Prompt design is ?? design. :: task

If prompt design is task design, how should you design prompts? :: Design prompts to produce the change you want.

How does retrieval practice halt forgetting? :: By recalling repeatedly spaced over time

The learning produced by retrieval practice when you try to recall knowledge. :: Testing effect

What differentiates retrieval practice and school tests? :: Retrieval practice tests to produce learning, not assess it.

How is writing spaced repetition prompts similar to language translation? :: They try to reconstruct the original idea.

Retrieval practice prompts should be:

  • precise
  • consistent
  • tractable
  • effortful ;; focused

Retrieval practice prompts should be:

  • focused
  • consistent
  • tractable
  • effortful ;; precise

Retrieval practice prompts should be:

  • focused
  • precise
  • tractable
  • effortful ;; consistent

Retrieval practice prompts should be:

  • focused
  • precise
  • consistent
  • effortful ;; tractable

Retrieval practice prompts should be:

  • focused
  • precise
  • consistent
  • tractable

;; effortful

How do you ensure a retrieval practice prompt is focused? :: Make it about one thing.

How do you ensure a retrieval practice prompt is consistent? :: It should produce the same answer every time.

How do you ensure a retrieval practice prompt is tractable? :: Write prompts you can always answer correctly.

How can you ensure that you answer a retrieval practice prompt correctly? :: Use a cue.

To ensure that a prompt is effortful, avoid words that ?? the answer. :: imply

What’s the best way to ensure that your prompts are focused, precise, consistent, tractable, and effortful? :: Write tightly-scoped questions.

What should you do to knowledge to write tightly-scoped questions? :: Break it down into discrete components.

The two skills required in writing effective retrieval practice prompts are:

  1. Defining the precise knowledge to reinforce.

;; Writing prompts that reinforce the knowledge.

The two skills required in writing effective retrieval practice prompts are: 1. 2. Asking questions that reinforce the specified knowledge. ;; Defining the precise knowledge to reinforce.

How did Andy Matuschak integrate writing retrieval practice prompts into his life? :: He spends a few minutes writing prompts for things that interests him.

To avoid being drained and wasting attention, what should you avoid when writing retrieval practice prompts? :: Being obsessively exhaustive.

What prompt best pairs with a factual prompt? :: An explanation prompt.

When should you pair an explanation prompt with a factual prompt? :: When you want to reinforce the fact by making it more meaningful.

How do you write a retrieval practice prompt for an unordered list? :: Use cloze deletions.

Why should you keep the items in a list prompt in the same order? :: You remember the list’s visual shape through time.

How do you reinforce memory of an unordered list without cloze deletion? :: Write an explanation prompt for each component of the list.

What’s the most important requirement when writing cues for retrieval practice prompts? :: Don’t give the answer away.

Elaborative encoding is the process of making information easier to recall by ?? :: connecting it with other memories.

If a knowledge can’t be connected to other memories, how can you still leverage elaborative encoding? :: Make up a mnemonic device.

What is the emotional effect that mnemonic devices should produce? :: Vivid.

Give at least two ways of making a mnemonic device vivid. :: e.g., using visuals, meaningful personal experiences, humor, and disgust

Where should you put mnemonic devices in a retrieval writing prompt? :: In the answer (inside parentheses).

Why should you put mnemonic devices inside parentheses when using them in prompt answers? :: To show they simply help remember the answer.

What should you do if you’re struggling to produce an answer despite the help of a mnemonic device? :: Write a prompt to reinforce the association between the answer and the mnemonic device.

In lieu of creating a mnemonic device, what can you do to leverage elaborative encoding in your retrieval practice prompts? :: Use images in the questions and answers.

What is the rule of thumb when determining the amount of prompts to write? :: Write more prompts than feels natural.

If you’re already familiar with a subject, how much prompts should you write about it? :: Fewer.

