Step-by-step to SuperMemo mastery


This guide will help you learn SuperMemo 16 step by step without missing any important function. Each step may take from a day to a week. Advanced techniques such as incremental reading may require months of practice. Do not rush! SuperMemo can quickly lead to confusion and disillusionment. Pick the next step to learn only after mastering all previous steps.

ABC in 3 minutes

You can start using SuperMemo in 3 minutes. You only need to know two operations:

  • Add new for adding new material in the form of questions and answers (keyboard shortcut: Alt+A)
  • Learn for learning (keyboard shortcut: Ctrl+L). You should use Learn daily until you see the message Nothing more to learn
SuperMemo: Adding new questions and answers at the Beginner level

Many users never go beyond the above ABC and still benefit greatly from SuperMemo! It is recommended that you spend a week or so in this basic mode. Simple question-and-answer repetition is where 90% of the users get 90% of the benefit from SuperMemo! If you only remember to use Learn regularly and frequently back up your precious knowledge (e.g. with Shift+Ctrl+C), the rest of this guide can be considered optional. Warning! For the first 3-6 days, your learning schedule will be empty and you will have nothing to review! Use Add new in the meantime (Learn will keep showing Nothing more to learn)

Level: Do you want simple SuperMemo or powerful SuperMemo?

You can explore SuperMemo in stages by using File : Level menu. By default SuperMemo starts at the Beginner level. After a day or two, you can move to the Basic level. The Middle level will later be needed to use many of the functions described in this guide. Once you fully understand the middle level, you can switch to the Professional level that should be the ultimate destination of users who want to explore the most advanced functions of SuperMemo.

If you find a description of the function in SuperMemo that is not available on a given level, you can increase the level to make the function appear among the options. Many shortcuts will work even if the function is not available on a given level. For example, you can view the calendar of repetitions by pressing Ctrl+W at the beginner level even though Tools : Workload appears only on the middle level menu

Safety of your knowledge. Backup!

Knowledge you store in SuperMemo might belong to your most precious data on your hard disk! After all it has cost you months or years of editing, learning, and review. You must continue using Learn indefinitely to make sure you never forget what you have learned. This is why backup skills are so important! Use Shift+Ctrl+C to copy your learning material to a new location. You should make a copy on a different hard disk every few days and on other media every month or so. Read more: Safety of your knowledge

Help: How to find the documentation

You can read help pages relevant to a given context in SuperMemo by pressing F1. If you do not have a broadband connection to the Internet, you can install the help file on your hard disk

Reading with SuperMemo. Amazing!

If you learn from electronic sources (e.g. the Internet), you can benefit tremendously by mastering the technique called incremental reading. In incremental reading, you import articles from the Internet, and convert them to questions-and-answers with a couple of keystrokes. You can continue reading thousands of articles in parallel without getting lost. You can add thousands of items per year and still be able to recall 90-95%. It may take a few months of frustration before you reach proficiency in incremental reading; however, you will ultimately experience a seismic shift in your learning power. Invest a few hours in reading this article: incremental reading. In the long run, the return on investment will be astronomic

Regularly check if your data is not corrupted

To be sure that your files have not been damaged by a virus, other software, or hardware problems, use File : Repair collection (Ctrl+F12) from time to time (e.g. once per month). Always backup your collection before using Repair collection

Position and size of windows

In the beginning you often dislike the size and positions of windows and dialogs in SuperMemo. You can change that. Your favorite layout will depend on your monitor's resolution, interface font used in SuperMemo, the size of the element window and your learning habits. To save the current layout, press Shift+Ctrl+F5 (Window : Layout : Save as default). You can save more layouts and then choose between them by choosing an appropriate number on the Window menu. If you would like to include learning statistics in your layout, you might first open the statistics windows (e.g. by pressing F5). If you would like to preview the ancestor path of the current element, you could also open the ancestor path window with Ctrl+Shift+X. If you open, move and/or size many windows, you can always get back to your favorite layout by pressing Ctrl+F5 (Window : Layout : Apply default layout). You can also add or delete layouts with Window : Layout : Layout manager

Searching for things in SuperMemo

To quickly locate elements in your collection press Ctrl+F or choose the button Search on the navigation bar. Use this option also for AND-search, OR-search, etc.

Make your knowledge easy to remember

Read 20 rules of formulating knowledge in learning to review most important principles that will make sure you will remember with minimum effort

Principles of success in learning

With years passing by, you will develop healthy learning habits that will make sure your work with SuperMemo is both effective and enjoyable. You can save months of experimenting if you read Ten Commandments of a Highly Efficient User of SuperMemo

Processing knowledge

You should remember that all your learning material requires endless attention. You should review your elements for usefulness, correct formulation, logic, grammar, etc. When an element comes up for a repetition, you should make a quick and nearly instinctive assessment of the following:

  1. Do I really need this element?
  2. Do I really need to know it now? Or can I learn it later?
  3. Is this element difficult to remember? If so, why?
  4. Is it factually correct?
  5. Is it as simple and clear as possible?

