This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of AJATT's patrons!

If you would like to support the continuing production of AJATT content, please consider making a monthly donation through Patreon.

Right there ↑ . Go on. Click on it. Patrons get goodies like early access to content (days, weeks, months and even YEARS before everyone else), mutlimedia stuff and other goodies!

SRS Precedence Rules

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series Secrets to Smoother SRSing

In arithmetic, whenever we have an expression, we don’t just go left-to-right, and we don’t just run our calculations all willy-nilly. There is what is called the standard order of operations. These are the rules of engagement, the sine qua non, what the French call the without which not, of doing arithmetic.  One acronym for these rules is PEMDAS: parentheses, exponentiation, multiplication/division, addition/subtraction.

You’ve been doing arithmetic a long time, but you’ve probably only started SRSing relatively recently, SRS being a more recent invention than arithmetic. In SRSing we also have an order of operations AKA precedence rules AKA order of priority.

As with arithmetic, the SOOP (SRS order of priority) — yet another meaningless acronym — tells us what to do first, if there is any doubt. Unlike the arithmetic rules, the SOOP is not hard and fast. It’s just an arbitrary set of guidelines to make our lives easier and prevent the harried, type-A, OCDish behavior you sometimes see exhibited by people who are SRSing — behavior that leads them to burn out, give up, and curse this SRSing thing as “useless” or “not for me”.

So here it is, the SOOP, which can further be abbreviated as DADRA (how do I keep coming up with these?!): Don’t Add, Delete, Review, Add.

0. Don’t Add

  • The zeroth rule. Not adding anything to your SRS deck is the most “important” activity, in that it takes precedence over all the others. If in doubt, don’t add anything to the SRS. Just don’t. Too hard to add? Don’t add it. Can’t be bothered? Don’t be. When something really needs to be added to the SRS, it won’t feel like a chore at all.

1. Delete

  • The first rule. Delete. If in doubt, delete stuff. Delete. Delete. Deleted. Baleted. Let it go. There is perhaps nothing more threatening to your long-term SRSing prospects than bad cards. Nothing will drag down your repcount (reviewcount) more quickly and with more certainty, than the existence of large quantities of SRS cards you no longer give a care about. If in doubt, throw it out. Delete. Doesn’t matter if you would, could or should learn it. Delete it.
  • What about “essential” language elements like individual kanji and/or kana and/or hangul, etc? Surely these can’t be deleted, right? Right? My original answer to that would have been a “yes, suck it up”. However, over time, my opinion has changed. I have found bad cards to be so destructive to SRSing that it is better to, yes, delete even cards containing essential, fundamental language elements. Call it “lazy processing”: you can always undelete, or re-add the cards later. If the language element is really that essential, you’ll be able to pick up the slack later.
  • Important: I personally prefer to delete one card a time. I say, resist the impulse to “push the reset button” — delete entire decks and start from scratch, because this robs you of the opportunity to discover the properties of the cards you do like and are worth keeping. Also, it’s a bit of a binge-purge behavior, which is something you don’t want.
  • I virtually always do my deleting while reviewing. Remember, the SOOP tells us what matters most: it does not mean “do all of activity #n first before doing activity #n+1”. It just means: “if in doubt, if there is a conflict (of interests), default to the higher priority activity — activity #n”. So if you’re doing reviews but you get bored by one or more cards, and you’re not sure what to do, then just start deleting and don’t even bother stop until you hit a card that makes you want to do reviews.

2. Review

  • The second rule. Review cards. Do reps. It’s what we might call the most “normal”, “standard”, “vanilla” use of an SRS. Nothing much more to say here. Click. Show back. Set score. Next.

3. Add

  • The third rule. If all else fails, add some new SRS cards. Add new cards. Why is this last? What the hockey puck is wrong with you, Khatzumoto? Surely, even you, up on your AJATT cloud, are aware that you can’t delete or review cards without having first added them? Yes, of course, that is true. Remember, the SOOP merely tells us precedence. It tells us what should precede what, what should go first, iff there is any question as to what to do. However, by definition, if there are no cards, then while “don’t add” (the zeroth rule) will work, the first and second rules will default down to this one. What matters is to know that if in doubt, adding cards is the least important thing you can do.

