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Low-Key Anki: Pass/Fail

What I am calling "Low-Key Anki" consists of two Anki add-ons which were created by ja-dark. The second of these two add-ons, "Pass/Fail," physically removes the hard and easy buttons, leaving the user with a binary choice when grading cards: pass, or fail.

First, let's talk about why someone would want to remove the hard button. Grading a card "hard" does two things: increase the interval by 30%, and lower the ease factor by 15 percentage points. Assuming that we are using the No Penalties or Boosting add-on, the ease factor change does not apply to us, so let's think about the interval increase.

If you made an Anki card in order to learn something, that probably means you think that something is worth knowing; you probably want that knowledge to be there when you need it. If you are thinking about grading a card "hard," that means that you didn't remember the card well enough to grade it "good." If you didn't remember a card well enough to grade it "good," then you don't know the card very well, and you probably can't rely on the knowledge contained in the card being there when you need it. If so, then you need to learn the card better than you currently do. The hard button increases the interval of the card. A longer interval isn't going to give you a chance to improve how well you know the card; instead, you are likely going to find the card "hard" again the next time it comes up. This is a nasty cycle that many Anki users fall into: they don't know a card very well, they continue to press "hard" instead of properly relearning it, and the card remains stuck in a half-learned limbo. Not only does this lead to a large number of reviews, as the interval is only growing by 30% each time, but because the card is only half-learned, the knowledge isn't there when the person needs it. Truly a lose-lose situation.

It's much more desirable to fail a card once, properly relearn it, and then have its interval grow at a healthy pace from that point onward, reducing review load and increasing the likelihood that the knowledge will be there when you need it. Either you know a card well enough to grade it "good," or you need to learn it better, in which case you need a shorter interval, not a longer one. In other words, instead of indefinitely keeping a sick card on life support, it's much better to actually heal its sickness and allow it to become healthy again. The hard button is life support.

The reason why people commonly hesitate to fail half-learned cards is that, with default Anki settings, failing a card has a huge penalty: 20 percentage points off the ease factor, and the interval being reset back to zero, wiping out all progress that had been made on the card. By increasing the "New Interval" in the lapses tab within the deck options from the default setting of 0%, we can allow lapsed cards to retain a certain percentage of their previous interval (for example, if you set the "New Interval" to 70%, then when after failing a card that had an interval of 100 days, the new interval will become 70 days). Like I explained in a previous section, relearning is distinctly different from initial learning; once something is relearned, although stability will have decreased, a majority of the previous stability will still have been retained. It's not hard to understand this intuitively: most of the time, when you miss a card, your reaction after viewing the back is "OH YEAH," not "I feel like I am seeing this for the first time in my life." You still mostly know the card; after relearning, you will go back to knowing it almost as well as you knew it before forgetting. It's uncommon for something to get completely vaporized from your memory. This is why it makes absolutely no sense that in Anki, by default, the "New Interval" after lapse is set to 0%. I can only imagine how many people waste countless hours sending material they know decently well back down to an interval of one day due to not understanding this setting. I personally recommend setting the "New Interval" after lapse to something between 50% and 80%. This way, the interval is still reduced enough to give you a chance to properly relearn the card (heal its sickness), but you also aren't losing more progress than necessary. I would predict that for most people most of the time, a 70% "New Interval" after lapse will lead to an 80% to 90% retention rate on once-lapsed cards. In other words, for 80-90% of your cards that lapse and have the new interval become 70% of the previous interval, the next time they come up, you will be able to grade them "good."

So, by combing an over 50% "New Interval" after lapse with the No Penalties or Boosting add-on, the penalty of failing a card is greatly reduced, hopefully removing the temptation to keep your sick cards on life support. Reducing the consequences of lapsing cards also brings additional psychological benefits. When grading a card "again" means shooting the card in the foot and sending it back to square one, you're naturally not going to feel too good about lapsing a card. This can lead the user to experience stress and negativity towards reviewing. By combining the No Penalties or Boosting add-on with a high "New Interval" after lapse, this is mitigated; low stakes means low stress.

Now, every now and again, there will be a card that somehow gets vaporized from your memory, leaving you with absolutely no recollection of it when it comes up for review. I stated above that a 70% "new interval" should be ideal for 80-90% of lapses; these are the remaining 10-20%. In these minority of cases, a "new interval" of 0% is appropriate. This is where leeches come in. In the last section, I talked about how by setting a low leech threshold, we can weed out ease factor lapses that need to be either reformatted or deleted. We can also use this low leech threshold to weed out rare anticipated fails that deserve to have their intervals set back to zero, and then reset them manually. In the browser, by selecting a card and going to "Edit > Reschedule > Place at end of new card queue," you can manually reset the interval of a card, returning it to the state of a new card. Because Anki automatically gives leeches the "leech" tag, you can easily search for them in the browser. In the near future, you can expect a new add-on that will help automate the process of leech handling, but for now, after finishing your reviews for the day, you will want to go into the browser, find any leeches you accrued that day, and reformat and reset where you feel is necessary. If you feel that the reason a card became a leech is that you just happened to fully blank on it one time, and then didn't have an opportunity to fully relearn it after that (anticipated lapse), then simply reset the interval without worrying about reformatting.

