How to remember formulae and concepts for exams?

Whether you are preparing for some super famous exam for which every other guy/gal seems to be preparing or just trying to survive through your graduation studies, there is one problem that might be stealing your night’s sleep – How to remember formulae? 

Formulae are like those awesome turns on highways which insanely cut short your traveling time. The only problem with them is that you realize you have missed them when you have gone too far to return. Or worse, you take a wrong turn and end up at a haunted abandoned mansion (and a flat tire)!

The tragedy of our times is that you can’t swim through exams without knowing the formulae. One little x goes to numerator instead of denominator and you are ruined. So instead of going through the futile discussion of necessity of formulae, lets get down to the real business.

The best method to remember formulae is to revise them regularly while checking how much you remember them from the last time!

Sorry buddy, this is a classic method and you have to go through it. But now I will tell you how to automate this process and also making it fun. You will be using an awesome flash card software – and not just any flash card software, its the best one. The best part of this exercise is that it contains a scientific methodology called Spaced Repetition.

This and all the subsequent steps totally depend on a super cool software called Anki developed by some really cool people. What’s even more cooler than Anki itself is the fact that it is completely FREE! This software-cum-app is the superstar of this blog post. And interestingly, all the tough jobs are done by this software itself.

Step 1:

Get Anki. Just download it straight away from here (It’s absolutely FREE)-

Download for Windows / Android (Ankidroid) / Linux/BSD / Mac

Step 2:

Install and start Anki.

Choose your language (most probably you will choose English.) Then you will see something like this-


So you are up and running with Anki. Now, moving on to step 3.

Step 3:

This is the initial hard step where you will have to do some effort. You will have to make some flashcards of the formulae and/or concepts you want to inscribe on your mind. I will suggest you to use separate decks for separate subjects.

Click on the ‘Create Deck’ button in the bottom centre. You will get this screen-


Give a name to your deck. Let’s say you are going to remember the formulae of Digital Communication and in that case name your deck as Digital Communication. If you want to remember some facts from Indian Polity, name it as that. If you want to remember some formulae of Calculus, name it as that. I hope I am more than clear by now. You can see the decks that I have created here-


So, we have created our decks, but right now its useless since it is empty. It is just like an empty container with a label on top of it. We will have to fill these containers with candies. To do that, click on the ‘Add’ button in the top centre position. You will see something like this-

4 As you can see on the top right, the deck name shows Digital Communication,  but you can always change that by clicking it and choosing any other deck. On its left side, there is something called type. Anki broadly gives you two type of type-

  1. Basic – The usual flashcard. On one side is a question and on the other side is the answer. Choose this type (or its offshoots) for most of the traditional flashcard style learning.
  2. Cloze- No that’s not a typo if you may think. Actually, this type stores your question in the fill in the blanks format where your answer is the thing you have to fill in the blank.

Step 4:

Now let’s make our first card. In the above snapshot, I have filled the question in Front field whereas I have filled the answer in the Back field. Please note that I have taken a snapshot of the formula for the Back field and attached it as it is while appending my text after the snapshot. You can see it here-


Moreover, in the Tags field I will recommend you to add the chapter, topic and subtopic names separated by comma – It will help you in filtering out your cards according to these parameters. I have filled here the relevant tags.

Click on Add button and viola – you have created your first card!

Let’s add a similar card in the Indian Polity deck but this time the card will be of cloze type.


I have done this by first writing the sentence and then selecting the word to converted into a blank and clicking the […] button in the top menu. The adds the {{c1::}} part. Obviously you can add that part manually too. I will show you later on how will it turn out during revision.

Now let’s see how the starting screen looks like.


As you can see, now there is 1 written across the New tab indicating there is a new card which you need to remember. As you will keep adding cards, this number will keep on increasing. Note that there are no due cards as of now.

Step 5:

Now let’s start remembering cards. Click on the name of deck & you will see something like-


Since we haven’t started learning yet, the learning parameter is showing 0. Let’s start learning by clicking on Study Now button. The next screen will show you the question card as-


Stress your brain as much as possible and try to recall the answer (the formula) for this question. When you are done stressing and recalling, click the Show Answer button. The next screen will be something like this-


And so it displays the answer (the formula) beneath the question! But the best part is what lies ahead – And this is the one feature due to which I wrote this blog post.

In the bottom, you can see 3 buttons – Again (<1m), Good(<10m) and Easy (4d).  To understand these buttons, let’s go back to the point when you were trying to recall the formula (the answer). Whenever you try to recall anything, there are 3 stages of recall-

  1. You have absolutely no idea what it is
  2. You recall some parts of it, but still you are confused at some points
  3. You are 100% sure of the answer and are able to fully recall it

Now, if you are at the stage 1, most probably you haven’t learnt the formula or you have totally forgotten about it. So you need to learn it first. This needs too frequent exposure and hence you will click on the button Again. Clicking this button will make this card reappear in your ‘to review‘ parameter within next 1 minute.

If you are at stage 2, most probably you have learnt the formula/ concept but you need a little more revision to make it by-heart. Click on the Good button and the card will reappear after around 10 minutes during your revision session. This ensures that you get properly spaced revision for maximum retention. But clicking it at this stage changes the screen to-


Note that the Good button has now turned into 1d instead of <10m. This signifies that if you are again recalling it so-so after one revision, then scientifically for best retention, you should do your next revision of this card tomorrow.

The Easy button is easy to understand. Clicking it signifies you are at the stage 3 of recall and Anki will show this card after 4 days.

The best thing about Anki is its dynamism. It decides the revision frequency based on your feedback. The time interval over the Good and Easy buttons keep on changing depending on various factors to facilitate one and only one objective – maximum and flawless retention of information.

Similarly you can learn the cloze based card. The question card will show up something like this-


And when you will click the Show Answer Button, it will come up something as-


I hope you are getting the whole point.

 Step 6:

Keep visiting anki and revising all the cards due for that day. Also, keep adding new cards till you have added all the important formulae and concepts.

So that was a pretty comprehensive tutorial on how to remember formulae and concepts in a better way. If you have any doubts or questions, just shoot it in the comments. Obviously what I have described here is just the tip of iceberg. Anki is much more than this and you can refer to its documentation for all its features. If you are skeptical about it, I will suggest you to at least try it out and check whether this works for you or not.

Liked this post? Here are the few things that you can do-

  1. Follow this post (if you still haven’t done it).
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  3. Keep looking for these upcoming posts-
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