What are the two ways to frame retrieval writing prompts for procedures? :: Lists and keywords

What should you do to avoid wordy cloze deletion prompts for procedures? :: Remove unnecessary words to highlight keywords.

If procedures branch and become sufficiently complex, what should you include in your prompts? :: A flowchart.

When should you choose a list-based approach over a keyword-based approach in writing prompts for a procedure? :: When you only need to remember an outline.

When should you choose a keyword-based approach over a list-based approach in writing prompts for a procedure? :: When you want to emphasize the individual knowledge components.

Since most of your prompts are provisional knowledge, it’s important to include the ?? in the prompt. :: Original source of the information

The five lenses in understanding concepts are: 1. 2. Similarities and differences 3. Parts and wholes 4. Causes and effects 5. Significance and implications ;; Attributes and tendencies

The five lenses in understanding concepts are:

  1. Attributes and tendencies
  2. Parts and wholes
  3. Causes and effects
  4. Significance and implications ;; Similarities and differences

The five lenses in understanding concepts are:

  1. Attributes and tendencies
  2. Similarities and differences
  3. Causes and effects
  4. Significance and implications ;; Parts and wholes

The five lenses in understanding concepts are:

  1. Attributes and tendencies
  2. Similarities and differences
  3. Parts and wholes
  4. Significance and implications ;; Causes and effects

The five lenses in understanding concepts are:

  1. Attributes and tendencies
  2. Similarities and differences
  3. Parts and wholes
  4. Causes and effects

;; Significance and implications

When thinking about the attributes and tendencies of a concept, what should you consider? :: What’s always, sometimes, and never true about that concept.

When thinking about the similarities and differences of a concept, with which should you compare it with? :: Adjacent concepts

What visual aid can you use to think about the parts and wholes of a concept? :: Venn diagram

When I’m thinking about how a concept matters to me personally, I’m considering its ?? :: significance and implications.

A closed list is like ??, while an open list is like a tag. :: an equation

A closed list is like an equation, while an open list is like ??. :: a tag

Three useful prompt types for open lists: 1. 2. About tag itself 3. Link tag to instances ;; Link instance to tag

Three useful prompt types for open lists:

  1. Link instance to tag
  2. Link tag to instances ;; About tag itself

Three useful prompt types for open lists:

  1. Link instance to tag
  2. About tag itself

;; Link tag to instances

How do creative prompts differ from usual retrieval practice prompts? :: They help you generate new answers, not recall.

Define the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. :: New ideas are more salient.

How do you leverage the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon when learning new ideas? :: Write prompts to extend their salience.

What can you do to increase the chance of remembering a new idea when it is most useful? :: Write prompts about contexts where the idea can be meaningful.

Give two reasons on why you should approach prompt writing iteratively. ;;

  • Prioritization
  • Identify most difficult to remember
  • Develop complete understanding
  • Connect ideas to life

When engaging with a short piece of text, when is the best time to write prompts? :: After reading and highlighting

When engaging with a book, when is the best time to write prompts? :: After reading and highlighting a chapter or a major section

What’s the best guide in deciding which piece of knowledge to write a prompt about? :: Curiosity

In retrieval practice, what is a “false positive”? :: Producing an answer without knowing the information you intend to know.

This happens when you memorize the shape of a question and its answer but not understand the knowledge involved. :: Pattern matching

How do you discourage pattern matching in retrieval practice? :: Keep questions short and simple.

How should you approach binary prompts in retrieval practice? :: Rephrase them as more open-ended prompts.

In retrieval practice, what is a “false negative”? :: Knowing the information you intend to know but failing to produce a correct answer.

How do you avoid false negatives in retrieval practice? :: Include enough context to exclude alternative correct answers.

How do you identify what to revise in prompts? :: Notice internal “sighs.”

Per Andy Matuschak, how does one revise a prompt in relation to others? :: Do it holistically.

Per Andy Matuschak, what is the most important thing to optimize in spaced repetition practice? :: One’s emotional connection to these sessions and their contents.

