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SuperMemo: Step-by-step guide See also: Guide in Czech

If you would like to learn to use all functions of SuperMemo in a step-by-step manner without missing a detail, we have compiled for you the following learning sequence that seems to be close to optimum in an average case: 

  1. Order and download: You can order and download SuperMemo 99 in 9 minutes using an ordinary modem and a credit card

  2. Install: You can install SuperMemo in seconds by simply unzipping a self-extractable file. If you are a complete beginner, you can follow these step-by-step installation instructions 

  3. ABC in 3 minutes: You can start using SuperMemo in 3 minutes. You only need to know two operations:

    Many users never go beyond the above ABC and still benefit greatly from SuperMemo! 
    If you only remember to use Learn regularly and frequently back up your precious knowledge (e.g. with Ctrl+Shift+C), the rest of this step-by-step guide can be considered optional
    (note that your need to read about rich text components, adding components and templates to be able to use bold font as in the picture. The default template uses plain text to save disk space)

  4. Help: if you do not have a permanent connection to the Internet, you can install the help file on your hard disk



  5. Choose the right difficulty: you can explore SuperMemo in stages by using the difficulty levels available from File : Level menu. By default SuperMemo starts at the beginner level. After a day or two, you can move to the basic level. The middle level will be needed to use many other functions described in this guide. Once you fully understand the middle level, for maximum power, you can switch to the professional level that should be your ultimate destination

    If you find a description of the function in SuperMemo that is not available on a given level, you can increase the difficulty level to make the function appear among the options. Many shortcuts will work even if the function is not available on a given level. For example, you can view the calendar of repetitions by pressing Ctrl+W in the beginner level even though Tools : Workload appears only on the middle level

  6. Hints&Tips: you will find the list of most useful tips for using SuperMemo here:  SuperMemo- Hints&Tips

  7. One body of knowledge: it is recommended that you keep all your knowledge in one collection (you can create new collections with File : New or Ctrl+N). Here are the benefits of one body of knowledge:
    1. you do not have to open a number of collections each day to make repetitions (you can still learn only selected branches if you wish so)
    2. you can keep one global learning process and one set of statistics (branch statistics tools are also available; for example Count : Burden will tell you how much work does a given branch contribute) 
    3. repetitions of mixed-up material are more entertaining and ... boost creativity! You will be amazed how this affects your ability to come up with new ideas and unexpectedly associate facts relating to completely different subjects of learning
    4. last but not least: you will eliminate a very frequent problem: neglecting some collections at the cost of others. The only rational way of controlling the flow of knowledge and the right proportions between branches is to use the tools provided by SuperMemo. Neglect and procrastination do not belong to these tools. Multiple collections make it easier for you to fail  your resolutions

    If you have already created a couple of collections, you can merge them using Tools : Transfer branch on the contents pop-up menu in the contents window

  8. Processing knowledge: 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 in a repetition, you should make a quick and nearly instinctive assessment of the following:
    1. Do I really need this item?
    2. Do I really need to know it now? Or can I remove it from my memory for some time?
    3. Is this item difficult to remember? If so, why?
    4. Is it factually correct?
    5. Is it as simple and clear as it could be?

    Here are some typical actions you will take depending on the answer to the above questions:

    1. editing the item. In case of questions and answer, 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
    2. forgetting the item. If you think the item is too difficult or not important enough, you can postpone learning it. For this purpose, press Ctrl+R to remove it from the learning process. This will put the item at the end of the pending queue (i.e. the queue of elements that await the entry into the learning process)
    3. rescheduling the item. If you know the item well or for some other reason want to manually increase (or decrease) the length of the inter-repetition interval, press Ctrl+J to select the date of the next repetition
    4. dismissing 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 and from the pending queue
    5. deleting 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

    To better understand knowledge processing, flow and management, read: Flow of knowledge in SuperMemo 


