Pointy-headed reed dwellers

16 Jan 2013

I continue to be intrigued by the capacity of my brain for memorising new things. I wanted to test myself on learning things that’re (essentially) useless (to me), that I wouldn’t accidentally rehearse during ‘normal’ life. Over the past 3-and-a-bit months, in about 7 hours' total study (less than 5 minutes a day), I’ve learned 350 cards. At the beginning of the process, I knew nearly none of the facts contained on them.

The majority are the latin names of commoner British birds (to and from Latin/English). I reckon I know all the birds I’m likely to see, and I go out of my way to see birds.

I’ve also been “Anki-ing” on:

  • geography of US states (reckon I got this in about 3 days, and I was an ignoramus on them before)
  • keyboard shortcuts for programs I use (useful)
  • family phone numbers, my own credit card and bank details
  • facts about polar exploration
  • data relating to the UCI World Hour Record (cycling)
  • pteridophyte anatomy and life cycle

Some stats so far:

  • 350 cards
  • 12 sec per card review, on average
  • ~80% average success rate
  • Longest future ‘spaced repetition’ interval: 8.8 months

Some learnings:

  • Even if I don’t know the Latin, knowing the meaning of a term helps cement it in my memory. Acrocephalus schoenobaenus? The pointy-headed reed-dweller? Oh that’ll be a Sedge Warbler. (note, not a Reed Warbler).
  • Draw pictures. It’s fun and it helps.
  • Have someone read the “front” of the cards to you. This means you sort of perform, which seems to help. Thanks, Sarah!
  • Play games. There are some good jigsaw-type games for tablets that help with geography.

Recommended reading for bird geeks: Scientific bird names explained

Tags: memory, birds, personal