Per Andy Matuschak, what are the two things you can do when you don’t care about a prompt anymore? 1. 2. Delete it. ;; Revise it to reflect why you first cared about it.

Per Andy Matuschak, what are the two things you can do when you don’t care about a prompt anymore?

  1. Revise it to reflect why you first cared about it.

;; Delete it.

spaced repetition systems make memory a choice

Spaced repetition systems work only as well as the prompts you give them.

It’s possible to understand somewhat systematically what makes a given prompt effective or ineffective. From that basis, you can understand how to write good prompts.

there are many ways to use spaced repetition systems, and so there are many ways to write good prompts.

==when you write a prompt in a spaced repetition system, you are giving your future self a recurring task. Prompt design is task design.

==If a prompt “works,” it’s because performing that task changes you in some useful way.

==design tasks which produce the kind of change you want.

The most common mechanism of change for spaced repetition learning tasks is called retrieval practice.

==when you attempt to recall some knowledge from memory, the act of retrieval tends to reinforce those memories. You’ll forget that knowledge more slowly. With a few retrievals strategically spaced over time, you can effectively halt forgetting.

The value of fluent recall isn’t just in memorizing facts.

==improved recall translated into improved general understanding and problem-solving ability.

Simply reminding yourself of material (for instance by re-reading it) yields much weaker memory and problem-solving performance.

==The learning produced by retrieval is called the “testing effect” because it occurs when you explicitly test yourself, reaching within to recall some knowledge from the tangle of your mind.

==retrieval practice is about testing your knowledge to produce learning, rather than to assess learning.

If you want prompts to reinforce your understanding of some topic, you must learn to write prompts which collectively invoke retrieval practice of all the key details.

==mnemonic medium. spaced repetition prompts interleaved directly into the text.

Properties of effective retrieval practice prompts

Writing good prompts feels surprisingly similar to translating written text. When translating prose into another language, you’re asking: which words, when read, would light a similar set of bulbs in readers’ minds?

==When writing spaced repetition prompts meant to invoke retrieval practice, you’re doing something similar to language translation. You’re asking: which tasks, when performed in aggregate, require lighting the bulbs which are activated when you have that idea “fully loaded” into your mind?

The retrieval practice mechanism implies some core properties of effective prompts. These properties aren’t laws of nature. They’re more like rules you might learn in an English class.

Retrieval practice prompts should be focused. A question or answer involving too much detail will dull your concentration and stimulate incomplete retrievals, leaving some bulbs unlit. Unfocused questions also make it harder to check whether you remembered all parts of the answer and to note places where you differed. ==It’s usually best to focus on one detail at a time.

Retrieval practice prompts should be precise about what they’re asking for. Vague questions will elicit vague answers, which won’t reliably light the bulbs you’re targeting.

Retrieval practice prompts should produce consistent answers, lighting the same bulbs each time you perform the task. Otherwise, you may run afoul of an interference phenomenon called ==“retrieval-induced forgetting”: what you remember during practice is reinforced, but other related knowledge which you didn’t recall is actually inhibited.==

Retrieval practice prompts should be tractable. To avoid interference-driven churn and recurring annoyance in your review sessions, ==you should strive to write prompts which you can almost always answer correctly. This often means breaking the task down, or adding cues.

Retrieval practice prompts should be effortful. It’s important that the prompt actually involves retrieving the answer from memory. You shouldn’t be able to trivially infer the answer.

effort appears to be an important factor in the effects of retrieval practice. That’s one motivation for ==spacing reviews out over time: if it’s too easy to recall the answer, retrieval practice has little effect.

