Anki vs the Memory Palace Technique

For a long time, there have been disputes about which memory technique is better: Anki or memory palaces. If you search the internet, you will find hundreds of people who will swear by each system. There are countless articles explaining why Anki is better because it is more ‘optimized.’ Or you will find an article about memory palaces that says they are more ‘permanent.’ This article is going to be a shorter article, and it will be from my perspective as someone who actively uses both programs.

Background

Before I go any further, I will explain my experiences with these softwares. I began using the memory palace technique back in middle school when I heard about it on some television show (maybe House M.D.?). On the show the main character was depicted as using it to store as much information as he wanted. Once I heard that I was hooked. Of course, you should not believe what you see on TV, and it was not as perfect as I thought it was. However, I consider it 100 times better than normal memory nonetheless.

I used it to memorize various things for future use, but I found that it was hard to use for school because I could not commit the endless amount of information to memory quick enough. I realized that this technique was best used for when you wanted to study something independently at your own pace or you wanted to commit something fundamental and important to memory (such as the periodic table).

Fast forward to junior year of high school. Junior year I discovered Anki, the spaced repetition software. In the past I had heard about spaced repetition software, but I only knew about SuperMemo which was a subscription software. I first read about it in an article about an Anki power-user. The article talked about how the person had learned to use Anki as effectively as possible. Once I read the article I was hooked again. This seemed to sort out my school problem. Anki just made the system I was using to study school topics more systemized and effective, and if I knew something I would not have to review it as much. So I began using Anki.

Nowadays, for certain memory projects I will use Anki and the memory palace technique together. They both have their pros and cons, and special areas where they are most effective.

Anki

If you want to have a overview of Anki, you can read my Anki article on this post. Right now I will be talking about the pros and cons of using Anki.

Pros:

  • You can quickly create cards
  • You can create cards on the fly while studying the material
  • It makes you review when you need to
  • The software is so basic that you can pick it up in a couple minutes
  • The memories are more rapid (ex. You hear the word and you immediately think of the deinfition)
  • Everything is in one place

Cons:

  • Though it is easy to pick up, you need to learn how to make good cards
  • Bad for memorizing lists (ex. What are the determinants of demand in economics)
  • Reviews can build up
  • It can be overwhelming if you add too many cards at once

Now, typically, I will use Anki when I want to memorize definitions or reinforce information. For example, if I want to know what is the definition of utility, using Anki would be extremely effective. However, like I mentioned above, Anki works poorly for lists of information. Additionally, Anki is great to reinforce information. For example, I advocate for a third system to study science that focuses on derivation and logic. However, I still make cards about equations and rules in Anki to back up that info.

The Memory Palace Technique

Pros:

  • Once you set it up, the memories are pretty solidified (close as permanent you can get)
  • Really engaging to make because you need interesting images
  • You can remember much more in a shorter amount of time without being overwhelmed
  • Requires less review

Cons:

  • Takes a while to setup
  • Takes a while to learn the technique
  • Harder to rapidly recall stuff for problem solving (I wouldn’t recommend this for math equations)

Now, typically I will use the memory palace technique when I want to memorize a list (such as the list of presidents) or when I want to assign a list of things to similar information (like assigning atomic numbers to elements). Like I mentioned earlier, this technique stores information incredibly well.

Something extraordinary about the memory palace technique is the ability to process information in a more complex sense. If I were to ask you to memorize the list of the presidents and their numbers (1st president, 2nd, 3rd, etc…) with Anki, you would have a lot of trouble because you would be giving each president a number that is almost arbitrary. But if you use the memory palace technique, you could assign a number image to each president much easier, then you could quickly say which president came when. Additionally, if I asked you who was the president before John F. Kennedy, you could easily do that with the memory palace technique because all you need to do is go one place back in your journey (even without number assignments). There are tons of other complex things that the memory palace technique easily allows you to do that are not remotely possible with Anki.

Using Them as Complements

So, now we can talk about using both techniques to complement each other. Like you have seen, both techniques have their pros and cons, and it is best to use them for what they are best at. I will memorize long lists of things using the memory palace technique, and I will memorize definitions using Anki.

Sometimes, you will start a memory project where you need to use both techniques. A month ago I was memorizing Charlie Munger’s 25 cognitive biases and I wanted to be able to list all the biases and know their definitions. So, I chose to use the memory palace technique to know all the names of the biases, and then I chose to use Anki to memorize the definitions of the biases. This made the process a lot more cleaner than if I had to use just one.

Another example is in language. For Spanish, I use Anki for storing the English translations of Spanish words. But recently, I was trying to solidify the difference between two words that mean for: por and para. I wanted to know which one you use in each specific case. At first, I tried to use Anki for each case, but I got confused, so I stored the different uses in a memory palace and now I am able to recall and use por and para more quickly.

So, before you decide if you are in the Anki or memory palace camp, consider the alternative path: both of them.

Thank you for reading, and if you have any question, just ask below!

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