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Multi-Line (List & Set) Flashcards
Multi-Line (List & Set) Flashcards
Soren Bjornstad avatar
Written by Soren Bjornstad
Updated over a week ago

Multi-line flashcards allow you to include a short list of items on the back of a card, rather than a single item. You can either reveal all the items at once on the back (a Set card), or flip through them one by one in sequence (a List card).

Should I use multi-line cards?

Long lists of items, despite being very easy to create, are among the most difficult types of things to remember. For this reason, it's smart to make sure that multi-line cards are the right tool for the job before you start using them – you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

Why are lists of items difficult? In short, it's because our memories don't naturally work in terms of lists, they work in terms of connections between items, so recalling a list is always somewhat unnatural. This also means they're slow to recall, because you have to search around for each item in the list individually among the items which are similar.

That's all well and good, but sometimes lists are obviously the right way to learn something, right? Well, maybe. For example, in his article on using spaced repetition to see through a piece of mathematics, Michael Nielsen argues convincingly that mathematical proofs, which are composed of a series of steps forming a logical argument, actually are not effectively learned using lists:

People inexperienced at mathematics sometimes memorize proofs as linear lists of statements. A more useful way to think of proofs is as interconnected networks of simple observations. Things are rarely true for just one reason; finding multiple explanations for things gives you an improved understanding. This is in some sense “inefficient,” but it's also a way of deepening understanding and improving intuition. You're building out the network of the proof, making more connections between nodes.

Similarly, if you're trying to learn how to carry out a procedure (say, making soup in your kitchen), experience shows it's usually unnecessary and ineffective to memorize each of the steps in sequence. It's better instead to focus on understanding the process so that the next step becomes obvious, maybe memorizing a couple of individual transitions between steps that are hard to remember. See Soren Bjornstad's Models, Choicepoints and Relationships model.

All this doesn't, of course, mean that you should never learn a list of items. Sometimes that's exactly what you need to know, either because that's how it will be presented on an exam or because you need that set of items in real life for some reason, and there's no getting around it. In that case, it's time to pull out the multi-line cards.

Creating Multi-Line Cards

To create a multi-line card, choose one of the following methods:

  • Press Enter after entering any card trigger (e.g., >>, then Enter to create a multi-line Basic card). This will put your cursor on the first line of the new answer.

  • Type the trigger character three times instead of two: >>>, :::, or ;;; . This will also put your cursor on the first line of the new answer.

  • If you already have a Rem with children representing the list items, select the children, then choose the Card Item option from the /-menu or press Ctrl+Alt+R (Cmd+Opt+R on a Mac). The parent will become the prompt of a Basic Card and the list of children will become the answer.

    • /card item is a toggle – you can use it again to remove an existing line from a multi-line flashcard.

Testing all at once

By default, any of the methods of creating a multi-line flashcard above will reveal all lines of the flashcard simultaneously.

Testing one at a time

To instead be tested on each line separately (this is sometimes called a List-Answer Card), change the children into a numbered list rather than a bulleted list using one of these methods:

  • Type 1. right after your cursor is moved into the first line of a new multi-line flashcard. This will start a numbered list.

  • Select all of the children and choose List Item from the omnibar (Ctrl+K).

Testing in multiple directions

Like any other card, it's possible to choose to test a multi-line flashcard forwards, backwards, both forwards and backwards, or not at all, by clicking the flashcard arrow, then Flashcard Direction, and making an appropriate selection. In the backwards direction, you'll see all of the child items and be asked to supply the immediate parent item.

Testing recursively

A multi-line card’s back side can contain other multi-line cards, like in this example:

In this situation, a card will be created for each of the numbers (for instance, 1 > a, b), as well as a card for the top-level question (First three numbers > 1, 2, 3).

The top-level question won’t show its grandchildren by default (here, the letters) – only its direct children. Because it’s beneficial to test as few items on each card as possible, as mentioned earlier, this is usually preferable. However, if you wish, you can expand some or all of the child items while studying a card in the queue (or while previewing it by clicking the arrow in the editor), thus showing their children as well:

The expand/collapse state is persistent – you only need to do this once for each recursive multi-line card you create, and in all subsequent practice sessions it will appear the same way. The state is also stored separately for the flashcard queue/flashcard preview and the editor, so you can freely expand and collapse your documents while editing them without affecting the display of your cards.

Rating Multi-Line Cards

A major challenge with lists is that if you forget a single item in the list, you'll have to review the entire list over again; the list has to be scheduled as often as the most difficult single item in it. This becomes more and more painful the longer the list gets.

RemNote can't completely solve this issue, but it can help by keeping track of items in the list you're struggling with and helping you master those separately before trying to integrate them into the context of the full list. In order to do this, it needs to understand how you're performing on each item individually.

For list cards, where the items in the list are revealed one at a time, you don't need to do anything special. Just press the appropriate rating after seeing each item in the list – if you remember item 1, press Recalled with effort, then if you can't remember item 2, press Forgot, and so on.

For set cards, where all the items are revealed at once, it works a little differently. If you remember every item, then use Partially recalled, Recalled with effort, or Easily recalled, as appropriate. But if you forget any part of the card, press Forgot. You'll then be prompted to select the specific items you forgot by clicking the X's next to those items, turning them red. Once you've marked all of the items you forgot, select a rating button for the items you remembered.

For example, if you remembered items 1 and 3 pretty well, but couldn't remember 2, you might mark 2 as forgotten (as shown in the screenshot above), then press Recalled with effort.

If you can't recall any items from the set at all, you can simply press Forgot a second time to mark everything as forgotten at once, rather than marking any individual items.

Partial List/Set Cards

When you're struggling with specific items in a list, you will get partial list/set cards in your queue, asking you to recall just one specific item. These will look something like this:

Just supply the missing item (two in this case), and rate your answer as usual. Once you've mastered all the partial cards corresponding to the items you're struggling with, RemNote will start showing you the full list card again.

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