Achieving these properties is mostly about writing tightly-scoped questions. When a prompt’s scope is too broad, you’ll usually have problems: retrieval will often lack a focused target; you may produce imprecise or inconsistent answers; you may find the prompt intractable. But writing tightly-scoped questions is surprisingly difficult. You’ll need to break knowledge down into its discrete components so that you can build those pieces back up as prompts for retrieval practice. This decomposition also makes review more efficient. The schedule will rapidly remove easy material from regular practice while ensuring you frequently review the components you find most difficult.

==So we must learn two skills to write effective retrieval practice prompts: how to characterize exactly what knowledge we’ll reinforce, and how to ask questions which reinforce that knowledge.

This is itself an essential prompt-writing skill to build—noticing unusual but meaningful applications for prompts

these prompts don’t take me much time to write. Every week or two I’ll trip on something interesting and spend a few minutes writing prompts about it. That’s been enough to produce a huge impact.

But understanding is inherently personal. ==Really “knowing” something often involves going beyond what’s on the page to connect it to your life, other ideas you’re exploring, and other activities you find meaningful.

But it’s worth noting that in practice, you usually won’t study resources as systematically as this. You’ll jump around, focusing only on the parts which seem most valuable. You may return to a resource on a few occasions, writing more prompts as you understand what’s most relevant. That’s good! ==Exhaustiveness may seem righteous in a shallow sense, but an obsession with completionism will drain your gumption and waste attention which could be better spent elsewhere.

This type of knowledge is mostly ==factual. There aren’t a lot of concepts or relationships here: it’s mostly just a bunch of raw information you need to know.

because it’s asking for so many details simultaneously, it’s unlikely to sharply activate all the memories you want to reinforce. And because it’s asking for so much, it’s liable to lead to inconsistency and intractability: each time you answer, you’ll remember some details and forget others. The inconsistent activations will tend to erode your memory.

==Writing a simple factual prompt like that naturally tickles a neighbor you might consider adding: the explanation prompt. I write prompts like this when a detail seems likely to be challenging or when the explanation itself is interesting.==

The explanation question will reinforce the knowledge captured by the factual question. Perhaps more importantly, explanations make facts more meaningful. A prompt like this offers a hook to connect the fact to other ideas you may pick up later.

Writing prompts often involves hopping around as you work to identify the puzzle pieces and put them together.

You want to write questions which cause you to unambiguously retrieve the information you have in mind.

Understanding the ingredients in terms of functional grouping will help us internalize the structure of the recipe:

Unordered lists like this can be challenging to translate into good prompts.

One good strategy is to create a set of questions which require you to fill in a missing element of the list:

==Note that I keep the list in the same order. When each element has a consistent (though arbitrary) location, you’ll end up learning the list’s visual “shape” to some extent as you repeat these prompts. That will help your recall.

Ultimately, of course, you want to be able to recall all the ingredients on demand, not just one. Much of the time, these single-element deletions will be enough to achieve that goal.

But with complex ideas, you may find you need to add integrative prompts after you’ve thoroughly practiced their discrete components. In the case of lists, you can imagine that the system could ask you to fill in more blanks simultaneously as your memory of the individual entries improves.

==Another way to help yourself understand lists like this is to write explanation prompts for each of the components

If you find yourself struggling with these prompts, it can be helpful to add a cue. But ==make sure the cue doesn’t render the prompt trivial: it’s important that you exert some effort to retrieve the answer from memory.

you ==make information easier to recall when you connect it to other memories. This process is called elaborative encoding.

==you can still leverage elaborative encoding by fabricating an association as a mnemonic device. Vivid associations work best, so it’s helpful to find relationships involving visuals, meaningful personal experiences, or emotions like humor and disgust.

==Putting these mnemonic devices in the answer field is a useful general trick when the information you’re trying to remember seems relatively arbitrary or isolated. By putting the association in parentheses, you’re making it clear that the focus of the prompt is on remembering the answer: the association is an extra tidbit you might engage with, or not.

