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?