Acing Flight School: The Power of Anki and Spaced Repetition for Memorizing Anything

Acing Flight School: The Power of Anki and Spaced Repetition for Memorizing Anything

Anki changed my life. Combined with some of the techniques discussed in Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein (see my review of the book here) my memory ability has gone from “Dory forgetting her own name in Finding Nemo” to never forgetting what I had for breakfast again.

Anki is a Secret Power

The reason this has been such a development for me is that flight school, especially Navy flight school, is heavily dependent on one’s ability to purely memorize entire encyclopedias of flight information. If you’ll remember, when discussing how to prepare for Navy Primary Flight Training I mention how powerful Anki can be in achieving world-class memory and general knowledge.

This is because naval flight training (and any flight training) is a marathon—not a sprint. Depending on how far you go in your aviation journey, it may take years to get all your certifications and qualifications. Even if you’re stopping at your PPL and only flying occasionally on the weekends, it’s critical that pilots retain key information, limits, and emergency procedures.

But how can we make sure we don’t forget the information learned months ago?

How do we know what to study and when? Because… we can’t possibly know what our brain is “hungry” for, right?

Wrong. Anki is a superpower.

Spaced Repetition

Before we get into the details of how I use Anki specifically for flight school, I want to shed some light on the genius that is spaced repetition.
Spaced repetition is a technique where the interval between flashcards is increased as your ability to remember the information on that card improves.

First 1-minute intervals between successful recalls, then 10 minutes, then 1 day, 3 days, and so on. Conversely, if Anki thought you needed 3 days until you saw a specific card again but you weren’t able to recall the information correctly, Anki will then reduce the interval for next time.

As you continue to hit your review goals, the time required between reviews increases, locking that knowledge into your long-term memory.

This method is far superior to studying a deck of, say, 20 cards with all 20 cards receiving the same amount of attention. Clearly, some things are easier to learn than others and Anki helps prioritize that process.

Flight School and Anki

Now that we understand how Anki works, let me explain why it’s incredible for flight school.

Flight school is a long program and you go through tons of different phases. Learning basic VFR flight, instruments, aerobatics, formations, and dropping ordnance (hopefully only if you’re military) all require different checklists, limits, and procedures to be learned.

However, they also build on each other. That means what you learned last month about the proper way to fly an ILS (instruments) approach could still apply down the road when you’re on a VMC (visual meteorological conditions) flight and some bad weather rolls in.

Anki takes care of this problem by bringing up the exact card you need just before your brain might start to forget it. This way, you don’t need to keep track of what information is necessary to review in order to stay fresh—Anki does that all for you.

And the best part is the time and effort required to keep information “fresh” is far less than that required to learn it in the first place. So reviewing and staying current with limits and engineering systems is almost effortless. Yay, no more Ready Room Downs!

How to Use Anki the Great

The first thing is designing your flash cards. This can be done by yourself or by importing from Quizlet. I love importing them because it saves a lot of time since entire libraries of Quizlet decks have already been made by people for almost any topic you can think of.

Additionally, there are a variety of Anki flashcard formats you can utilize: Close (fill-in-the-blank style), image occlusion (cover up specific cells in a chart) and you can even add voice recordings or audio files to help if you’re learning radio calls, for instance.

There are so many ways to use Anki and they’re all helpful. The most important thing, however, is to get started and check the app daily. As I said, Anki knows exactly when to bring up your flashcards and some days your review may be only 2 minutes long to cover all the cards you need for the day. But if you forget to study that day, the card you were supposed to see at a 3-day interval turns into an accidental 7-day interval and now the knowledge has fallen outside of your brain’s long-term memory window.

Go Forth and…

Remember! The power of Anki is well known and regarded in a wide variety of other fields. Probably the number one study tool for medical students, it is also one of the best ways to learn a new language. The best part? It’s all free.

Only you can stop pink sheets and through spaced repetition maybe one day we’ll all be flying for Delta, speaking French to the hot chick/dude in the bar, and reciting Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 2nd Edition.

Au revoir,


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