==if you really find yourself struggling, you can add a prompt specifically intended to reinforce the association

==Instead of fabricating a mnemonic device, you can also leverage elaborative encoding by adding imagery to your prompts. The same fill-in-the-blank idea applies quite well to images.

cues and elaborative encoding add extra effort. You don’t need to use them all the time: you’d probably find that exhausting. But they’re useful techniques to deploy if you suspect a prompt will prove difficult to remember, or if you’ve noticed yourself struggling in practice.

Interpretation; the “more than you think” rule of thumb

Writing good prompts often involves interpretation, a first step to creating understanding beyond what’s explicitly written.

I’ve noticed that people often feel a compulsion to economize on the number of prompts they write. Prompts seem to carry a per-unit “price,” so people naturally try to write fewer questions which cover more ground. But that’s counter-productive. Unless you explicitly decide to exclude certain information, the number of “units of raw knowledge” is fixed, a constant of the territory. When you write coarser prompts in smaller quantity, you’re not reducing the amount you have to learn. You’re just making the material harder to review.

==write more prompts than feels natural.

if you’re writing prompts for a subject that’s already quite familiar, you should use fewer prompts because there’s less marginal knowledge you need to capture.

the appropriate scale of a “focused” prompt depends on the scale of the concepts you’ve internalized.

==As you build fluency in increasingly complex concepts, you can write increasingly complex prompts while keeping each focused on what feels like a single detail. In fact, the ability to think in terms of increasingly complex “chunks” appears to be a significant part of what expertise actually is.

==one role for memory systems is to accelerate the process of increasing your effective chunk size in a topic.

Procedural knowledge

procedural knowledge—knowledge needed to perform specific tasks, more knowing how than knowing what.

==procedures are lists. So we can start by using the cloze-deletion method we used for the ingredient list:

wordy prompts like these tend to dull my concentration and produce vague, distracted answers.

We can improve this prompt somewhat by simply removing words. If necessary, we can add extra prompts to cover any details we removed.

prompt-writing often feels like playing Jeopardy: can you phrase that in the form of a question?

Procedures can often be broken down into keywords like this. ==What are the important verbs, and when should you move between them? What are the key adjectives, adverbs, subjects, objects?

==conditions or heuristics describing when to move between verbs are important

more complex procedures may branch, including conditions or special cases which could trigger some alternate path in the flowchart. Such predicate structures are usually worth capturing. ==If the branching is sufficiently complex, you might consider drawing a flowchart and using that in your prompt.

==Is the keyword-based approach better than the list-based approach? That depends on how important the discrete details are and how intuitive they are for you. The keyword-based approach emphasizes the individual knowledge components more strongly, which is a good idea if precision is important. Also, I usually find focused questions like these more pleasant to answer. But if an outline is all you need, then the list approach is probably simpler.

==“heads-up!”-type information can be quite useful when learning procedures

Explanation-type prompts are especially valuable when studying procedures: they can help you avoid rote learning and build a deeper understanding.

==It’s helpful to add similar caveats to your prompts whenever you’re working with subjective, provisional, or incomplete information.

It’s usually enough to record where the information came from. Most spaced repetition systems have metadata fields you could use to link these prompts to the original chicken stock recipe.

To internalize a concept, you need to understand its components and relationships.

Attributes and tendencies

Similarities and differences

Parts and wholes

Causes and effects

Significance and implications

Prompt-writing can helpfully reveal such gaps in our understanding. You don’t need to stick with one resource: follow your nose; Google around; consult other references. Even if you don’t decide to follow up on the missing information immediately, you can guide future exploration by sensitizing yourself to feelings of curiosity and gaps in understanding.

Open lists

==I think of closed lists as a complex fact, almost an equation:

==I like to think of open lists like tags—like the tags you might use in a system for digital bookmarks.

When I encode this type of knowledge, I find three types of prompts consistently helpful. First I write prompts focused on each of the tagged items, linking from the instance to the tag. Then I might separately write prompts about the tag itself, perhaps inspired by patterns I notice in its instances. Finally, I often write a prompt which fuzzily links from the tag to its instances by asking for examples.

