Getting around short term memory

Hi users,

My short term memory is exceedingly bad: I can’t remember a phone number long enough to type it in before the phone dials whatever I’ve entered. In wanikani, this means I’ve forgotten the answer almost as soon as the “wrong answer” screen goes away. I feel I’m having trouble because wanikani expects some baseline of short term memory that I just don’t possess. (I have a neurological problem that affects memory.) The only things I’ve promoted to guru are things I already knew, and everything else is stuck at low level apprentice. Some of it’s still blanking after several days… and it shows up every couple hours!

If anyone else has trouble with initially learning something, what have you tried that works with wanikani? I managed to set up anki so it works the SRS magic people talk about, but I was having the exact same problem with it under the recommended setup as I am having with wanikani.


Nothing wrong with doing “extra” reviews. I personally do a “self-study” review half way between lesson and the first real review session (which is 2 hours after lessons for levels 3+), usually that’s enough to get me over the short term memory hump and I can follow WK’s schedule. If I’ve forgotten any during that review I’ll do another self-study an hour later. You may have to do even more frequent self reviews, but there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you can eventually fall into the WK review schedule.


I found that focusing on the mnemonics and remembering their stories makes it much easier to remember the meanings and readings in the short term.


You can change the intervals in Anki, so you could have it show you the words in 30 seconds, 1 minute, 4 minutes, however short an interval your brain needs to get it into short term memory. I seem to remember from my cognitive communication disorders class that this technique (SRS starting with very short intervals) is helpful for people with short term memory deficits. Good luck!


Thanks for the advice, all. I’ll be trying what you wrote and see how well that helps things stick.

(@TheCodingFox, I can’t remember the mnemonics, either, but I’m familiar with using them as memory guides so I know they work. I incorporated your advice into my workflow… I would have totally forgotten to study the mnemonics, otherwise!)

I also have a terrible memory. I have just started myself and, like you, as soon as they go, I forget.

I’ve been actually learning to memorise in solid picture form. What I mean by that is actually finding the word by making a ‘picture’ out of the radical or kanji. For instance 'じょう. On one of the characters, you can actually make out the meaning by seeing it in the character. You can see ‘J’ and ‘O’ form in the kanji.

Of course I won’t be able to do that with most Kanji but where I can, it helps. Also, I make up my own mnemonic. My mind can’t or won’t always catch onto the story given to me, maybe because the story doesn’t appeal. So, I use my own creativity and it seems to make things stick a bit better.

I feel for you. I get frustrated over it and occasionally I do the silly thing of comparing myself to others and secretly affirm that I must be stupid. I think, though, that if you have a functioning memory then take all the time you need. Eventually you will get there. Accept that this is how your brain functions. It’s not possible never to remember. You will get there, even if sometimes it goes at a snails pace. It’ll happen. Be kind to yourself. :slight_smile:

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I don’t know the exact situation you are in, but my usual wanikani workflow is as follows:

  • Before the quiz, always click “I need more time”. I then look back at the 5 new items at the bottom of the screen and I try to remember both meaning and reading, including the mnemonics. I also try to say them out loud. If I don’t remember any, I go back and check.
  • After finishing a lesson I do the same for all new items - I go through the recap section one by one and then hover over the item if I need to confirm that I remember it correctly. If I can’t remember something I skip it and come back to it later, if I still don’t remember it I check again.
  • Every time I have a review, I try to remember both the reading/meaning and the appropriate mnemonic, especially for new items (if I know it’s a Master+ item and I don’t remember the mnemonic I don’t mind as much).

I don’t konw if any of these could be helpful, but maybe another thing you could do is change the lesson batch size to 3 to split them into smaller parts?

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  1. You can choose how many items are in each batch that you learn. Set it a 5 instead of 10 or 20.
  2. When you go through all of the lessons, you get a choice of going to the quiz right away. Choose not to go to the quiz. The lessons will then keep coming up over and over again. I cover the screen, and practice the pronunciation, for a few laps around. Then choose the quiz.
  3. Install the self-study quiz and use it every day to practice your apprentices. The self study quiz will give you problem types, such as recall meaning from hiragana and the spoken word, that are not on the WK app. But, they will super reinforce the new word.
  4. By the time your items get guru, they will be fixed in your memory.
  5. Also, by the time you reach higher levels, you will almost surely need to use mnemonics, so it is helpful to learn to use them at a low level.

Good luck!

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I don’t know, I had the exact opposite experience. The more and more you get used to kanji, the less you need mnenomics, I feel.


I may strike the mnemonic advice. I only stuck it in because of how many new people join and say “I don’t need the mnemonics” then realize that they are confusing kanji later on.

So, @drurowin, use your own judgement on mnemonics. But, the advice for drilling apprentice items still stands. Once an item is out of apprentice stage, it has moved beyond short term memory.

Also, the whizzes here who do a level each week all do their four hour reviews. That is the very first set of reviews that comes up after you learn an item. Scheduling your lessons so that you will be able to do that first review session should increase retention very much. That doesn’t mean that you need to do reviews every four hours all of the time, just that it can help to take advantage of quick reviews of new items.

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I don’t know what exactly your neurological problem is and even if I did I probably couldn’t offer a solution for better memorization.

