Memorizing World Capitals
I’ve always been a fan of geography. It seemed like a good idea recently to memorize the capital of all ~232 countries/territories for fun. Over the past 3 months I’ve gained very strong proficiency of almost every world capital. It was super easy and could be done by anyone.
I did this for a few reasons.
- Develop stronger geographic sense of place.
- Develop a more cohesive understanding of the geopolitical environment.
- Have an automatic conversation starter with anyone who is not from the US (I am constantly amazed at how happy someone is to hear that you know the capital of their country, especially for smaller countries.)
- Gain a better understanding of how to memorize lists.
The purpose of this post is to demonstrate the power and simplicity of computer flashcards.
The best program for memorization
The absolute best program for memorization, one that is used in medical schools, is called ANKI. It’s a totally free and simple desktop and mobile application.
ANKI is based on the theory of spaced repetition. The theory is that we learn best when we space out the things we’re learning. ANKI uses really simple flashcards that are presented on a daily basis according to each card’s difficulty for you.
How it works
As card’s become easier for you, the program increases the delay for which they are shown to you again. This allows you to focus primarily on the hardest cards each day, with some reviews of easier cards.
Here is the commitment it took to memorize 232 world capitals, 83% of which I have a full memory and 13% I’m still iffy on. Keep in mind, some of these capitals have very tough non-English names.
- 5 minutes of study per day for 68/104 calendar days.
- A total of 5 hours of studying.
I think ANKI is a very good system for memorizing things you understand, but need to have in your head. You would never be able to learn a language with it alone. But, it could be a great help for memorizing words.
I am very impressed by how simple and quick it was to memorize such a long and (seemingly) difficult list. I studied 5 hours in college for tests that contained much less than 200 points of memorization. ANKI seems to be an efficient and scientific memorization tool.
How ANKI Decks work
ANKI has a flashcard database and a method to create your own deck. Because I was not satisfied with any of the options on their database, I made my own deck. There are several advanced options for setting the card repetition rate, deck appearance, and review style, but I stuck to the simple reverse card deck for mine. This creates two cards for every country so you can memorize the capitals forward and backward from country->capital and capital->country.
Setting up a deck
Chances are that you’ll need to create your own deck for this to be of value to you. It’s actually pretty simple but needs to be done in a specific way.
- Download ANKI. It’s a free , small, safe file.
- Go to Google Sheets or Excel and put your cards into two columns, front and back. No need for column headers. This video might be helpful. https://youtu.be/LnnwdsGZZZw
- Save the spreadsheet as a CSV file (note where you save it to)
- Open ANKI
- Click “Import File”
- Import the CSV you saved in #3.
- Choose either Basic or Basic (Reverse) deck style depending on whether or not you want to study your cards in the reverse or not.
- Check to see your columns from your file line up with the mapping that ANKI reads.
- Save the deck. It will now appear on your main ANKI home screen and you can now review it as you see fit.
- Settings allow you to set how many cards you want to review per day.
I wish I had this tool when I was in school. It makes memorization super structured and simple. It also kind of makes it fun. This is not a tool for understanding concepts, but it is very valuable for memorization. ANKI could be used for most types of studying.