the cedar ledge

Making Math Flashcards Using Spaced Repetition Systems

Date: January 6 2023

Summary: Composite guide in using spaced repetition systems in learning maths

Keywords: #math #learning #anki #flashcards #spaced #repetition #proofs #theorems #definitions #project #archive #blog


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Table of Contents

    1. Motivation
    2. Introduction
    3. Principles in Making Anki Cards for Maths
    4. Card Types
      1. Definitions
      2. Properties
      3. Theorems
        1. Implication Only Theorems
        2. Implication and Equivalence Theorems
    5. Self Testing
    6. The "Ankification" of Proofs
      1. Initial Glances of a Proof
      2. Building Out a Conceptual Roadmap of a Proof
      3. Consider the Alternatives of a Proof
    7. Conclusion
  1. How To Cite
  2. References:
  3. Discussion:


A major goal in my life is to get better with studying maths. As I fully intend to study mathematics more rigorously, a powerful component and tool in my studying toolbox has been Spaced Repetition Systems like Anki or Memrise. In particular, I wanted to know how to use these sort of systems to study and retain math more effectively in my studies – which sometimes face unexpected interruptions. This post serves as a guide to do just that.


TODO: Add this discussion into here How I operate is that Anki is a supplement to my learning and not the whole piece. For example, I use Anki to learn definitions and their properties, but then when I work on proofs, I usually scribble that down into my notes and then try my best at linking together different definitions until I have something pleasant. [11:51 AM]TheCedarPrince: I say “linking” intentionally as my notes are stored within a Zettelkasten where each of the definitions I’ve learned are also found. So then I weave together the notes quickly into longer form pieces or proofs or what have you [11:52 AM]TheCedarPrince: Let me know if you have any questions — happy to hear your thoughts!

Principles in Making Anki Cards for Maths

These principles are curated specifically to think about maths and Anki:

  1. Anki is a complement to learning – it is not the whole process of learning.

With maths, it is required to sit down, to struggle, and fully work through concepts. Anki is at best a complement to help you remember what you have learned or know. At worst, a distraction that one ends up frustrated with as one is not seeing the progress they want to see.

  1. Add small pieces that are worth remembering to Anki.

Keep Anki pieces as atomic as possible (see the linked note and think of them as Anki cards instead of "zettels"). [1]

  1. Be brutally honest in marking an Anki review. [1]

  2. Good cards lead to good results – take the time on making good cards. [1]

  3. If having problems with a certain topic or set of questions, break the topic down to the smallest components possible to better understand the overall topic. [2]

Identify the facts, procedures, and concepts and try to use those in creating smaller supplementary cards to help you with a concept. [3]

Card Types

In maths, there are many different types of things to learn. Accordingly, there are a few different types of cards that are useful to make this learning process easier.


In learning definitions, some useful principles to keep in mind in constructing Anki cards that test definitions are the following:

- The object to be defined
- Its descriptor (this is a unique definition for this object)
- Notation conventions for this object
- Properties associated with the object 
- Any context that the object may be associated with (e.g. when exploring a set, are we talking about sets with in ZFC Set Theory or within the category of $Set$?) [4]
- In this case, create different cards for each different definition

TODO: Include example note outline here


TODO: Add what I have learned about property cards TODO: Include example note outline here


As identified in [4], there are typically two types of theorems: Implication Only and Implication and Equivalency.

Implication Only Theorems

Implication Only theorems have the quality that the conditions associated with that particular theorem, when satisfied, imply specific conclusions. Similar to making cards for definitions, there are some principles that can be followed for these sorts of cards:

- The theorem name to be defined
- Its descriptor (the definition for this theorem)
- Any context that the theorem may be associated with 
- Notation conventions for this object
- Conditions of the theorem
- Conclusions from this theorem
Implication and Equivalence Theorems

Implication and Equivalence theorems possess the virtue where if an associated set of conditions are met, imply that two or more arbitrary statements can be equivalent. [4] Making cards for this type of theorem is almost identical to making cards for definitions. The only key difference is that one should also add fields for the equivalent statements that result from this theorem.

Self Testing

TODO: Add section based on question cards TODO: Include example note outline here

The "Ankification" of Proofs

Michael Nielsen wrote an excellent piece on this process called "Using spaced repetition systems to see through a piece of mathematics". Basically, he proposes the use of Anki to deeply understand and study proofs. Personally for me, I am not yet confident in an approach to draft proofs in Anki form. I took notes on Nielsen's "Ankification" and processing of a proof and am including some digested thoughts he had on working through proofs.

Initial Glances of a Proof

As you pick out these elements and create cards, they may be able to be formulated into definition cards. Or, they may be needed to become their own special sort of card or fact – anything that can help in the learning process.

Building Out a Conceptual Roadmap of a Proof

A proof is not a linear list of statements. Per Nielsen, it is much more valuable to think of it as relationships between simple observations. Each of these connections between observations are not just made for no reason. Rather, determine how to find multiple ways to think of the same observation or come to the same observation that is useful for a proof. At this stage, we are beginning to learn our way comfortably around a proof and finding multiple ways to get to each step in a proof is imperative in building that comfort.

Consider the Alternatives of a Proof

Once you have built significant comfort with a proof, keep considering different aspects of the proof. Consider the alternatives within this proof – if this assumption were changed or that context was altered, what are the ramifications of this proof? This process can continue endlessly but should only stop when you are wholly confident in your understandings of a give proof.


To conclude, this short guide is by no means exhaustive. Instead, I made this as a short reference for myself in studying maths using a spaced repetition learning process. I'll certainly come back to revise this as I continue to work and go through the maths I study to share what works for me.

How To Cite

Zelko, Jacob. Making Math Flashcards Using Spaced Repetition Systems. January 6 2023.


[1] “[Guide] How to Anki Maths the right way,” Jan. 31, 2016. (accessed Jan. 09, 2023).

[2] M. Nielsen, “Using spaced repetition systems to see through a piece of mathematics,” 2019.

[3] S. Young, Ultralearning. HarperCollins Publishers, 2019.

[4] L. Thorburn, “Using Anki for mathematics,” Mar. 08, 2020. (accessed Jan. 09, 2023).

[5] A. Milchior, “How I use Anki to learn mathematics - LessWrong,” Dec. 07, 2016. (accessed Jan. 09, 2023).


CC BY-SA 4.0 Jacob Zelko. Last modified: May 19, 2024. Website built with Franklin.jl and the Julia programming language.