Catching up on Anki Reviews Slowly or All at Once

The number 0 is the most beautiful number you will ever see in Anki. It is the number that confirms you have worked hard, emerged victorious, and can relax away from Anki for the rest of the day. 0 reviews remaining = pure satisfaction.

Catching up on Anki Reviews Slowly or All at Once

0 in the beginning is easy to obtain. When you only have a few hundred total cards in your deck, and daily reviews amounting to mere dozens, life is easy. 0 is ever present. As time goes on, that zero becomes harder to manage. Until one day, you completely forget what that 0 ever looked like.

Is there any hope? Any way to return to your former glory days?

Yes. And it’s not just me telling you to never let your reviews get past the point where you can’t maintain them. Many people have made it back from oblivion.

No matter how good or diligent you are, eventually something will get in the way. It could be a continued lack of motivation. Or a a major life obstacle. Or maybe you were just focusing on another part of your Japanese studying. Everyone has faced a review count in the several hundreds (or thousands). My worst Anki backlog was once easily over 1,000. Once it reaches 4 digits, the Anki urge turns into the Anki cringe. For me, it felt like no matter how much I tried to get that number down, it was never going to happen.

So what do you do? You have two options.

1. Increase your daily reviews slowly until you reach 0

Catching up on Anki Reviews Slowly or All at Once 2

You have 750 reviews? That’s going to take you several hours. Several hours of wondering why you let your reviews get this high. Several hours wondering whether this is worth it. Several hours angry at the Anki review world.

So rather than put yourself through hell, why not just slowly increase your daily reviews? Instead of your typical 150 reviews you do daily, do 200. Then over a week, your review count should naturally go down to 0.

This works. It doesn’t discourage and feels natural. But it isn’t without danger. Because if you miss a day, or something else gets in the way, it is easy to revert back to your high number, or even worse. You started with 900 reviews, and after a week of catching up you now only have 400. That’s not bad at all, but you still have a while to go. Then you get sick. And now it’s back up to 900.

2. Knock your reviews down to 0 in one day (or one sitting)

Catching up on Anki Reviews Slowly or All at Once 3

In the quest for 0, the quickest way to get to 0 reviews is to do it in one day. Think about it. All your suffering. All your struggle. All your nagging thoughts about that growing number. Gone. In just one day. In just several hours. How freeing is that?

You can and may knock your reviews down to 0. But depending on how the experience was, it can leave a bitter Anki taste in your mouth. If your reviews pile up again, the thought of another several hour session may bring back bad memories.

Which one?

Neither! Keep your reviews at 0 every day right from the beginning, and build the habit. That’s the purpose of the September challenge. The method that best compliments this is to take a break from adding new cards when your reviews start to build up.

But since this is ideal, and not common, which path is better when you come across it?

I’ve done both. When I decided to knock them out in one day, I would usually choose a time and place that I had a lot of free time and was waiting for something else. For example: an airplane or a lengthy train ride. When I decided to do them slowly, I made sure not to focus on the total number, and just focused on making a little increase per day.

Which way do you approach the trail to zero reviews due? Attacking it all at once or a little over time?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Catching up on Anki Reviews Slowly or All at Once — 17 Comments

  1. A strategy that has worked for me in the past is setting a review cap to 20 or 30, getting those down to zero, then continuing to work on them in small batches until I’ve made a dent or gotten rid of them all completely. Because you can’t see the huge number, it’s easier to get through it.

  2. If your anki spirals out of control, my advice is to chip away as much as you can each day while keeping it manageable and enjoyable. I recommend picking a number, i.e. 1000 reviews=100 day.

    Then your next completely free day, the weekend for example, you can smash out as many as you possibly can. Rinse and repeat.

    I think this works because you develop the habit of doing anki daily.
    You’d be surprised how much inertia helps you in making sure you don’t keep pushing it off.

    Keeping motivated in japanese is 100% good habit forming. I can’t emphasise how important this is to anyone’s success, in anything really.

    • Agreed. The way you approach it is so important. You don’t want to develop a relationship where you hate Anki.

