Anki is a free, open source, flashcard program that is the best method I have used for memorization. I originally found it when I was looking for a better way to study for an EMT class. I quickly discovered one of the coolest features of Anki was the database of shared “decks” you can download for free. As it happens, another EMT student had already gone through the trouble of composing a deck that covered all of the material thereby saving me countless hours. The range of topics is astonishing but the most popular subjects appear to be languages (Japanese being the favorite) and vocabulary.
The system that Anki uses to order the cards is called “spaced repetition“. It is based on an algorithm that uses how you rank each card to determine when it will show that particular card in order to maximize retention (and save time). The harder you rank the card the sooner the information reappears, and vice versa. This technique was first pioneered in the popular flashcard generator SuperMemo ($60), and is also used by Mnemosyne (free). Anki also has a slick informatics feature enabling it to produce statistics and graphs detailing how you have been learning over time. Another benefit is that you get to decide the pace of learning by setting the amount of new information introduced every session. I personally chose Anki because of the availability of community-sourced decks and have been thrilled with it so far. However, I am interested in exploring the other options as my studying increases.
Anki currently supports text, LaTeX, images, and sound, and though I haven’t created many decks the process is easy and is helped by a clean user interface. It allows you to share your created decks, and offers the option to upload them to the Anki website where you can access the cards anywhere with an internet connection (and sync them across multiple computers). A downloadable version of Anki is supported on all the major operating systems (OSX, Windows, Linux) as well as iPhone, Android and Nintendo DS. In the end, Anki is one of the best pieces of free software I use, and I highly recommend it to anyone in need of a better study tool.