Should you Reset your Deck and Start from Scratch?
While we all have a perfect vision of how we are going to progress through a flash card deck, things have a way of not working out as planned. You get busy for a few days. You get sick. You have a streak of low motivation. Your card reviews build, and build, and build. The larger they grow, the less you want to do them, causing them to grow even further. Eventually this downward spiral leaves you months later having avoided Japanese, having several hundred or thousand reviews due, and making it hard for you to get back to Japanese.
When confronted with this situation, you have 2 options:
1. Struggle and suffer through several days of reducing your reviews down to 0.
2. Reset everything, and start again from the beginning.
There are a lot of strong opinions on both sides. Which option is better?
Struggling through getting your reviews down to 0
Everyone who has gone through the Anki avalanche knows about the pain. I talk a lot about how and why to prevent yourself from ending up in this situation. But once you are there you are there. It happened (and it will).
The common philosophy, which is pushed by Anki itself, is to work your way out of the hole you’ve dug for yourself. From the Anki website itself:
Resetting the deck is an even worse solution. When returning to a deck after a long absence, you may have forgotten many of your cards, but chances are you haven’t forgotten them all. Resetting the entire deck means you have to waste time studying material you already know.
This has a lot of sense behind it. The whole point of SRS is to match your studying to the timing you need to maintain memory. If you have been using flash cards for months, all of the interval lengths were created from your manual input. They were based on your understanding levels and the best timing you need to review. If you delete all of this, you are throwing away this work.
This leads to the advice “just go through it at whatever pace you need to.” Set daily limits, don’t add new cards while catching up, think positive, etc. Eventually you’ll make your way back, and it’ll be worth it.
I also championed this idea. But over the years I’ve realized the importance of a balance of reality vs. efficiency, rather than just focusing on the latter. I’ve talked about this efficiency with people who hate Anki, or are trying to learn all the kanji before even touching sentences. Efficiency isn’t efficient when you hate what you are doing.
Reset your deck and start over
Delete all your progress and begin anew. When asking people for advice who are doing well (or have done well) with SRS, this is what you’ll usually hear:
Don’t do this.
However, I’ve seen a lot of people who have done this. Here’s what I’ve observed:
1. It prevents quitting
The worse thing you could do to your Japanese is not lose all your progress, or go slow, or waste time. It’s to quit. 1,000 reviews built up as a wall that you need to overcome before being able to return to Japanese, after having already taken months off and having a lack of motivation, can be fatal.
I’ve seen people choose quitting over facing this perceived hell.
2. You will feel free
Resetting your progress is liberating. You remove a giant weight from your shoulders. You can study now for as much or as little as you want. You can go at your own pace.
3. Redefine how you study
A lot of people approach SRS in a way that isn’t efficient to them specifically. They start off with all the varying advice that they have read and heard, but all of this needs personal customization. Some people should learn 20 new cards every day. Others should learn 5. It’s not about who is more dedicated. It’s about your own life and creating the study patterns that are going to make you successful.
You give yourself a new chance to figure out what daily new card/review count works best for you.
4. Prevent the rebound
If you could just break through those 1,000 cards, life would finally get back to normal! This isn’t 100% true. If you had been taking months off, and you try to break through these 1,000 cards over several days, you are going to be marking many of them wrong. Even when you finally get them down to 0, many will be due again soon. Your 1,000 are gone, but in in several days 300-400 may return.
You handled it the first time, but a second round of this might be too much.
5. Refresh the basics
Going through the simple stuff again is a great opportunity to patch up holes in understanding you didn’t realize you had.
6. You don’t lose what you learn
It’s easy to equate your progress with your Japanese ability. You lost the intervals, but you did not lose all of the Japanese you’ve learned. It most definitely remains.
7. Your intervals will come back soon
Since you didn’t actually lose your Japanese ability, your new intervals from a reset deck will start to fall into place where they used to be. What was easy to you will still be easy to you, and will be reflected in your future reviews.
8. You can and will go faster
There is nothing that says you have to go at the same pace you did when you first learned the earlier cards. You don’t need to be refreshed of こんにちは or 鈴木さん. If you were on card 600 when you reset, expect yourself to get back to that number faster than you think.
Should you go for it?
There isn’t a one size fits all answer and this shouldn’t be taken lightly. You should seriously consider whether a reset will benefit you, and whether trading in efficiency will result in a better chance of success.
While I’ve seen people quit because they didn’t reset their deck, I’ve also seen people quit because they did reset their deck. Your task is to figure out which path will work for you.
Have you ever done a total reset?
How did it work out for you?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
I have an alternative solution: mark every card as “hard.” Don’t even look at them, just mash 2 until the reviews stop. It doesn’t increase the interval very much and stops you from seeing half your cards the next day. It does make your SRS less efficient, at least until the cards are due again, but if you’re behind on reviews you have that problem already.
I too have found the “hard” option to be invaluable. If I don’t quite get a card from the beginning, I always mark it hard until it says about 2 months(unless I suddenly understand and know the reading). Then at 2 months I hit wrong and do it over again. It prevented mega review buildups. I learned this from one of the articles on here; from a power leveler. I cant remember who’s. Either way, thank you :) anyways, what I did when I left for a while and had to do a massive amount of reviews…I considered it a challenge and did all of them.
That’s an interesting tactic. The only thing to be careful about is that depending on what the original intervals are, hard can still increase the intervals a lot (months or even years)
I wish jalup next had vacation mode :/ I thought freeze would do it but it just hides the reviews until you come back.
That’s why Jalup mobile will be awesome. While it may not have the feature yet, who knows what will come!?