And we’re done. These are just random guidelines I came up with by myself. Yeah, I’m good-looking, but not omniscient. So I’d be happy to hear what you have to share, iff you’re good-looking as well.



Series Navigation<< Popping Bubblewrap: Tips for Better SRS Sentence ItemsThe SRS Victory Formula (SRS Formula Victoria? 😛 ) >>

  27 comments for “SRS Precedence Rules

  1. jesslawnz
    March 4, 2010 at 16:32

    iff I had a good comment, it would be here.

    Off to delete some cards and start doing my sentence reps again

  2. Eple
    March 4, 2010 at 19:14

    I’ve just gotta chime in and say that the AJATT method works exceptionally well for me, in learning Norwegian. Ditching the boring textbooks to a certain extent (still working slowly through nordmenn og norge – a great Norwegian textbook completely in Norwegian, and that anyone thinking about learning needs to pick up), and SRS’ing native reading material (at your reading level of course), and listening to native level audio (such as national news podcasts) make for extremely fast progress. The words that you learn in reading are quickly cemented in your mind with the audio, along with their pronunciation, all the while you get used to the native flow and tones of the language (yes, Norwegian actually has tones!) This is all compounded by the fact that Norwegian is a closely related cousin to English … the point being if AJATT works great for Japanese, an extremely foreign language for English speaking natives, then it works awesomely for European languages. It really should be renamed and re branded in order to reach a wider audience, just because it’s so awesome. I can’t believe I ever contemplated learning a language through reading stiff grammatical tomes.

  3. Tony
    March 4, 2010 at 20:54

    I just can’t stand the whole idea of deleting because I start thinking about all that time I spent adding these cards. When I begin to lag behind, I simply stop adding new cards until I catch up.

  4. Matt-le-kat
    March 4, 2010 at 21:38

    Good post.
    Using the AJATT idea to learn Japanese has been an interesting journey so far. I started off with a feverish effort to comprehension. It was all about adding things into my life to learn Japanese – it took effort. Nowadays I focus more on removing obstacles preventing me from learning and making it easier to have fun.

    All over this site you see “have fun in Japanese!!!!” but putting it into practise was quite difficult for me. I was stuck in the “no pain no gain” mindset. It’s taken me way too long to realise that it’s so much easier to just have fun and learn Japanese as a byproduct.

    You just can’t beat that awesome feeling of realising that you can totally understand a different language. Like the other day I was sat reading one of the early Naruto Mangas, and I thought “holy shiznit I can understand this holy frickin thing!”. I’ve got such a long way to go, but the journey is so fun.

    God I love this site 🙂

    PS: can’t wait for the storybook

    PPS: HALCALI ftw

  5. March 4, 2010 at 22:27

    The negative 1st rule should be “Don’t think that SRS is the only way”. I never do SRS and I still learn quickly. I just read things that I am interested in and look up the words that I don’t know. Over time I get repetition, because the same words are used over and over again. The most important words are learned first, because the are more common and thus used more often.

  6. March 4, 2010 at 23:38

    SRS are very interesting things, and we are always figuring out what things work and what things don’t. It is nice to see SRS being more accessible to people, seeing that, as a whole, the concept of SRS is one of the most woefully neglected concepts that could save a GREAT amount of time.

    Here is a good article that I read every now and then about how to formulate knowledge to put into SRS (How to handle making flashcards):

    And just my two cents (Just echoing what is already said): Because SRS works the way it does, you do not have to worry about spending too much time reviewing EASY information. Easy information will be reviewed a minimal amount of times in the future, and aren’t much to worry about. Therefore if there are a handful of words you’ve learned recently (And you can use them fairly well) but HAVE NOT put into your SRS, it’s good just to add them anyways, to be on the safe side. It’s like paying an extra $0.05 to get the “super-size” meal. You’re already spending $5.00, who cares about a few more pennies?
    DIFFICULT information is a whole different story, though.