If you feel that the reason a card became a leech is the card is actually more difficult than your other cards (ease factor lapse), then honestly evaluate the value of the card. Unless it contains something truly important, consider simply deleting the card. If it really is important (which most individual cards won't be), then reformat and reset the card. Of course, after handling a leech, you will also want to remove the "leech" tag and unsuspend the card. All of this shouldn't be too much work, as leeches really shouldn't be popping up too often; from zero to one a day on average.

Now let's talk about why someone would want to remove the easy button. Grading a card "easy" does two things: set the new interval to "previous interval * ease factor * easy bonus," and add 15 points to the ease factor. Assuming that we are using the No Penalties or Boosting add-on, the ease factor change does not apply to us, so let's think about the interval increase. Within the deck options, you will find an option called "Easy Bonus"; by default, it is set to 130%. What this means is that when a card is graded "easy," its interval will grow by 30% more than it would be if graded "good" (when a card is graded good, it's new interval becomes "previous interval * ease factor").

Although you do often hear people advising against using the easy button, the main reason for this is to avoid the inverse of the ease factor problem: due to the probabilistic nature of the forgetting curve, just because a card felt easy to answer once, that doesn't necessarily reflect the card's intrinsic difficulty, and thus the increase in ease factor the easy button brings is likely to lead to lapses in the future. But when using the No Penalties or Boosting add-on, because the ease factor will not be increased, the easy button is a safer option; you are simply growing the interval more quickly in that instance, not making a permanent change to the card.

The real reason that I recommend removing the easy button is that the benefit of turning the process of grading your cards into a binary choice is well worth sacrificing the marginal benefit of being able to send cards that felt easy slightly farther into the future (and the benefit is truly marginal at best; like I mentioned in an prior section, there are studies showing that subjective assessments of how well one knows something tend to be inaccurate, not to mention that if you really knew a card well enough to confidently blast it into the future, you probably don't need an Anki card to retain that piece of information in the first place). The hard button is poison for your cards; it has to go. But while we are at it, by also removing the easy button, we turn grading cards into a binary choice, which radically simplifies the reviewing process.

From Wikipedia:

"In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making. For instance, judges in court have been shown to make poorer quality decisions late in the day than they do early in the day. Decision fatigue may also lead to consumers making poor choices with their purchases. There is a paradox in that "people who lack choices seem to want them and often will fight for them", yet at the same time, "people find that making many choices can be [psychologically] aversive." Notably, major politicians and businessmen such as former United States President Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg have been known to reduce their everyday clothing down to one or two outfits in order to limit the number of decisions they make in a day."

You are already straining your mind trying to correctly answer your cards; you don't want to be wasting additional mental energy deciding how well you knew something. Ja-dark also cited a study that found that self-scoring how successful you were at recalling something taxes working memory. Eshapard summed it up perfectly when he said, "From my experience, it really slows you down if you're always trying to figure out whether a card you remembered was Good, Hard, or Easy. These are really subjective categories and it's a lot of work to try to use these options for all but the most obvious cases. […] Trying to remember the facts is mental effort enough for me. I don't need to split hairs over how difficult the card was."

Either you already know the card as well as you would like to, and press "good," or you would like to know it better than you currently do, and press "again." It's that simple. And because the answer to this binary choice should be obvious in nearly all cases, not only is decision fatigue is minimized, conserving your mental energy for actually answering your cards, but time spent making decisions about how to grade cards is reduced as well; shaving just a few milliseconds off your average answer time can lead to saving large amounts of time in the long term. In this way, low stakes (no ease penalties + high "New Interval" after lapse) makes grading less stressful, and binary choices make grading more clear-cut, in turn preserving mental energy and allowing users to grade cards more quickly.

Of course, even without using the Pass/Fail add-on to physically remove the hard and easy buttons, you could simply leave the additional two buttons there but make a decision to never use them. But, in my experience, simply seeing the hard button tells part of your mind that it's still an option, occasionally making it tempting to press. In this way, by simply having the extra buttons there, you aren't getting the full decision fatigue-reducing effect. To put it frankly, there's just something elegant and reassuring about only being presented two big fat buttons.

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