25 Steps to SuperMemo Mastery See also: 

This guide will help you learn SuperMemo 2004 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. If anything is unclear, send an e-mail

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



    Many users never go beyond the above ABC and still benefit greatly from SuperMemo! It is even 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 Ctrl+Shift+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! Keep using Add new until Learn becomes active

  2. Choose the proficiency level: 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 in the beginner level even though Tools : Workload appears only on the middle level menu

  3. Safety of your knowledge. Backup! Knowledge you store in SuperMemo might belong to your most precious data on your hard disk! After all it cost you months or years of editing and repetitions. You must continue your repetitions indefinitely to make sure you do not forget what you have learned. This is why backup skills are so important! Use Ctrl+Shift+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

  4. Help: 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

  5. Reading: if you learn from electronic sources (e.g. the Internet), you can benefit tremendously by learning the techniques of incremental reading. In incremental reading, you import articles from the Internet, and convert them to questions-and-answers with a couple of clicks. You can continue reading thousands of articles in parallel without getting lost. You can add dozens of 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

  6. Regularly check if data is not corrupted: to be sure that your files have not been damaged by a virus or other software and/or hardware problems, use File : Repair collection (Ctrl+F12) from time to time (e.g. once per month)

  7. 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 circle 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 first use Ctrl+Alt+R to inform SuperMemo about the review and only then use Ctrl+J
    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 that results from your desire to know more than your memory can hold. You can use Done with Ctrl+Shift+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

  8. Position and size of windows: in the beginning you often do not like the size and position 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, and the chosen size of the element window. To save the current layout, press Ctrl+Shift+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 Alt+P. 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 (Ctrl+Alt+Y)

  9. Searching your collection: to quickly locate elements in your collection press Ctrl+F or choose the button Search on the element toolbar. Use this option also for AND-search, OR-search, etc.

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. One body of knowledge: it is recommended that you keep all your knowledge in one collection (you can create new collections with File : New). 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
    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 resolutions

    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 

  13. Statistics of the learning process: you will understand your memory better if you learn to interpret the statistics of the learning process:
  14. Hints&Tips: you will find the list of most useful short tips for using SuperMemo here: SuperMemo Hints&Tips

  15. 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 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+Alt+N

  16. 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 which can be opened by a right click over an empty element area or over the element toolbar. Some exemplary functions of the element menu:
      • Color changes the color of the element
      • Edit : Title (usually executed by pressing Alt+T) makes it possible to edit the title of the element
      • Background : Import file imports a picture file to be used as the background in the element
      • Delete components deletes all components from an element (e.g. question and answer)
    2. Component menu which can be opened by a right click over a selected component. Some exemplary functions of the component menu that 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 : Edit font changes the font of the selected text
      • Delete component removes the component

    You can use Alt+click over a component to switch it to the editing mode. This will make it possible to resize the component, 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

  17. 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:

    For more information about templates see: Using templates

  18. 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 in learning. However, a good structure can make it easier to locate portions of materials for review

  19. 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 Ctrl+Shift+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 

  20. 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

  21. Too many repetitions! All users of SuperMemo get to the point when they cannot keep up with repetitions. This can result from an increase in other obligations or due to over-zealousness. However, in incremental reading, overloading the learning process becomes a norm. SuperMemo provides a number of tools that help you reduce the load in learning:
    1. Postpone: at the end of the learning day, you can reduce the load of repetitions by postponing lower-priority portions of the material. Use Postpone for that purpose (Alt+Ctrl+P). In the simplest case, choose Learn : Postpone : All 
    2. Mercy: after a few-day break in learning, you may wish to equally redistribute the outstanding material in a selected period of time (e.g. 14 days with 100 repetitions each). You may also want to execute the repetition falling into a vacation period before the vacation. For such purposes, use Tools : Mercy (Ctrl+Y)
    3. Cut drills: in case you are late and the Outstanding parameter in the statistics window shows a number 0+0+x (which indicates that only items in the final drill are due for review), you can execute Learn : Cut drills. This rather harmless procedure may slightly reduce the chances of recall of items at the next repetition

  22. 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. 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, re-memorize with a longer interval (this will often break the unhealthy memory connection) or, in most desperate cases, delete the item. Anything with above 20 memory lapses makes a good candidate for deleting -- this knowledge 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

  23. The power of browsers and subsets: for managing and reviewing large collections, you will find browsers indispensable. Browsers are available with the View submenu. 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:

    To read more about browsers and subsets see:

  24. How much do you remember? To help you decide how much you remember and how much work you have to put in different branches of knowledge, SuperMemo introduces the concept of the forgetting index. See: Using the forgetting index 

  25. 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 or by the sequence of elements in the knowledge tree (at the end of Reset collection SuperMemo will ask you if you would like to sort the collection by ordinals or by the knowledge tree hierarchy)
    4. you can redistribute your collection free or commercially without anybody's permission

See FAQs for more answers to questions about SuperMemo. If you still have questions unanswered, please do not hesitate to write. 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!

If you believe this guide is uncorrectable: use and help writing the Alternative Guide to SuperMemo 2004