    Information that is too difficult (Or badly formulated, see the Supermemo article above) will be reviewed too often, resulting in a large chunk of time being spent on a small amount of information/vocab/kanji/etc. This becomes what is called a “leech,” in that it is a leech on your time. Leeches should be either reset and relearned, and if that doesn’t work, deleted. Be willing to recognize when you can’t win a battle with a certain word, kanji, etc. If you can’t defeat a level 50 monster, go level up some more (Add flashcards more around “your level”).

  7. Harry
    March 5, 2010 at 01:59

    So much more easier then math.

  8. Giant Enemy Kanji
    March 5, 2010 at 02:24

    Deleting Kanji. Perhaps I have just been saved. My “just suck it up” attitude has turned kanji into a possitive feeling vortex, sucking up my feelings of achievment and leaving me a fragile husk of futile frustration.

    We’ll see how this goes…

  9. Drewskie
    March 5, 2010 at 02:34

    On deletion, removing a card you recognize as no good is not wasting the work you did previously. That work has already been performed, and because the card is no good, the work was ‘wasted’ as soon as the card was created. Disliking a card is recognition of failure, and deleting it is freeing yourself from that failure’s burden. AJATT’s strength is in ‘soft failure,’ in that you make a card, you recognize that it’s no good, and you delete it, and this failure has cost you maybe a minute or two of time, so no major harm done. However, if you don’t delete bad cards, your deck becomes polluted with small particulate failures, until eventually you’re dealing with a cloud of dust that suffocates all of your efforts.

    I’m still reeling from a 1300-card deck culling. If anyone’s played any of the Civilization games, my Japanese Learning Civ hit a golden age. I don’t think anything has been better for my learning than pure love for the process.

  10. March 5, 2010 at 03:17

    Cool article! Felt fresh 🙂

    But the *real* reason I’m commenting is to say, “Hey, did you get Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator? Your “violence” banner still has the cool sketched out charm, but looks more professional and vector-ish. I like this trend!! If all your graphics could shift in this direction, I think the site would be much more aesthetically pleasing.

    I also still liked the bar on the right side… and the inclusion of lots of cool links in the bar.


    Here’s to constant improvement! 乾杯!

  11. March 5, 2010 at 03:34

    Also, if you are using Anki, and you feel invested in a card you input, you can always simply suspend it instead of out-and-out deletion. That way you don’t feel like you’ve “wasted” your time. Instead, the card is still there and if circumstances change and you want to begin studying it again, all you have to do is toggle it back on, but it stops being a leech for the time being.

  12. March 5, 2010 at 03:45

    I think there’s a problem with deleting “essential” stuff, insofar as it’s sometimes hard to know when to stop. Deleted one kanji (that you will come across)? Why not another? That character’s kinda hard, maybe I can lose just one more… and so on.

    Otherwise, nice summary of good SRSing practice! I don’t add new cards unless I really feel like it, so can’t argue with that. Like the new site banner by the way 😉

  13. March 5, 2010 at 04:26

    Khatz, thank you for this recent series of posts. This combined with the excellent Tortise and Hare article has completely changed my approach to learning Korean.

    By changing the environment to make it more fun, the entire process becomes a painless breeze that I WANT to participate in. I started learning the Chinese characters found in Korean. Instead of blazing through (hare) I am taking it slow and getting however many done in a day I feel like (tortoise). My pace is steady and enjoyment is high. It is a great feeling and is probably necessary unless I am willing to subject myself to years of ASM.

    Removing bad cards is essential. There is an article from awhile ago where you said something to the effect of if there is a split second thought of if a card may be deleted, delete it. This is amazing advice and correct. Sometimes it feels like “Oh, but this word! It is so important!” There are an infinite number of sentences that word appears in, it will come up again. Will all be alright.