  9. Searching your collection: to quickly locate items in your collection you are most likely to use the following three methods:
    1. Press Ctrl+F to search for a given string in the entire collection
    2. Choose the button Search at the top of the element window and double-click the word you are looking for. All elements using this word will be displayed in the browser (please note that if you have turned off Tools : Options : Data access : Compile lexicon on-the-fly, recently added words may not appear in the lexicon) 
    3. Use AND-Search:
      1. Press Ctrl+S to search for the first phrase (start with the less frequent phrase in AND-search)
      2. Continue with Ctrl+S and further phrases to limit the selection in the text registry
      3. Press Ctrl+Shift+B to put all elements that use selected strings in a browser

  10. Statistics of your learning process: you will understand your memory better if you learn to interpret the statistics of the learning process:
  11. Position and size of windows: you will likely want to arrange individual windows in SuperMemo to your best liking. It will depend on your screen resolution, font used in SuperMemo and your favorite size of the element window. To save the current windows layout, press Ctrl+Shift+F5 (Window : Layout : Save layout : Save as default). You can save more layouts and then choose between them by choosing an appropriate number on the Window menu. If you would like to include learning statistics in your layout, you might first open statistics windows (e.g. by pressing F5). If you would like to view the ancestor path of the current element, you could also save the ancestor path window by opening it beforehand with Alt+P. You can always restore the default layout by pressing Ctrl+F5

  12. Principles of success in learning: with years passing by, you will develop healthy learning habits that will make sure your work with SuperMemo is both effective and enjoyable. You can save months of experimenting if you just read Ten Commandments of a Highly Efficient User of SuperMemo

  13. Safety of your knowledge -- Backup! Knowledge you store in SuperMemo might belong to your most precious data on your hard disk! After all it cost you months or years of editing and repetitions. You must continue your repetitions indefinitely to make sure you do not forget what you have learned. This is why backup skills are so important!!! 

    You can copy your entire collection to another location with File : Copy collection (Ctrl+Shift+C). You should make a copy on a different hard disk every few days and on other media every month or so. You will quickly notice that floppy diskettes are not enough to store all your knowledge. It is then highly recommended you use some other high-capacity storage device (e.g. CDR recorder)

    If you add a great deal of multimedia files to your collection, you can also use File : Tools : Semi-copy to save your non-multimedia files. Such a copy will take less space and preserve the structure of your collection without storing images, sounds, videos, etc. Semi-copy cannot be used as a replacement for Copy collection. From time to time, you should back up the entire collection to be sure your multimedia files are not lost

    If you are using a commercial collection available on CD-ROM, you can save lots of space if you backup only the learning process. You can do it with File : Tools : Export : Learning process. Note that this will not preserve changes you have made to texts in your collection. In case of a mishap, you can reinstall your commercial collection and restore the learning process with File : Tools : Import : Learning process. For example, the full semi-copy of Advanced English takes nearly 50 MB while the learning process backup takes from 0.1 to 3 MB depending on how much work you have put in repetitions

  14. Check the integrity of data regularly: to be sure that your files have not been damaged by a virus or other software and/or hardware problems, use File : Repair collection (Ctrl+F12) from time to time (e.g. once in 2-3 months)

  15. Make your knowledge easy to remember: read 20 rules of formulating knowledge in learning to review most important principles that will make sure you will remember with minimum effort

  16. Adding pictures, sound and video: you can easily add new texts, images, sounds and other components to your elements. New elements are most conveniently added with Edit : Add components on the main menu (you will need to switch to the middle or professional level with File : Level). You can also drag components from the component toolbar available with Edit : Add components or Window : Toolbars : Compose. To drag a component click the appropriate button on the component toolbar (e.g. text button, image button, etc.) and then click twice on the element area: first at the place where you want to place to top-left corner of your component and then at the bottom-right corner of the new component 

    If you want to copy existing components, the easiest way to do it is to use the component ClipBox