The Jalup mobile app (version 1.0.1) does have vacation mode :)
I ended up with 500 reviews and I just couldn’t get the number down. The more I tried, the more it built up. Finally, after hiding from it for weeks, I reset my deck. It was freeing and glorious! I thought I’d forgotten everything in the weeks I had quit, but I soon found myself breezing through the first 600 cards again. Now it is so easy. I let the cards trickle in all day, review for 5 minutes at a time, and only add 5 cards when reviews are at zero. Maybe another 5 later in the day. The app vacation mode will be pure bliss when I take my next vacation.
I’m glad you are enjoying the new features on the mobile app and the self-reset made the difference!
I have done this with Intermediate-Expert. 3 times. And a few times with RTK.
For me, it was incredibly helpful because I usually fell behind on reviews because of burnout, mid-level blues, or just going too fast. Yes, I could go through all my backlog of reviews but I couldn’t even understand the definition. Resetting the deck allowed me to see everything in order again.
Also, each time I reset the deck it got easier. You already had exposure to a lot of the cards and definitions so it makes it a lot easier to stick.
If you would become more motivated if you just restarted – do it. I have no regrets and I would have been miserable if I pushed through thousands of reviews for words I barely knew. You can do it!
My story had a happy ending – I finished Expert a few weeks ago and I will never need to reset the deck again. It feels amazing.
PS: The time you spend “wasting” relearning new cards is easy to avoid, just make them easy. Because the JALUP decks are N+1, if you reset your deck it’s easier to learn those cards you forgot if you have them in order. And there were many cards I though I knew that, when relearning, found I had misinterprated.
Thanks for sharing your experience, and congrats on finishing Expert!
Glad to hear you had good success. I’m redoing intermediate – expert level 4 a second time and hoping not to need a 3rd time.
I just try to decrease my review count every day by something like 25 cards. Eventually I’ll have zero reviews. It also helps to review them in order.
I’m assuming you mean setting the daily max to 25? This can help, but if you have 1,000 due cards, 25 a day may take a long time to get back down to 0.
Then again, if you are only looking at the number 25, it feels much better than looking at the number 1,000. So this can work.
This is what I did.
I woke up to over 1000 due at one point but I just set a goal to decrease the amount due every day.
At the last study session of the day I wrote down the amount due, and the goal for the next day was to have at least 1 less due than that. Some days I ended up just decreasing by 1, but on most days I decreased far more that that effortlessly.
I also changed the review order to youngest cards first but I don’t know if that’s important.
My avalanche was only almost 400 and I ripped through them with the black button on anki – didn’t waste too much time admitting defeat nor thinking as hard as learning anew.
What’s the black button for Anki? Do you mean the (gray) hard button?
That’s the thing, isn’t it. If you reset your deck, the cards you know will quickly go to long intervals (provided your starting ease is high). You can up the number of new cards and be back to where you were in no time. Better than having a huge backlog and then the dreaded “interval” day, where all those cards you got wrong when you were trying to catch up come back to haunt. You can even hit “easy” on the cards you know and it will make the interval even longer.
Exactly. And if you are extra concerned, you can manually increase the intervals for the earlier cards.
I think the third option, which is also buried somewhere in the Anki docs, is actually better than both. Create two filtered decks for each of your main decks.
The Daily filter looks like:
Search: deck:”JALUP” is:due prop:due>-7 -is:new
Limit to: 1000 Cards Selected by: Order Due
[X] Reschedule cards based on answers in my deck
[ ] Custom steps
The Overdue filter looks like:
Search: deck:”JALUP” is:due prop:due<=-7 -is:new
Limit to: 1000 Cards selected by: Decreasing intervals
[X] Reschedule cards based on answers in my deck
[ ] Custom steps
First you do the daily deck, then you click rebuild and do it again. Then if you still have some reps left in you can attack the Overdue deck.
The daily deck is cards that you've repped recently so there is nothing stale in that deck. This means it should be easy to clear out. The Overdue deck is everything else but its ordered by the cards you know the best. This makes it easy to clear out and since they are high interval you won't see them for a while too so it keeps your daily deck small as well.
Now go forth and conquer your backlog!
That’s a clever way of doing things. A bit more complex than the reset button, but could produce some nice results.
I’ve done it both ways, but I have definitely powered through the backlog more often than reset. For me, it depends on the situation. I only reset if it’s been a LONG time and I don’t remember anything. For J-J cards that build on each other this can be especially true. My most recent times have incidentally been JALUP related – twice for the Kanji decks, and once for JALUP Intermediate Stage 1.
But – resetting the deck seems to also restart my brain, for lack of a better word. Suddenly everything that seemed so difficult just clicked. I was able to fill in the gaps and finish Stage 1 within 3 days – even cards I didn’t know.
I like the other strategies posted on here – maybe something to look into if I ever feel a reset is needed again.
I’ve reset my decks… And ended up dealing with the bad habits of the anki avalanche again lol. My solution now is to just cut my max number of studies each day, don’t learn any new cards and just tackle my limit daily. If a card is completely hopeless where I can’t in good conscious mark something as “Hard,” it’s more tolerable for me to relearn it.
My stats on my cards are probably traaaash, but changing the angle to make it manageable each day is key. I’ve accepted that I don’t want to spend an hour everyday with anki: 30 minutes is solid, so I have to work with that to stay consistent.
Just a note about one potential danger of reseting your deck which is not given here (which has happened to me a few times). When you restart, your “new” cards will often be things you mostly already know. It makes you want to do a ton a new cards faster to get to interesting things. A week or two later, you suddenly have a ridiculous number of reviews again. If you do reset, be careful about rushing past cards.
Hi! Thank you for this post. To me refreshing the deck was the better option. I was really dizzy trying to study 700+ kanjis when I cannot remember some of the easiest. So, yes, is less efficient but I’m reinforcing my knowledge about kanji.