  14. Jes
    March 5, 2010 at 06:39

    The SRS is an agile method to keep in touch. It puts what’s relevant in a little box that you can participate with. But agile methods are designed to allow one to participate at the expense of depth. It’s a trade off. And the value of one over the other, I find, is best indicated by my emotion/attitude/mood about it. Which changes.

    With SRS you can review, add, or delete. Which part do you feel like doing? Do that one. How does it feel?

    I find often a lot of pleasure in adding. At first I would add sentences harder than what my body/mind was up to. Later, I found I felt better deleting many of those. But nowadays, I hardly delete anything. Stuff I know gets put further and further out so I really don’t see it. And stuff I don’t know so well I pick up pretty fast, maybe a handful of times it comes back. Sure there’s lots to learn but it seems like all the work is really done unconsciously. I just kinda show up and *poof* hey I know what this means now. I didn’t ‘do’ that something else did. It’s not like putting butter on toast. I do that. But looking at a sentence and having comprehension of it’s meaning in the moment of seeing it… No, that was prepared for me and I just showed up. So to keep the game going, I just keep showing up. I even cheat and put the game in places I can’t help but see every day, I never lose. Seems like dumb luck when I write it out here and now…but then do you have to be even reasonably smart to learn a language. No. Hel… you can be deaf, dumb and blind and still learn frickin’ hard ole’ English…man it’s like an epiphany up in here. The hello was all this fuss about. Gah, haha.

    I don’t really rep with it either. Maybe one day a month I’ll do a whole day’s review. But everyday I glance at it, maybe I even hit the button a few times, oo and ah at what I do and don’t know yet. Haha, lots of times it’s inspired me to go look up something more basic and add that to my cards.

    It’s just contact. It’s not that you got it right or wrong. Though I know everyone is bummed when they get one wrong. But it’s not about that. If you want to learn/grow and benefit doing so. Just do enough to enjoy it. No amount is too small beyond taking it out of your personal environment.

    The only thing that really has to happen is contact. SRS is just a convenience for that. Simply being consciously in the presence once day of your target is enough to never loose touch and continue to grow. Despite any level of anxiety. I find. Though I didn’t kill myself over it (though I wouldn’t be here if I did), so…all the results aren’t in(but in a sense they are since I’m not croaking) , but I’m gonna wing it and continue to grow however I feel.

    Another thing i find is putting stuff I pretty much already know. Or stuff I ‘should already’ know in the SRS, makes me happy. I didn’t expect it would but it does. And interestingly those little happiness’es add up and I wind up learning new things. I guess because I feel good about it. It feels natural. lol, explaining what’s natural, that seems weird.

    But then…as I read what I wrote, I realized. I’m talking about levity. Feeling good, that’s levity. Contact…levity…and then I realized water! Water normally sloshes around under gravity but you put something in contact with it’s surface and it’ll go against gravity, the surface tension, forces, whatever. The water rises up. That’s levity. Hang a paper towel in just touching water and the water will climb up it. Good ole’ nature. It does the work, just contact. Well, I feel less weird now.

    Hmmm, this would also explain this site, it’s not the method, it’s the contact. All the articles, all the tweets, all the comments. There are so many avenues for contact to allow people to get value. Man, what a brilliant design. Good on you Khatzumoto!

  15. March 5, 2010 at 12:24

    It seems like a similar order of priority could also be applied to writing.

  16. Dan
    March 5, 2010 at 20:22

    Hey, Khatz, cheers for all these SRS articles.

    I handmade about 5500 little flashcards in the 3 years I lived in Japan before I found out about the awesomeness of the SRS. I’ve been trying to force all the old cards, mostly taken from films and manga, into the new SRS and it has been a bit of a headache at times so your articles have been really useful in gaining some perspective on the process.