When you’ve just learned a particularly open-ended concept—one which could apply to many instances—you can turn example-generating prompts like the one above into creative prompts

==Creative prompts are more like a textbook exercise, asking you to apply what you’ve learned in a new way. Unlike the other prompts we’ve seen, the goal here is to avoid retrieving an answer from memory: you’re meant to think creatively for a few moments.== Since your answer’s different each time, retrieval practice won’t consistently reinforce your memory of any particular response. Instead, it will reinforce whatever knowledge you consistently use when generating an answer. Your novel responses may also make meaningful associations which strengthen your memory through elaborative encoding. And those associations may be particularly sticky because of another memory phenomenon called the ==generation effect: you remember information better when you generated it yourself.

==3 useful prompt types for open lists:

  1. Link instance to tag
  2. About tag itself
  3. Link tag to instances

Besides their impact on memory and understanding, many of the prompts we’ve been discussing about have another important effect: they keep you in contact with an idea over time.

Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

new ideas are particularly salient, so we notice them more readily. They haven’t really become more common—they just seem that way.

But to really internalize a new idea, you need to bring it into your life and make meaning with it. In particular, if it’s a new skill, you probably haven’t really understood it until you’ve put it into practice several times on your own.

Salience typically fades over time. If you don’t soon have a chance to connect that new idea to something meaningful in your life, you may stop noticing opportunities so readily. The dynamic seems similar to the problem of forgetting knowledge over time. So one valuable use for spaced repetition prompts is to keep ideas salient, top of mind, over longer periods of time.

the point of repeating these prompts over time is to keep the relevant ideas salient until they have a chance to connect to something meaningful in your life.

review sessions are surprisingly like a secular catechism.

I often write such prompts about my own ideas in the course of my creative work. They help me muse on an inkling or question over weeks and months, until it can hopefully grow into something more. This is one way prompt-writing can create understanding which extends beyond simply capturing knowledge from a text.

==It’s often helpful to phrase salience prompts around contexts where those ideas might be meaningful in your life.

Just because you can answer a factual question about an idea, that doesn’t mean the idea will spontaneously occur to you when it’s useful.

context-laden prompts help the leap from theory to practice.

it’s important to densely connect new ideas to old ones

more connections means more opportunities to trigger new knowledge.

If you try to analyze everything you read so comprehensively, you’re likely to waste time and burn yourself out.

==it’s hard to write good prompts on your first exposure to new ideas. You’re still developing a sense of which details are important and which are not—both objectively, and to you personally. You likely don’t know which elements will be particularly challenging to remember (and hence worth extra reinforcement). You may not understand the ideas well enough to write prompts which access their “essence”, or which capture subtle implications. And you may need to live with new ideas for a while before you can write prompts which connect them vibrantly with whatever really matters to you. All this suggests an iterative approach.

Say you’re reading an article that seems interesting. Try setting yourself an accessible goal: on your first pass, aim to write a small number of prompts (say, 5-10) about whatever seems most important, meaningful, or useful.

When first adopting spaced repetition practice, I felt like I “should” write prompts about everything. This made reading a chore. By contrast, it feels quite freeing to aim for just a few key prompts at a time. I read a notch more actively, noticing a tickle in the back of my mind: “Ooh, that’s a juicy bit! Let’s get that one!”

==If the material is fairly simple, you may be able to write these prompts while you read. But for texts which are challenging or on an unfamiliar topic, it may be too disruptive to switch back and forth. In such cases it’s better to highlight or make note of the most important details. Then you can write prompts about your understanding of those details in a batch at the end or at a suitable stopping point. For these tougher topics, I find it’s best to focus initially on prompts about basic details you can build on: raw facts, terms, notation, etc.