  17. Improving the look of your items: you can easily change the attributes of elements and their components by using menus available with right click. There are two menus you will need to become familiar with:
    1. Element pop-up menu which can be opened by a right click over an empty element area or over the element toolbar. Some exemplary functions of the element pop-up menu:
      • Color changes the color of the element
      • Edit : Edit title (usually executed by pressing Alt+T) makes it possible to edit the title of the element
      • Background : Import file imports a BMP file to be used as the background in the element
      • Delete components deletes all components from an element (e.g. question and answer)
    2. Component pop-up menu which can be opened by a right click over a selected component. Some exemplary functions of the component pop-up menu:
      • Color changes the color of the component
      • New font defines a new font for a text component and stores it in the font registry
      • Link font associates the component with a font previously stored in the font registry
      • Delete erases the component 

    You can use Alt+click over a component to switch it to the editing mode. This will make it possible to resize the component, edit texts, etc. If you Alt+click the component again, it will switch to the dragging mode in which you will also be able to move it to another location in the element area. Press Esc to switch the components back to the presentation mode

  18. Automating changes to the looks: you do not need to change the look of elements over and over again. It is enough you define so-called templates to be able to reuse a given look easily. The most important things to know about templates:

    For more information about template see: Using templates

  19. Which text components are for you? There are five components that can be used to store text information. The table below should help you choose the best component for a given purpose

  20. Type Advantages Disadvantages Typical use
    Plain text component (default component used in question-and-answer items)
    1. small size
    2. speed
    3. search possible
    4. search&replace possible
    5. automatic translation and phonetic transcription
    1. no formatting
    2. reading options do not format the text
    1. typical question-and-answer items
    Rich text component (RTF)
    1. rich formatting possible
    2. reading options let you mark cloze and extract fragments with a separate font
    3. search possible
    1. large size of files
    2. slow processing of long texts
    3. search&replace not possible
    4. translation and phonetic transcription not available
    1. reading lists, reading paragraphs, extracts and cloze deletions
    2. richly formatted text (e.g. in topics)
    HTML component
    1. full HTML and JavaScript support
    2. images can be inserted in text
    3. search possible
    1. Internet Explorer required
    2. slow processing
    3. difficult editing (knowledge of HTML or HTML editor required)
    4. large size of files
    5. all texts kept in separate files
    6. search&replace not possible
    7. translation and phonetic transcription not available
    1. HTML files
    2. whole websites
    3. text interlaced with images
    Spelling component
    1. used for spelling tests
    2. small size
    3. speed
    4. search possible
    5. search&replace possible
    1. useless beyond spelling tests 
    1. spelling exercises
    OLE component
    1. using proprietary formats (e.g. MS Word format)
    2. images can be inserted in texts
    3. using mind-maps
    1. very large size of files
    2. files can only be edited if the proprietary editor is installed
    3. words do not enter the lexicon 
    4. search not possible
    5. search&replace not possible
    6. translation and phonetic transcription not available
    1. imported files
    2. spreadsheets
    3. text interlaced with images

  21. Working with Contents: you can organize the structure of your knowledge in the contents window. Choose Contents at the top of the element window to switch to the contents window. To find out how to create the knowledge structure see: Creating the structure of the knowledge tree

  22. Organizing knowledge with categories: you can give items belonging to different branches of the knowledge tree different looks and different priority. This way you will easily differentiate between items belonging to fields such as geography, biology, sociology, etc. Read: Using categories 

  23. Moving items between categories: you can move an item to a new category by opening Element parameters dialog box (e.g. with Ctrl+Shift+P) and choosing the category from the list (the Category list box). When you move an item to a category, you can choose if it should be merged with that category template. This would give the item the look typical for that category

  24. Too many repetitions! All users of SuperMemo get to the point when they cannot keep up with repetitions. This may be for psychological reasons, due to an increase in other obligations or simply due to over-zealousness. In case you are late and your Outstanding parameter in the statistics window shows a number 0+x (which indicates that only items in the final drill are remaining in the repetitions queue), you can execute Learn : Cut drills). This may reduce chances of recall of items from the final drill in the next repetition; however, Cult drills should generally not harm the learning process