    I must admit to getting sidetracked by the drive to know everything, to race to 10,000 and to ‘fluency’ which makes it hard to delete things and to ever feel like I’ve finished putting stuff in. But deleting stuff actually feels really good. I’ve come to realise that chasing 10,000, ‘fluency’ and forcing the SRS process misses the point of learning a language, which is to have fun. It’s far too easy to allow language learning to feel like a job – overcoming that engrained ‘no pain no gain’ idea fostered in school is difficult. Native speakers don’t learn a language in order to become fluent, they learn a language because they want friends, want to find out cool new bands, comics, books, films, experiences and fluency is just a by-product of that pursuit of fun and awesomeness. Now, whenever I find a sentence that whiffs of textbook/grammar examples I blow it out of the water. If I think the sentence is bad but the word is a cool one I would like to know I usually cut and paste it into Yahoo questions and search for a quirky or interesting sentence. That has actually helped really refresh a lot of my sentences.

    And if the stuff you delete is that important it will come back to you. I remember learning an obscure piece of grammar for JLPT 1 that I had never seen or heard before so I never bothered to SRS it. But when I heard it during the Japanese dub of the Hulk film it was suddenly meaningful, relevant and I knew it had to go in.

  17. アメド
    March 6, 2010 at 08:10

    Hello everyone i wanted to post an update on my progress.
    For some reason I’ve improved so much in terms of understanding and reading Japanese. All I’ve been doing for these 6months+ a lot of immersion. All the things I’ve been srsing from a variety of sources. As well as listening to a variety of things such as music,anime,drama’s,new,commercials,etc. Have just stuck into my mind so easily nowadays. Even if I’m listening to Japanese as background music. Like it’s so strange. I just notice that the things I’ve never heard in Japanese. I just understand it so much. I remember back in 2 months of doing srs and immersion, i didn’t feel much improvement in my japanese. But now I HAVE. It just works. Although i’m not fluent, i believe I’m reaching there. What i love to do nowadays is get subtitles for music and follow along with ease. Sure i still have to use a dictionary but it’s only for 2-3 kanji i might not know. So one advice for beginners or intermediate level (I’m slowly in the advance territory, it’s strange how immersion just build on you). Overall i recommend to everyone listen as much as you can, even if you do not understand it. Because chances are you will understand all of it in due time. At the moment i’m around 8178 cards i have done so far. And it feels great!! Overall i feel like now i can reach fluency even closer than i thought. Don’t get me wrong i’m not fluent just yet, but my improvement has been really vast. So thing i can say is this. Keep listening, keep doing japanese things, keep the goal in mind and enjoy it.

  18. March 6, 2010 at 12:41

    amedo, that’s awesome. I’ve read most of Khatz’s site over the last couple of weeks, and so I’ve of course read comments you made when you were just starting doing AJATT, so it’s pretty cool to see a “success story” like yours, knowing what I’ve read previously. Good for you, and thanks for sharing, it is very motivational to someone just getting started to read someone that’s followed almost all the way through.

  19. アメド
    March 6, 2010 at 13:38

    khatz i found this while searching Google. It’s writing for emails for natives in japanese! Fully!

    My srs deck said i’ve been doing this for around 6.5 months. That isn’t included the 3 months i did for kanji. If you add those two together it’s around there 9.5 months. But i don’t count the 3 months. Because it wasn’t “real” Japanese in the sense. But none the less it has helped me out a lot. In the beginning i wasn’t improving as i wanted to. I mean sure understanding a bit more, reading a bit more. But when will i get to a ability to at least understand everything in general. I’m not fluent just yet. But my improvement has been vast. For some reason some songs are easy to understand, while other it’s more of not knowing the kanji+word particular that makes my understanding go down abit. But that will be fixed with more srsing and immersion in the long run. One advice i recommend is do you’re srsing everyday. It works best that way. And create a large immersion environment if possible.
    It will help you out so much. But now i understand why khatz says it has to be fun. If it isn’t, you will dread the language itself overtime. And once that happens you’ll eventually start doing less, and less until you don’t do it at all. So make it fun, do japanese things as much as possible, immersion alot, srs everyday (works best that way) and always keep everything enjoyable. Before you know it you will be fluent. I still have some things to get done. (Like being able to read all joyo kanji+extras. I don’t know all of the readings yet, but i can guess ones i don’t even know now.)