The best prompt-writing approach will depend on how and why you’re reading the book, but in general, ==if I’m trying to internalize a non-fiction book, I’ll often begin by aiming to write a few key prompts on my first pass through a chapter or major section.

For many resources, one pass of prompt-writing is all that’s worth doing, at least initially. But if you have a rich text which you’re trying to internalize thoroughly, it’s often valuable to make multiple passes, even in the first reading session. That doesn’t necessarily mean doubling down on effort: just write another handful of apparently-useful prompts each time.

But it’s also important to notice if you feel yourself becoming restless. There’s no deep virtue in writing a prompt about every detail. In fact, it’s much more important to remain responsive to your sense of curiosity and interest.

If you notice a feeling of duty or completionism, remind yourself that you can always write more prompts later. In fact, they’ll probably be better if you do: motivated by something meaningful, like a new connection or a gap in your understanding.

False positives: How might you produce the correct answer without really knowing the information you intend to know?

Discourage pattern matching. If you write a long question with unusual words or cues, you might eventually memorize the shape of that question and learn its corresponding answer—not because you’re really thinking about the knowledge involved, but through a mechanical pattern association. Cloze deletions seem particularly susceptible to this problem, especially when created by copying and editing passages from texts. This is best avoided by keeping questions short and simple.

Avoid binary prompts. Questions which ask for a yes/no or this/that answer tend to require little effort and produce shallow understanding. I find I can often answer such questions without really understanding what they mean. Binary prompts are best rephrased as more open-ended prompts.

Improving a binary prompt often involves connecting it to something else, like an example or an implication.

False negatives: How might you know the information the prompt intends to capture but fail to produce the correct answer? Such failures are often caused by not including enough context.

It’s easy to accidentally write a question which has correct answers besides the one you intend. You must include enough context that reasonable alternative answers are clearly wrong, while not including so much context that you encourage pattern matching or dilute the question’s focus.

When possible, general knowledge should be expressed generally, so long as you can avoid ambiguity. This may mean finding another angle on the question.

a prompt which fails to exclude alternative correct answers requires that you also memorize “what the prompt is asking.”

Revising prompts over time

It’s often tough to diagnose issues with prompts while you’re writing them. Problems may become apparent only upon review, and sometimes only once a prompt’s repetition interval has grown to many months. Prompt-writing involves long feedback loops. So just as it’s important to write prompts incrementally over time, it’s also important to revise prompts incrementally over time, as you notice problems and opportunities.

In your review sessions, be alert to feeling an internal “sigh” at a prompt. Often you’ll think: “oh, jeez, this prompt—I can never remember the answer.” Or “whenever this prompt comes up, I know the answer, but I don’t really understand what it means.” Listen for those reactions and use them to drive your revision. To avoid disrupting your review session, most spaced repetition systems allow you to flag a prompt as needing revision during a review. Then once your session is finished, you can view a list of flagged prompts and improve them.

Learning to write good prompts is like learning to write good sentences.

revision is a holistic endeavor.

A prompt can sometimes be improved in isolation, but as my understanding shifts I’ll often want to revise holistically—merge a few prompts here, reframe others there, split these into finer details.

I can revise prompts more effectively by simply keeping a holistic aspiration in mind.

I believe the most important thing to “optimize” in spaced repetition practice is the emotional connection to your review sessions and their contents.

If you find yourself reviewing something you don’t care about anymore, you should act. Sometimes upon reflection you’ll remember why you cared about the idea in the first place, and you can revise the prompt to cue that motivation. But most of the time the correct way to revise such prompts is to delete them.

Another way to approach this advice is to think about its reverse: what material should you write prompts about? When are these systems worth using?

The best way to begin is to use these systems to help you do something that really matters to you—for example, as a lever to more deeply understand ideas connected to your core creative work. With time and experience, you’ll internalize the benefits and costs of spaced repetition, which may let you identify other useful applications


Matuschak, A. (2020). How to write good prompts: Using spaced repetition to create understanding.