Quite a few people have asked me to send them my Anki deck. My answer always has been, and probably always will be, “no.” Some have expressed frustration with my answer, so I think it’s prudent for me to clarify why I refuse to do it.

No Context

The biggest problem with taking on my deck, or really anyone’s deck, is that you won’t get any contextual information. Flashcards aren’t the be-all-end-all of learning - they’re an excellent tool and yet they aren’t enough on their own. The best way to think of flashcards is as “reminders.” Whenever you get a flashcard that tests you, it will also activate a network of related memories (this is technically called spreading activation). Each time you do this, that network gets a little stronger, and your memory of it gets a little bit stronger.

Without having that network in place ahead of time, you’ll get tested on information that is, for all intents and purposes, meaningless to you.

Allow me to demonstrate. Take this cloze note I made a few days ago while reading Dan Saffer’s excellent book Microinteractions:

Any earcon should also match the emotional content being conveyed. Is the feedback urgent or just utilitarian? A warning or an announcement? The qualities of the earcon should match what is being communicated.

Unless you’ve read the book or are familiar with the concept of earcons, this wouldn’t make a bit of sense to you. What are earcons? How is feedback related to earcons? I can answer these questions because of the studying I’ve done and the flashcards I’ve created which are related. In other words, I have a whole network of concepts that are tied to the idea of earcons. But anyone who hasn’t done that same work won’t know what any of it means.

A large portion of my deck is like this. If I were to send it to you, you’d get a metric shit-ton of information, but almost zero context attached to the majority of it. At that point, any reviews you do would become pointless rote memorization. This represents the exact opposite of what I’m trying to accomplish within both my own learning process and the content I post here on 52 Aces.

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Compounding this is the fact that my collection has 60 different note types, each designed for a different purpose. There are note types for famous artwork, anatomy, programming, foreign language vocabulary, mathematical formulas, the Periodic Table of Elements, and so many more.

My deck is also massive. As of right now, my collection contains a grand total of 26,992 (it’s bothering me how close this is to a round number…) and that comes with 11,256 media items (pictures, audio and stylesheets).

Works For Me, Not For You

The vast majority of stuff in my deck would be essentially useless to you. You might be able to glean some bits about how I format my cards, but if you’re really curious about that you can read my book, check out the Github repo I have for note styles or just send me a message. Any of those options is going to be far more time- and energy-efficient than trying to pick through what I’ve created.

My deck is designed for me and my learning objectives. You probably have much different goals than I do, and my deck will not help you reach them. You need to do it yourself.

The Wrong Philosophy

More than anything, requests for my deck bother me at a philosophical level. Yes, there are certain ways to learn that are better than others. That’s what 52 Aces is all about. Whenever you can, you should looking for ways to become a better learner. But these requests strike me more as lazy attempts to avoid any sort of effort when it comes to learning.

According to my Anki stats, I’ve been using my current deck for 1,110 days. This doesn’t include the two or three months I used SuperMemo, the original (but horrible) spaced-repetition flashcard program. Out of those 1,110 days, I’ve missed exactly five study sessions.

I take my learning very seriously, and hopefully that illustrates just what I mean. My flashcards are a priority for me every day and I’ve maintained a strict habit of both studying and adding to it even when circumstances make that difficult. I study when I’m on vacation, when I’m working full time, when I’m sick and when my schedule forces me to review late at night. No matter what, I make a consistent effort to learn because it’s important to me.

Much of my time early on was spent figuring out the best ways to learn, and starting to use flashcards was only the beginning. I spent countless hours tweaking the styles of each note type, recording sounds, finding/creating images, and so on. My book is all about allowing you to skip this discovery process and go straight into building a system that works very effectively for anyone who wants to learn faster. But it isn’t a cheat code - I’m not selling snake oil, and you do have to work in order to learn.

If you send me a request for my deck, it’s sort of like saying “Hey, I don’t want to put any time into learning, I just want someone else to spoon-feed me knowledge.” That’s not the sort of mindset that I’m looking to foster here at 52 Aces. The people who belong here are those who appreciate how incredible this world we live in is, and are genuinely interested in finding better ways to learn more about it.

We all want learning to be like the Matrix, where Neo “plugs in” to a computer and is automagically given all kinds of cool abilities, including master-level kung-fu. But that’s not how learning works.

Neo wakes up and knows kung-fu

-Ace