect learning. You want to see or listen to some things more often than others, but not too often. Forgetting is the key to experiencing music or imagery or videos again and again with a heightened degree of fun, pleasure and, last but not least, learning.
The sense of productivity might be one of the most satisfying emotions. This is why incremental learning should be highly enjoyable. This only magnifies its powers. To experience the elation of incremental learning, you may need a few months of focused practice. You will first have to start with the basic tools and techniques. Then you will need to master knowledge representation skills. Finally, you will need a couple of months of heavy-load incremental learning to perfect the details and develop your own "incremental learning philosophy". You will also need to grow your collection as size matters for the fun of learning. Last but not least, incremental learning requires good language skills, some touch-typing skills, and patience (SuperMemo will often want you to go against your own intuition). Although the material is originally imported from electronic sources, it always needs to be molded, shortened, provided with context clues, restructured for wording and grammar, etc. The skills involved are not trivial and require practice.
If you have used SuperMemo and/or spaced repetition, you may have concluded that learning with SuperMemo is boring due to its repetitive nature. Those who can compare the classic SuperMemo with incremental learning will testify that incremental learning is by far more fun. In contrast to classic SuperMemo, where you focus on the review of the old material, incremental reading interweaves the old with the new. Novelty adds to the fun and efficiency of learning. Incremental learning is by far more challenging and colorful than typical repetitions. In addition to review and reading, you can import rich graphics, audio and video to spice up your learning process.
In the end, you risk becoming seriously addicted to incremental learning. The statement "I do not read books" should no longer be considered in a negative light! As long as you keep incremental learning in rational check, it will benefit you and others around you.
Most of disadvantages of incremental learning come from factors that are a disadvantage in nearly all human pursuits: opportunity and overhead costs. However, there are also disadvantages that come from the fact that Incremental learning is not for everyone. Poor selection of knowledge may result in wasting time on low-quality learning. Moreover, incremental learning may lead to frustration, stress, addiction, compulsive use, and other undesirable effects on user's psychology.
Here is the short list of disadvantages to consider:
- opportunity costs: each time you learn with SuperMemo, you are not doing something else. You might be neglecting your creative pursuits, other people, your children, your own health, etc. Incremental learning makes sense only if it is done in the right proportion to your other activities. That proportion will depend on your skills, goals, profession, lifestyle, personality, and more. You need to strike the optimum balance on your own. It might be just a few minutes to polish your English or professional knowledge. Or it might be a few hours if you are a medical student. You always need to keep opportunity costs in mind and keep a score of costs and benefits.
- overhead costs: there is no way around a steep learning curve in incremental learning. You will be thwarted by limitations of software, and the overall complexity of the concept. You will wonder why some solutions in SuperMemo have been set upside down against your best intuition. You will keep improving your skills, and strategies over long months and years. Even mastering the basic techniques will take a lot of time. You should be aware of that difficulty before you embark on the process that is bound to cause some stress and frustration at the beginning. At the same time, you should find hope in the fact that for a pro, the overhead costs are negligible. All extra operations are semi-automatic while the learning process proceeds largely uninterrupted in student's mind. While keystrokes are issued, knowledge is actively being processed by the memory system. All operations have been optimized for pro use. Once you get to a pro level and follow the recommended strategy, overhead cost disadvantage will cease to matter.
- learning garbage (GIGO): if your selection of learning material is poor, or your formulation skills inadequate, you risk wasting lots of time on learning things that you do not need or that do not bring a tangible memory effect. This is why you must read 20 rules of formulating knowledge, keep knowledge selection at the front of your mind, and be honest with your priority queue.
- frustration and stress: incremental learning is not for everyone. It requires a certain level of proficiency with the language that may be hard for some to reach. It requires a mind that is somewhat abstract-enabled. Did you do well in math? Or science? These are good omens. If incremental learning is not fun after a few months of determined study, you need to re-read this entire article with utmost attention. Otherwise, your incremental adventure will not bring fruit.
Incremental learning must be fun to work!
Incremental reading: Summary
- If you are serious about learning, you must learn incremental reading! Without it, you might be missing the best part of SuperMemo!
- Incremental reading makes it possible to read thousands of articles in parallel without getting lost.
- Use Extract (Alt+X) and Cloze (Alt+Z) to extract the most valuable pieces of knowledge while reading. Use the keyboard for maximum speed. However, if you are new to SuperMemo, you can also use the learnbar or the Read toolbar buttons for the job.
- Standard repetitions and incremental reading should be intermingled. This serves variety and creativity. Auto-sort repetitions will sort your repetitions, introduce a tiny degree of randomness, and ensure a steady, moderate, and prioritized inflow of new articles into the learning process. Read more about the priority queue
- You can control the timing and priority of review in incremental reading by modifying intervals (Shift+Ctrl+R or Ctrl+J), priority (Alt+P), and the forgetting index (e.g. Shift+Ctrl+P).
- Use read-points (Ctrl+F7), good titles (Alt+T), reference labels (Alt+Q), and manually inserted context clues to minimize context recovery overhead (i.e. the cost of recalling the correct context of individual questions).
- Auto-postpone will automatically delay the review of the excess of low-priority material. Use Postpone to manually handle the overload or define the postpone criteria.
- Do not forget to review 20 rules of formulating knowledge to make sure you do not waste hours on badly formulated material.