  3. I definitely go for the all in one day. I haven’t been studying long, but had almost a week long stint where I just couldn’t bring myself to fully finish my reviews and ended up with around 600.

    My strategy is to finish one deck at a time or at least make a decent dent and spread it throughout the day. If I feel like there’s a chance I won’t finish the days reviews, I try to finish the JALUP stage I’m currently adding cards from first. That way if I end up not finishing everything I at least finished the material I knew the least.

    Surprisingly, I end up very motivated the next day after finishing a large card amount. It makes you feel like if you can do that much in one day then this amount should be cake.

    • You make a great point. Once you knock it to zero, and your next day is an easily manageable number, it can make you want to start getting back into the normal Anki habit again.

  4. My worst was a deck of 7500 cards not reviewed for 5 whole months. I didn’t have all 7500 due but easily half.

    I decided in the September that I wanted to be back on top by Christmas. So I worked out the weeks until then (about 16?) and did 7500/16= 468-9 cards a week.

    So I separated the first 468 cards into a separate deck- reviewed it down to 0 for every day without fail. Start of next week, added the next 468 etc.

    I couldn’t be bothered with the effort of picking out the due cards into a separate deck, so sometimes a higher percentage of the 468 would be due in one week than the next. It worked out quite well though and I won in the end.

  5. If you’re not too far into a deck, you could reset it as well (if you can’t find a fresh version of the deck, there’s a plugin on anki that allows you to reset the entire deck). I recently did that to a deck I’d already learnt 1500 cards for. I found it easier to do 30-40 new cards a day rather than large reviews. The other thing is, if you haven’t touched a deck for a while, you might be sending a card that you technically got correct but is still a little vague 6 months into the future. I was finding myself doing this too often for my liking which is why I tried resetting the deck. I’m now catching up quite quickly with a high retention rate because of the familiarity with the deck. If you’ve already learnt over 2000 cards it could be a more time consuming (and boring) this way though.

    • You can just go to edit> reschedule> place at end of new card queue,
      then edit> reposition.

      I don’t think resetting your deck is ever a good idea though; you could just do the reviews and press again if you don’t remember the card. That way you won’t reset anything you DO remember. If you remembered all the information you were trying to remember but you think it was too “vague” then you can simply press hard.

    • This is an option I don’t have any experience with, but I know people who have done a complete reset and they seemed to feel freed by it.

      However, as Caleb points out, it also can reset your work.

      Anyone else ever done a complete reset?

      • I’ve completely reset my RTK deck twice (three times maybe?). Resetting the first time around (due to 60~70% retention rate) definitely took a weight off my chest, and I felt like I was starting off fresh. Because I had already completed the deck, I could add 30/35 cards a day and still be mostly fine, which felt good.
        The second time around (reset due to anki avalanche), I felt like I was doing busywork instead of actually learning things since I had all the RTK kanji down already. There are pros and cons to resetting a deck!

  6. I’ve tried both and in the end I decided on doing a mix of both, which worked very well last time (just a week ago actually). I had piled up about ~500 reviews, which is a lot to me. Doing it in one day would be way too much for me, but slowly whittling it down also doesnt work very well for me. So instead I did it over 3 days; that way it still gets part of the benefits from doing it in one day, AND from doing it slowly over time since I wouldnt burn out from too much anki. I also wouldn’t do it all in one sitting; I have trouble focusing on anki for more than 5 minutes in a row so I’d just do 5 minutes of reviews, watch an anime episode, do another 5 minutes, etc, until I had done 1/3.

  7. I’m normally very disciplined when it comes to finishing Anki, but sometimes the unavoidable happens and a week’s worth of cards build up. I tend to do as much as I can every day until they’re down to zero.

    One little trick I use is not to add any new cards to Anki and just focus on reviews until they’re all done. This really speeds things up. As I see it, the most important thing is to get Anki to a manageable state; studying new cards just puts extra pressure on you.

    • I agree with you; when you have a buildup like that I think it’s IMPORTANT to NOT add any new cards; or limit it to 1-5 if you absolutely have to.

    • Yes, new cards should be pushed back. Some people think they won’t be making progress if they stop adding new cards, but catching up on your reviews is progress.

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