Here are some typical actions you will take depending on the answer to the above questions (some keyboard shortcuts may not work at lower difficulty levels):

  1. correcting an element. In case of questions and answers, you can use keys such as Q, A, or E to enter a text field and change it. In more complex elements you can use Ctrl+T to cycle between components, or use Alt+click to switch a component between editing and dragging modes
  2. rescheduling the element. You can manually change the date of the next review. If you know the element well, you can increase the interval remaining till the next review. If the element is very important, you can reduce the interval. Press Ctrl+J to select the date of the next review. If you have just reviewed the element, you should instead use Shift+Ctrl+R to inform SuperMemo about the review
  3. dismissing an element. If you are sure you are not likely to need the element in the future, but you would like to keep it in your collection for reference or archival purposes, press Ctrl+D. Dismissed elements are removed from the learning process (and from the pending queue)
  4. deleting the item or an article. The key Del is very useful in cleaning your collection from garbage. Note that deleting an element also deletes its children. This operation is irreversible. You can use Done with Shift+Ctrl+Enter to delete the content of an element without deleting its children
  5. forgetting an element. If you think the element is too difficult or not important enough at the moment, you can decide to learn it later. For this purpose, press Ctrl+R to remove it from the learning process. This will put it at the end of the pending queue

One body of knowledge

It is recommended that you keep all your knowledge in one collection (you can create new collections with File : New collection). Here are the benefits of one body of knowledge:

  1. you do not have to open a number of collections each day to make repetitions (you can still learn only selected branches if you wish so)
  2. you can keep one global learning process and one set of statistics (branch statistics are also available to inform you of the progress in individual branches)
  3. repetitions of mixed-up material are more entertaining and verifiably boost your creativity! You will be amazed how this affects your ability to come up with new ideas and unexpectedly associate facts relating to completely different subjects. The fun of diversified learning material will make it easier for you to stick with your own learning resolutions!
  4. you will eliminate a very frequent problem: neglecting some collections at the cost of others. The only rational way of controlling the flow of knowledge and the right proportions between branches is to use the tools provided by SuperMemo. Neglect and procrastination do not belong to these tools. Multiple collections make it easier for you to fail your own learning plans! If you have already created a couple of collections, you can merge them by using File : Merge collection. Open the collection that is to be merged with your main body of knowledge, choose Merge collection, and point to the collection that keeps the main body of knowledge

Statistics of the learning process

You will understand your memory better if you learn to interpret the statistics of the learning process:

  • you can see the calendar of repetitions by pressing Ctrl+W or choosing Tools : Workload
  • you can conveniently view learning statistics by pressing F5. For interpretation of individual parameters see: Learning statistics and Element statistics. You can preserve the layout with statistics windows by pressing Shift+Ctrl+F5
  • you can monitor your progress with Tools : Statistics : Analysis (Shift+Alt+A). For example, the Use tab will show you the graphs of your daily progress (e.g. number of memorized elements, recall rate, etc.)

Adding pictures, sound and video

You can easily add new texts, images, sounds and other components to your elements. New components are most conveniently added with Edit : Add components on the main menu. You can also drag components from the Compose toolbar available with Edit : Add components : Other or Window : Toolbars : Compose. To drag a component click the appropriate button on the component toolbar (e.g. text button, image button, etc.) and then click twice on the empty area in the element window: (1) first at the place where you want to place the top-left corner of your component, and then (2) at the place for the bottom-right corner of the new component. Read about templates below to learn how to automate this process. The easiest way to add pictures to your elements is to paste them from clipboard (Ctrl+V or Shift+Ins). The easiest way to add texts is to paste them with Ctrl+N

Improving the look of your items

You can easily change the attributes of elements and their components by using menus available with a right click. There are two menus you will need to become familiar with:

  1. Element menu (Alt+F10) which can be opened by a right click over an empty element area or over the navigation bar. Some exemplary functions of the element menu that help you change the look of the element:
    • Color changes the color of the element
    • Edit : Title (Alt+T) makes it possible to edit the title of the element or select a text to be used as the title
    • Delete components deletes selected components from an element
    • Edit : Duplicate (Alt+D) creates an exact copy of the current element in your collection
    • Edit : Swap Q&A (Shift+Ctrl+S) swaps the question with the answer (e.g. when learning words of a foreign language)
    • Template : Apply template (Shift+Ctrl+M) allows you to choose from a list of looks defined earlier and change the style of your element
  2. Component menu (Alt+F12) which can be opened by a right click over a selected component. Some exemplary functions of the component menu that help you change the look of components (these functions may or may not appear on the menu depending on the context):
    • Color changes the color of the component
    • Import file makes it possible to show a given file inside the component (e.g. picture, HTML file, etc.)
    • Text : Font : Edit font changes the font of the selected text
    • Delete component removes the component
    • Display at defines when the component should be visible (e.g. at answer time) and when it should be hidden (e.g. at question time). You can use Alt+click over a component to switch it to the editing mode. This will make it possible to resize the component (unless it is the HTML component; if you want to resize the HTML component, you need to enter the size&drag mode, e.g. by Alt+clicking it for the second time), edit texts, etc. If you Alt+click the component again, it will switch to the dragging mode in which you will also be able to move it to another location in the element area. Press Esc to switch the components back to the presentation mode