    Once you arrive to backlogs that cannot be resolved with the above trick, you may be forced to use Tools : Mercy (Ctrl+Y). If you use Mercy, try to reschedule in short rescheduling intervals and, if you do it repetitively, use random rescheduling from time to time to make sure bad effects of Mercy do not pile up in any consistent way that would permanently damage the learning process

  25. Reading: if you learn from electronic sources (e.g. the Internet), you can save lots of time by using reading options that will automate and speed up creating new items. See: Reading the Internet  

  26. Items you hate: even with a great deal of experience and perfect understanding of knowledge structuring, you will always meet items that by no means want to stick to your memory. Usually, 60% of items will not even be forgotten once! However, there are always a few items that you might forget 10 times, or even 20 times ... well ... even 30 memory lapses on a single item are not unusual. In most cases, the fault is with you, the items must simply be reformulated (see: 20 rules of formulating knowledge). However, some items just seem unmemorizable! Those do not indicate your memory is bad! They are a usual companion of every learning process, and you must roll out your heavy guns to deal with them. In the first step, you need to locate these items with View : Leeches. Then use whatever mnemonic technique comes to mind: add examples, illustrations, poke fun, make it indecent or shocking, rememorize with a long interval (this will often break unhealthy memory connections that make you slip) or, in most desperate cases, delete the item. Anything with above 20 memory lapses makes a good candidate for deleting -- this knowledge may simply not be worth the cost in your time

  27. Advanced components and file formats: if you want to create collections for your students or for wider distribution, you will probably want to explore advanced components such as:
  28. The power of browsers and subsets: for managing and reviewing large collections, you will find browsers indispensable. Most of all, browsers will let you work with subsets of elements in your collection. Here are some ways browser can help you in learning:

    To read more about browsers and subsets see:

  29. How much do you remember? To help you decide how much you remember and how much work you have to put in different branches of knowledge, SuperMemo introduces the concept of the forgetting index. See: Using the forgetting index 

  30. Distributing your own learning material among others: if you would like others to use your learning material, you can follow these steps:
    1. remove from your collection comments and items that are specific to your own needs (you can use the comments registry or comment filters to keep your own comments in continually developed collection)
    2. remove your learning process from the collection by running: File : Tools : Reset collection
    3. if necessary, sort your collection by ordinals (numbers that can be used to determine the sequence of learning), by difficulty or by the sequence of elements in the knowledge tree (at the end of Reset collection SuperMemo will ask you if you would like to sort the collection by ordinals or by the knowledge tree hierarchy)
    4. you can redistribute your collection free or commercially without a permission from SuperMemo World (you can also write to SuperMemoMail if you would like SuperMemo Library to help you find optimum redistribution strategy). You can even redistribute your collections with SuperMemo as long as your collection is unregistered (for more details see: Registering SuperMemo)

  31. How to cope with a work overload in life? SuperMemo introduces a useful form of to-do lists called tasklists. These can help you organize your work related to learning and not only. You will find tasklists most valuable if you believe you suffer from work overload stress. See: How to break free from work overload 

  32. Keyboard shortcuts: if you prefer keyboard over the mouse, you will find the keyboard shortcut table useful

  33. Using topics to write courseware: if you develop learning material for your students or for wider distribution, you will often want to include material that makes an introduction to the question-and-answer material that follows. This will help the user better understand the questions asked. Introductory material should be included with topics. Read: Topics-vs.-items

  34. Understanding SuperMemo: to fully explore the power of SuperMemo, you will probably need to become better acquainted with the way it works. Here are the most important things you would need to analyze to reach that goal:
  35. See our FAQs for more answers to questions about SuperMemo

  36. If you still have questions unanswered, please do not hesitate to write to SuperMemoMail. We also welcome your comments about the clarity of this texts as well as the choice and the sequence of topics