As many readers of Japanese Talk Online know, I LOVE using flash cards. I use them practically every day for Japanese when I’m studying for a test.

But there are often times when I won’t use it for a week, a month, or several months. This creates a lot of backlog of items to review, and seeing that long list of 2000+ words I need to review can be really daunting.

This post will look at how to deal with huge review backlogs you often get with flashcard programs like Anki.


How Spaced Repetition Flashcard Programs Work

SRS, spaced repetition systems basically show you a word shortly after you’ve learnt it, then exposes you to that word periodically afterwards.

If you know the word the time between reviews gets longer and longer. If you get the word wrong it resets the interval time.

This is supposed to work in time with memory degradation, so you review the word just before you forget itRepetition is key to helping you remember items long-term.

Japanese Flashcards Memory Degradation

The review times on many flashcard apps work like this:

Learn the word ⇒ review in 4 hours ⇒ review again in 24 hours ⇒ 6 days ⇒ 12 days ⇒ 24 days ⇒ 48 days ⇒ 96 days ⇒ 180 days etc…

If you select the wrong answer for a card it resets and you must review it again 4 hours later, then 12 hours, then 24 hours, etc.

So when you have something like an Anki deck with 1000+ vocabulary these reviews can build up if you’re not working on the regularly.

It’s even worse if (like me) you stop using the program for a few months.


How To Prevent Review Backlogs

You can start by trying to prevent blacklogs of reviews by working on it a little everyday.

Such as reviewing 30-50 in the morning and evening. It should only take you 10-20 minuets depending on how fast you go.

Even if you don’t learn anything new that day, reviewing will help a LOT. Not only for your backlogs but for your own learning.


If your app offers you multiple choice options, DO NOT guess the right answer just to get rid of reviews! This can build up bad habits and it won’t help you at all.


How To Get Rid of Review Backlogs

So your plans to work on Japanese everyday didn’t exactly go to plan and now you’re faced with something like 2632 items to review! T__T

You have a few options to tackle the huge backlog.

You can always do a mixture of the following depending on what you prefer and what works best for you.


Start the course from the beginning

If it’s a course you haven’t touched in a long time but one you want to know, sometimes the best thing to do is start from scratch.

Hopefully it will go faster this time, but if you’ve really forgotten that much it’s good to learn it all over again.


  • You’ll know the vocabulary/kanji better than before.
  • Gets rid of all those reviews (you just need to re-learn it).


  • It will get rid of those learnt items in your words learnt count.
  • Will take a while to re-learn everything.


Ignore words you know

Ignoring words can take a lot of work (depending on the size of the course) but can help in the long run.

You can go through each level covering one of the columns and seeing if you remember the word. If you do and you’re confident to ignore it, then do so.

(You could also ignore the WHOLE course if it’s one you don’t want to go back to.)


  • Doesn’t get rid of words learnt counter.
  • Gives you less to review.


  • Can take time.
  • Those words will never come up again.


Review a Little Everyday – Learn Nothing New

I mentioned previously how reviewing a little everyday can help a lot.

50-100 a few times a day (depending on how much time you have) is a good amount to aim for.

Reviews will go a LOT faster if you’re not learning anything new. It also lets you focus on words you don’t know as they will need to be re-reviewed once you got them wrong once.

Again, DO NOT guess the right answer just so you don’t have to review it. That doesn’t help you at all!

Slowly chipping away will help in the long run too. If you try to a LOT (200+) in one go, it’ll not only be harder on you, but you’ll also be hit with a large amount to review after 12/24 hours!


  • Really learn everything.


  • Can take a long time to catch up.
  • Can’t learn anything new. (Or you can it’ll just make getting rid of backlogs harder)


Review Level by Level

Some technique I like to use to review level by level. So I won’t select the “Review” button for the whole course, but go step by step.

Unfortunately this also means I have to review the same levels over and over but I find it works better for me than getting a HUGE data dump.


  • Can break up and focus on reviews.
  • Not hit with data dump from vocabulary you’ve not recently looked at.


  • Cannot review a number of levels in one go.



Backlogs are a massive pain and stress, and they often had a lot of work to get through them. But it’s worth it if you do.

If you’re able to chip away at the reviews a little a day then you’ll eventually get through them. And you’ll be better off long term if you make sure you learn them rather than speeding through to get them out of the way.