Is Supermemo the best of its kind?

Achab   Thursday, September 23, 2004, 22:04 GMT

Is Supermemo the best software to do the job it is designed to do?

There is a very nice website that has reviewed many applications of that kind and issued a list of the best ones:

Supermemo is placed second along with other programs. (Actually, reading the reviews you can see that it somehow rises a bit above the other runners-up.)

Anyway, the software which is placed first is one called VTrain. According to the criteria of the reviews, VTrain outsmarts Supermemo in that you can’t group items by difficulty or priority with Supermemo, while you can do that with VTrain, so you can concentrate on the information that is hardest to learn, or that is most important to study first in a particular moment, like when an exam is approaching.

So, for Tom and other avid users of Supermemo: Have you ever tried VTrain? Do you regard it as a better choice than Supermemo? If so/not, why? Should we all shift from Supermemo to VTrain?

By the way, how is the recently released Supermemo 2004? Has the program been improved or was the last version better?

Best wishes,
Tom   Monday, September 27, 2004, 22:34 GMT
SuperMemo automatically assigns "difficulty" to each item and makes you review more difficult items more frequently. I'm not sure why you would need to group items by difficulty by yourself.

You can assign priority (ordinals) to items in SuperMemo, and then review items with a given ordinal, but in my experience the feature is not particularly useful. You can also review selected branches of the knowledge tree.

I haven't used VTrain, but one thing to consider is that SuperMemo has been in development since the early 1980s, so you would think the reviewing algorithm would be pretty well optimized, even in the case of very long intervals between reviews (e.g. 10 years or more). It seems VTrain was developed a few years ago, so I wouldn't trust it to schedule an item for 2010 -- the author simply hasn't had the time to test it with such long intervals.

SuperMemo 2004 is better than SuperMemo 2002. The default item layout is finally usable, and the XML export option lets you export your items to a Pocket PC (it seems great in theory, though I haven't tested how well it works).
Tom   Monday, September 27, 2004, 22:45 GMT
I've just taken a look at VTrain and it looks like it has a very simplistic spaced repetition algorithm.

When you answer a question correctly, it is moved to the next box. Each box contains a number of items, and all the items in the box are reviewed with the same frequency (e.g. once a week). So the progression of intervals is the same for all items, e.g.:

1 day -> 2 days -> 1 week -> 2 weeks

(box 1 -> box 2 -> box 3 -> box 4)

On the other hand, SuperMemo analyzes the complete history of grades that you have given yourself for an item, and schedules the next review based on that. If you have failed an item many times, the intervals will increase very slowly (more slowly than in VTrain), which is good, because obviously the item must be very hard for you to remember.

The maximum interval in VTrain is 2 weeks, whereas in SuperMemo you can review some items every 5 years or more (and curiously you still remember them). In VTrain, even if you know an item really well, you will have to review it every 2 weeks.
Achab   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 03:07 GMT
Tom, thank you very much for your insightful assessment. Maybe you should forward it to the editor of the website that I mentioned above. As you can see I am not much of a good judge of Supermemo-type technology. I have used Supermemo only to study your PerfectPronunciation collection so far. I have not started to use it for the development of my vocabulary yet.