Jethro's Braindump

Writing Good Spaced Repetition Prompts

A spaced repetition repetition system is only as good as its prompts. To understand what a good prompt entails, it helps to first understand the operating principles behind a prompt.

Good prompts invoke retrieval practice

When you attempt to retrieve a piece of knowledge, the act of retrieval reinforces these memories. Improved recall also translates into better understanding and problem solving abilities 1.

Effective prompts invoke retrieval practice well. In practice, this comes down to obeying a few guiding principles:

  1. Prompts should be focused, and test one detail at a time.
  2. Prompts should be precise, and have explicit, correct answers.
  3. Prompts should be tractable, with difficult prompts made easier via cues.
  4. Prompts should be effortful, requiring the actual task of retrieval.

Andy’s article gives a rough guide to creating meaningful prompts on a recipe of chicken stock, based on different kinds of knowledge.

Michael Nielsen’s article talks about how he uses Anki to do shallow reads of scientific literature. In summary, he creates Anki flashcards for the key ideas and contributions of a paper, looking primarily at the abstract, conclusion, and some of the key figures of the paper.


  1. If the flashcards are numerous and vary enough around a concept, the mind fallsback to a typical problem-solving approach, rather than trying to memorize the answers. ↩︎