  20. フランク様
    March 6, 2010 at 14:54

    I’d like to know how many reps you do a day…but unforutnately it’s very rare you ever reply to comments… 🙁

  21. qazee moto
    March 7, 2010 at 11:49

    Khatz I have an important question, at least important to me.. I finished and have been religiously reviewing the kanji for the past month now.. maybe longer, since late January. I have added an extra 200 regular kanji that I got from a wiki-frequency table, + the new Joyou.. It took me two tries ( gave up a year and change ago on my first try ) to do RTK, but I did and am doing it (40-50 new/day).. But even though I have finished, and reviews are quickly going down to ~100 a day (I remember 300-400 review days which were really intense), I feel as though I have lost the drive and have not given as much effort to Japanese in the past month. Sentences just feel so weird.. it is awkward trying to transition into sentences. Now, this is coming from someone who HAS a Japanese minor in college (3.5 years of japanese classes) and a decent environment (constant music + anime in background).

    So.. Full time student and part-time employee, and I still managed to fly through RTK in 2.5 months, but jumping into sentences just.. has not been as easy or going as I expected. I am not sure if this is because there is no set goal (like 2042 kanji) or if I do not care about Japanese as much as I thought (I doubt this, I love my environment). Am I doing something wrong though, if I .. I see. I have been forcing myself to do pre-made grammar decks because I wanted to go over the rules again, but I do not need that. It has bored me to death. I am going to start jumping into transcribing anime, my original love and original goal in taking japanese 4 years ago. Thank you khatz 🙂

  22. March 8, 2010 at 16:40

    Man, “review” is so number one. I’m sorry, but I really disagree on this one!

    Maybe I’ll write about it when I relaunch my blog.

    (too busy reviewing to write at the moment – badoom tscccchhh!)

  23. March 11, 2010 at 16:47

    No way Victoria! If you keep reviewing stuff you should have deleted you’ll wind up burning out so fast you might as well never have reviewed at all (for all the good it would have done you). Review is definitely right where it belongs. And “don’t add” of course comes before review, because if you are adding you aren’t at that time reviewing, so to even get to your reviews you have to stop adding a while. Makes sense to me, don’t see why you would really disagree with it. I’d hate to keep on reviewing cards I should just stop and take the time to delete because they’ve become time leeches or otherwise are making me disengage from the SRS.

  24. アメド
    March 12, 2010 at 14:26

    The more I think about it and progress in Japanese. It’s seriously not that hard to become fluent in Japanese or any other language. All it takes is time,enjoyment and a good method of learning and most important of all, is the immersion!
    Without immersion I’d doubt i could learn a lot in this amount of time. Plus the immersion now has become second nature to me. It’s just a habit now that i can’t stop (Which is a good thing!)
    I’m not fluent just yet, but i believe if i stay on this course, it’s only a matter of time.
    (Sorry for my other posts, they have so many grammar mistakes in them)

  25. Maya
    March 18, 2010 at 09:17

    You know that feeling you get when it’s one in the morning, and you’re tired as hell, with your eyes starting to close by themselves, and your BS-radar is up ten-fold?

    That’s the only time of the day you should EVER add sentences to your SRS. No if ands or buts. A sentence that can make it past you in that state of mind is genuinely worth adding.

    Everything else can go.

  26. November 2, 2011 at 00:30

    I’ve always had trouble getting rid of flash cards because I feel like a kitten dies every time I put a flash card in the “to delete” bag. It’s like I’m betraying my L2 or something. I’m trying to not feel that way anymore. That’s why I should just stop making sucky flash cards.
    I’m getting there. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *