Mnemosyne update

Mnemosyne is a spaced repetition program for aiding memorization; see my first post about it for the whole scoop. That was the one-month report, and it’s now time to post a three-month report.

The chess opening memorization is still going very well. I’m now up to 471 positions in my database and am reviewing about 20 a day. One thing that can be a little bit of an issue is that since my flashcards are just positions, they’re a bit contextless; often part of the work I have to do to recall the correct move in a position is to deduce what sequence of moves led to it, so I can consult the right part of my mental library. Of course this is not an issue in an actual game, so it makes the flashcard experience a little artificial. I could try adding the appropriate moves to the problem, but I’m not convinced that’s a good idea either. For one thing, some of the positions can be arrived at by multiple sequences of moves, and for another, the best move in a position shouldn’t depend on how you got there; I should be able to deduce (or remember) it without hints. But on the other hand, if I’ll have the hints during an actual game, why not use them here? I’ll keep thinking about it.

I’ve only played four tournament games since I started using Mnemosyne, but in none of them did I have any trouble recalling the moves in my repertoire. So that’s good so far.

Meanwhile, with Esperanto vocabulary I’m testing exactly the scenario I foresaw in the original post; my interest has waned a bit again, so I’m not reading regularly, but I am keeping up with the memorization. I am holding steady at 1926 cards, and the number I have to review every day has dwindled from a high of around 200 to somewhere in the 30s, which I can get through in a minute or two. I have a better than 90% recall rate, so I do seem to be retaining the information. So that’s perfect — I’m confident that if I picked up an Esperanto book today, I’d be able to read it with close to the same ability as two months ago. I’ll happily spend a minute or two (and dropping!) a day to retain that knowledge.

3 Responses to “Mnemosyne update”

  1. David Carlton says:

    Hmm, the sequence of moves question is an interesting one. Not clear to me what to do about that.

    Interesting to hear about the Esperanto reports – I’ve been wondering what will happen if/when I stop adding in new Japanese items to my system. I think you must also go through Esperanto items faster than I go through Japanese items? Or maybe not – I think the time/item is less when I’m going through 30 items than when going through 200.

  2. dfan says:

    Well, Esperanto is a lot easier than Japanese! (Though I’m not sure if that’s just a starting condition whose relevance should fade with time as the system adjusts – plus of course we’re using different systems.) I’d say that 50% of the cards I know the answer to immediately, 35% I have to think about for a couple of seconds, and with 15% I actually have to stop and search my memory for the answer (and that’s generally where the 5% I get wrong come from). So two seconds per card on average is pretty accurate.

    With chess I have to make myself take it slower, because a second really isn’t enough time to identify a complete chess position, and it’s easy to just say “Oh yeah, this is the position where there’s a pawn on c6, I remember the move is Qb6 here,” without really looking at the whole position, and of course there are plenty of positions that arise in my actual games that aren’t in my corpus at all, so it’s a real danger that I could, in a tournament, say “Right, pawn on c6, I’ll play Qb6,” without realizing that the position is slightly different from the one I have stored. Or conversely that I’ll get to that position and then be paralyzed because I can’t remember whether it’s really in my database or is subtly different.

  3. David Carlton says:

    Yeah, Esperanto and Japanese (especially kanji) are pretty far apart. And I assume Mnemosyne’s 1-5 answer system gets you to the correct difficulty faster than my yes/no answer system.

    Hmm, actually, your description of chess positions actually reminds me a lot of mistakes I’ve made when memorizing kanji: e.g. early on I’d only know one character with a given radical on the left side, say, so when I saw any kanji with that radical in that position, my instinct would be that it was the one that I knew. The last sentence in your comment rings very true, too. (But it’s presumably a worse problem with chess positions than it is for kanji!)

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