However you mentioned that you guru’d things you already know. So somehow you were able to learn these items. My conclusion being that if there is no medical fix for your neurological problem, then you’ll just have to do with the unknown kanji what you did with the kanji you already know.

It could also be I subconsciounsly just start to create small mnemonics for new kanji :smiley: . At least often I catch myself thinking what word the radicals create, if it’s simple. Like 咳 is “throat carve”, which creates a pretty nice gut feeling of what it means. So definitely mnemonics are useful to try and see what works, probably it’s very personal what kind of method it morphs into.

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I have great short term memory, so I can easily do all Aprentice reviews without even paying attention to the mnemonics…

But when Guru review comes up I can even forget I’ve ever seen the item!


I’m curious what kind of setup you used? How were your learning steps? I’m wondering if extra steps in the beginning are actually helpful or not, if your short term memory is lacking. This could make the brain think you are seeing these things often and don’t need to store them long. There’s actually quite a bit of evidence of longer intervals being better for memory retention. It’s a bit unintuitive, but basically reviewing words too often will make you forget those words faster! (that is, after you stop reviewing them) Furthermore, it’s very inefficient and creates a lot of work. That’s why I’m a bit skeptical about self-study script and leech training, if it is actually helpful (not to mention leeches should just be suspended). However, these studies have longer intervals, that basically fall into long term memory.

My understanding of SRS is that the idea is to review the item just before you would otherwise forget it. SRS software tries to use as defaults the “ideal” interval for the average person, but if you are not the average person and have a better or worse short term memory, then changing intervals to fit your needs is completely in line with the theory behind SRS. OP is forgetting items before the 4 hour review, which means the intervals aren’t timed correctly for their memory. What they are describing is the default intervals being very inefficient and creating a lot of extra work.

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Yeah, but this is going to also vary depending on the word. In anki, ease factor is used to separate the difficult ones, so it gradually becomes better. But forgetting words is also an inevitable part of the process, so the ideal case doesn’t always happen.

It’s the other way around. Adding learning steps decreases efficiency and increases workload, but in this case it’s possible it’s unavoidable. I agree, that maybe those extra steps would be the thing OP needs to get the cards out of short term memory to long term, after which the normal scheduling works. On the other hand it is also possible that it’s fine (statistically in terms of retention, efficiency and workload) for the apprentice items to bounce back to zero after the first review, as long as it’s not like every card.

Maybe OP has wkstats to share? I think there was some script of a user which showed the specific percentages of all stages. That would be useful information here. It’s hard to say without statistics, since often people probably feel they fail more than they actually are. But Anki seems like a more suitable program for this situation of it’s customisability.

I used two 10 minute steps with about 24 hour breaks between every three rounds, not going over an hour. So, very long intervals. It’s described in “Making long-term memories in minutes: a spaced learning pattern from memory research in education”. It keeps everything together in the day and I can usually finish before brain fog sets in. You basically repeat the three times daily part until you can remember it 4 days later.

I’m having a hard time parsing this. So like 10min 10min 10 min 24h 10min 10min 10min? That’s pretty interesting, first time I’ve seen that. So after that you graduate the cards and let the scheduler do it’s thing?

That doesn’t seem too long. For reference, I’m using intervals of 1d 6d, with a graduating interval of 15d. This is the SM2 algorithm, which mayn language learners seem to use. But that’s material I’m reading in a book so there’s some extra enforcement.

Try to enlist as many senses as possible. Listen to the audio and try to read the word aloud. Read the example sentences, aloud if possible. Write the word a few times. If it’s a word for something concrete, visualize that thing with the character written on it.

And don’t be afraid to cheat. By which I mean, if you’re really stuck, go ahead and look up the answer. (In a dictionary, not by just getting it wrong and reading what WK says.) The idea being that the act of looking it up will help build the associations that your brain needs to remember the word. I’ve done that a bit with grammar and it really does seem to help.


I mainly use mnemonics for meanings when I forget what order the radicals are in. They do tend to write themselves after a while, and I feel those ones are more memorable than what anybody else picks.

No stats other than the last session… 47% average on the reading for the incorrect answers. Lots of max streak 1.

Close. The relevant part of the interval I use in anki is set at 10m 10m 24h and have anki interrupt me at 55 minutes. I don’t graduate them until after a 2 week step. The repeating 10-10-24 steps are what starts the long term memory formation, so it’s okay if you do it every day until you can remember it the next day because there’s a low chance you’re making short term memory instead. It’s cool. I had tried studying from the high school textbook again and was struggling so badly I had to stop because it was depressing me, so I went looking for alternative learning methods and discovered that paper.

(The 1d 6d steps have me forgetting a lot of stuff the next day. My first test is at 4 days, and you see each card three time per day until you can remember it the next day. I can do many cards in just one or two days of that, and by three days I can go on to do the 4-day test on most everything.)


You’re basically right. More like seconds later, though. They’re not going into proper short term memory from extra extra short term working memory… at least not in a way that I can free recall them on purpose. Actually recalling them feels like I’m spouting gibberish… it’s just a random sound that comes to mind, and sometimes it’s even correct. It’s a different feeling from the working and long term memory recalls.


I hadn’t thought of cheating like that. I automatically do it for english words. I forget stuff a lot and at some point I just stop caring if I can’t remember an important word in the sentence, though. I have to watch out for my mood when doing reviews.

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