Automating changes to the look of elements

You do not need to change the look of elements over and over again. You do not need to create components again and again. It is enough you define a so-called template to be able to reuse a given component arrangement. The most important things to know about templates:

Building knowledge tree

You can organize the structure of your knowledge in the contents window. Choose Contents at the top of the element window to switch to the contents window. To find out how to create the knowledge structure see: Creating the structure of the knowledge tree. Remember that the structure of your tree is not essential for learning! However, a good structure can make it easier to locate portions of materials for review

Organizing knowledge into categories

You can give items belonging to different branches of the knowledge tree a different look and a different priority. This way you will easily differentiate between items belonging to fields such as geography, biology, sociology, etc. You can move an item to a new category by opening Element parameters dialog box (e.g. with Shift+Ctrl+P) and choosing the category from the list (the Category list box). When you move an item to a category, you can choose if it should use that category's template to determine its look. Read: Using categories

Which text components are for you?

You are most likely to use HTML text components in incremental reading (if you do not have the latest Internet Explorer, use rich text components instead). HTML components make text processing easy due to rich formatting. However, once your items assume their final shape, you might prefer to convert them to plain text components which are faster and consume less space. You can do it by selecting the Classic template as the default template in your target category (see: Using categories). You can use several different SuperMemo components to represent text. To understand pros and cons of using various text components see: Text components used in SuperMemo. See also: Fonts in SuperMemo

Items you hate

Even with a great deal of experience and perfect understanding of knowledge structure, you will meet items that by no means want to stick to your memory. Usually 60% of items will not even be forgotten once! However, there are always a few items that you might forget 10 times, or even 20 times. 5% of your items may cost you 80% of your learning time (and 99% of frustration). In most cases, the fault is with you, the items must simply be reformulated (see: 20 rules of formulating knowledge). However, some items just seem un-memorizable! Those do not indicate your memory is bad! They are a usual companion of every learning process, and you must roll out the heavy guns to deal with them. You will use whatever mnemonic technique comes to mind: add examples, illustrations, poke fun, make it indecent or shocking, create a mind-map, re-memorize with a longer interval (this will often break the unhealthy memory connection) or, in most desperate cases, delete the item altogether. Any items with above 20 memory lapses makes a good candidate for deleting. Such an item may simply not be worth the cost in your time. To find out which options can help you hunt for trouble-making items see: Leeches

The power of browsers and subsets

For managing and reviewing large collections, you will find browsers indispensable. Browsers are available with the View menu. Most of all, browsers will let you work with subsets of elements in your collection. Here are some ways in which browsers can boost your learning:

  • review the subset of elements
  • move a subset of elements to another SuperMemo (e.g. for repetitions on your handheld computer)
  • postpone repetitions in a subset of elements
  • memorize a subset of elements, dismiss a subset of elements, shift elements to the end of the pending queue, etc.
  • compute selected learning statistics for a subset of elements
  • change the template in a subset of elements
  • transfer a subset of elements to another collection
  • run random test or random learning on a subset of elements
  • move a subset of elements to a selected branch or category
  • sort a subset of elements by title, priority, difficulty, last repetition date, next repetition date, interval, etc.
  • sort repetitions (e.g. from long to short intervals, or from difficult to easy items, etc.)
  • export a subset of elements as text (e.g. as questions and answers)
  • change the priority, the forgetting index or the ordinal number in a subset of elements (increase, spread equally, modify, shift, etc.)
  • manipulate element sets (e.g. select all elements belonging to one set and not belonging to another, select only memorized items in a set, combine two sets, save a set to a file for future use, etc.)
  • perform advanced collection searches such as AND-search, OR-search, XOR-search, etc.

To read more about browsers and subsets see:

How much do you remember?

To choose how much you want to remember and how much work you want to put in different branches of knowledge, SuperMemo introduces the concept of the forgetting index. See: Using the forgetting index

Distributing your own learning material among others

If you would like others to use your learning material, you can follow these steps:

  1. remove from your collection comments and elements that are specific to your own needs (you can use the comments registry or comment filters to keep your own comments in a continually developed collection)
  2. remove your learning process from the collection by running: File : Tools : Reset collection
  3. if necessary, sort your collection by ordinals (numbers that can be used to determine the sequence of learning), by difficulty, by priority, or by the sequence of elements in the knowledge tree
  4. you can redistribute your collection free or commercially without anybody's permission

Use search to find more about SuperMemo. See FAQs for more answers to questions about SuperMemo. If you still have questions unanswered, place them at SuperMemopedia. We also welcome your comments about the clarity of this text as well as the choice and the sequence of topics. We always welcome your questions! They help us improve the documentation and ultimately save support costs!