Although I’ve mostly been learning kanji and vocabulary over the past nine levels, I’ve also been fascinated with the system behind it. This post is my attempt to create a mathematical analysis to model how (I think) it works.
Note: This is only a model, and it’s a work in progress. If it is not predictive, or it doesn’t fit your experience with WaniKani, fine! That just means it’s not a very good model. This is just intended to be a fun exercise for the mathematically minded among us. And if you enjoy it, feel free to make your own tweaks and contributions
This one is easy. We are calculating our likelihood to remember as a function of time. Seconds, hours, days - only the scale will change.
The next question I had was the specific value we’re modeling. At the most basic, we want to know whether we “recall” an item, or if we have “forgotten” it. We can think of that in terms of a binary success-fail, 1 or 0. So far so good.
That is a discrete value, though, and what we really want is something more continuous. And so, I’m going to let my dependent variable in the analysis be the percent chance of success. That is, how likely is it that a particular item will be remembered?
Our basic intuition is that as soon as we learn an item, we have a pretty good chance of recalling it. At some point, we enter a period of “forgetting” during which that chance rapidly declines. Then, we experience a long period during which our chance of recall is negligible.
At no point do we really have a 100% chance of recall, nor do we have a 0% chance. Instead, our function should approach those bounds asymptotically, approaching but never quite reaching them.
To model this, I chose the inverse tangent function. I’m sure there are other functions that would work, and arguably better, but I figured this was a good place to start. Here is an example of what that function looks like:
So that’s kind of what we want, but it needs to be flipped upside down, and moved around and scaled to fit our model. That’s easy enough! Here is the basic result I came up with:
And here is the formula I used:
In this case, p = 99%, which is my threshhold of where I want my percent chance to start, at time y = 0. The variable t is my time scale in hours, where t represents the number of hours to the midpoint of the chart. I used t = 4 for the chart above.
So what does this get us so far? We have modeled the behavior of our memory from the point at which we learn an item to the point at which we forget it. The theory behind WaniKani is that our reviews should take place during the critical period in between, when we are just about to forget an item.
Over the next week or two, I’m planning on developing out this model. For example:
- What happens when we get a review correct? Presumably our chance of recall returns to a high level, and the graph sort of stretches out. But I’d like to make that more rigorous.
- What happens when we get a review wrong? I’m making the assumption that when we get a review wrong, we look at the right answer, which counts as another exposure. WaniKani makes the assumption that the graph contracts, moving our next review closer.
And once all those questions are answered, we can take it out for a spin and see what it has to say about particular topics!
- So far, we are looking at the “optimal” case. What about leeches? That is, how can we represent leeches in this model, and what can it tell us about a good way to squash them?
- Wkstats makes it pretty easy to figure out our accuracy percentage. Can we use that value to predict the amount of time it will take us to get a given item to Guru, or Burned? Can we use it to predict the time it will take us to level up?
- Is there any different arrangement of wait times that would be more efficient? For example, if you consistently miss a given review item, should the timeline be more compressed? Adding an extra Apprentice level and an extra Guru level, for example, but with less time in between?
At the end of the day, I’d like to do a full model of leveling up to level 60, with different starting conditions, to see how long it takes. But I’d say the model needs a lot more work to make that worthwhile.
So what are your thoughts? Any ideas on how to make this better?