please reconsider introducing max cards per test for SRS mode

dear Pleco forums,

To start with, I just want to say that I am an avid lover of Pleco. I have used a lot of different language apps, both for Chinese and other languages, and Pleco is my favorite and as a result far and away my most used app. It has definitely been the best thing for my Chinese, and every time I talk to someone about learning Chinese I tell them about it and I even show it to them, because I love it so much. But at my current level I’m finding it very hard to get a flashcard setting that is actually helpful to me, which brings me to the reason for this post…

This post is a request to please introduce the option to impose a max card limit per test in SRS mode. I have seen a number of past posts by people looking for this, and I have seen your response that it is deliberately excluded because it’s against the whole point of SRS mode. But I haven’t seen anyone arguing the case for it, which is what I would like to do here. I’ll start with the crux of my argument, which I hope might convince you. I would really appreciate it if you could consider this seriously as for me personally, excluding this option really limits the use I can get from the flashcards at this stage in my learning.

So the crux of my argument – if you’re concerned about people not fully understanding the point of the SRS system and enabling this option without realizing that – there’s a simple solution without limiting the functionality for more advanced users. My suggestions:

  • allow the option but put it behind a warning flag along the lines of “by limiting max cards you won’t see all your due cards when you initiate a test session, it is recommended not to use this option in SRS mode”
  • introduce another flag at the end of the test session that tells the user how many cards they still have due that were not tested because of the max card limit
  • keep it as a max per test session only, so that when I see that I still have cards left that are due, I can immediately initiate another test session and work through the next block of cards that are most overdue
Why is this different / better than what is there now? (and just exiting after I have reviewed however many I have time for, as you have suggested in the past). For me this boils down to the end-of-session repeat incorrect settings, which I am a big fan of. I want to work through a manageable chunk of cards, go back to the ones I got wrong while I still remember them and have a chance to at least get them into my short term memory sufficiently to get them right once (in a less controversial request, it would also really help me if you introduce a control on this repeat incorrect so that I can increase the number of times I have to get them right after an incorrect answer to clear the repeat loop). For cards that are new and I have never really learned well, this feels essential to starting to build recognition of them. With the current system, there are times when I have hundreds of cards come up at once, it takes so long to get through them that by the time I get to the end I can’t remember most of the ones I got wrong, so I get them wrong again, and the whole process feels like a huge drag. If I do push through the whole burdensome task one day, then because I studied them all in a shortish space of time, they end up all coming due together again and I find myself back in the same situation and I end up dropping flashcard study and focusing on other methods.

That is pretty much my central argument – I would also add to that: anyone who is studying flashcards in Pleco is already taking responsibility for their own learning. There are already plenty of options that allow people to study the flashcards in a ‘suboptimal’ way in Pleco, but you give us a lot of customization options, recognizing that different things work for different people and that it’s our responsibility to find settings that work for us. For example, if SRS is the be all and end all, why do non-SRS modes even exist? Isn’t that just letting people study the ‘wrong’ way? I of course believe that these other modes should exist – I have successfully memorized a lot of cards using non-SRS modes because figuring out how to get the SRS mode to show me what I needed at the right frequency to really build new vocabulary was too complicated and I wanted to spend my time studying cards, not the SRS system. This request is just to extend that customization flexibility, and sure, put some flags on it if you’re concerned about people falling into a trap unthinkingly.

So I’m aware this is already quite long (thank you for making it this far), but I have a final point which I will add because I feel strongly about this. In sticking rigidly to the idea of using SRS the ‘way it is meant to be done’, I really feel you are actually encouraging people to fall into a whole different trap – the “SRS is everything” trap. SRS does not teach you a language. It teaches you words, or even more specifically, it teaches you to recognize flashcards and to reproduce a specific piece of information from a specific trigger. I think flashcards are fantastic, I love them, and in principle if the settings are right, I love SRS. But people studying flashcards want to learn a language, not just a set of flashcards, which means that studying their cards needs to be complemented by other activities.

Other activities that also have the opportunity to reinforce the same information that is in the flashcards.

I.e. the SRS software does not and cannot know what I really need to see because it doesn’t know what I have already been reminded of by other sources. So I want to be able to set my SRS settings so that I can use it as a complement to other sources, and take responsibility myself for what is the highest priority in my learning right now. I want the benefit of the SRS algorithm to help select cards that I’m most likely to have forgotten without having to micromanage the test decks myself, but with the certainty that it can’t do the job ‘perfectly’ because it doesn’t have all the information about what else I have studied.

To come back and illustrate my complaint above about how I’m currently experiencing the SRS mode – why do I have a backlog of hundreds of cards at some point? Yes it may be because I didn’t do any flashcards for weeks or even months. Is that because I stopped studying Chinese? No, in fact I was using Pleco every day, reading graded readers. Should I have foregone reading the readers to keep on top of my flashcard reviews? I would argue absolutely not – my Chinese has improved enormously through reading. For a start, I can now actually parse Chinese sentences for meaning. Many of those words in my neglected cards I now know much better than I ever did before – I recognize their characters (I only studied the cards English definition to pinyin), I’m familiar with how they’re used in context and I feel like I can use them myself. But yes, there are some other lower-frequency words that I now can’t remember as well as I used to, and I want to use flashcards to brush them up, plus introduce new cards that I have never studied.

But I still want to keep reading – I don’t want to sit down for 4 hours to go through all the cards in one go (I have a full time job that has nothing to do with Chinese). I want to do a manageable chunk, fairly often but maybe not every day, and then spend the rest of my available ‘study’ time reading. If I have a lot of time one day, I may want to clear my whole backlog of due cards even, but I still want to do it in chunks so I can repeat the ones I got wrong within a reasonable space of time. Oddly enough, I’m actually learning a language for fun – I don’t actually ‘need’ to make any progress at all. I want to, but I want to actually enjoy myself first and foremost. One of the great strengths of Pleco is its flexibility and customizability. Even if you don’t accede to this request this will still be true. But honestly if you don’t, I’m not sure if I’ll keep using the flashcards at all. I’m learning new words already just by reading – I think it would be more targeted and efficient to complement it with SRS for the words that I want to learn more completely, but with the current settings there just isn’t anything that works for me. A lot of people have been looking for this feature, and in my opinion there are plenty of legitimate cases to use it.

So .. please consider. If you made it this far, thank you for reading, and of course thank you for Pleco. The character lookup in the reading mode is so fantastic – the speed of the lookup + pinyin + definition means you can really learn characters along with their meaning and pronunciation from scratch just by reading – that I will keep using Pleco whether you agree to this or not. But if you think about adding this it would be really appreciated and really enhance the utility of the flashcards for me and, I hope, other people as well.

thank you!


Dear Zoe,

it's great to read from new people who are so enthusiastic about Pleco 3 in general. Mike has promised that the new foundation of Pleco 4 will solve almost all of the SRS-related issues you bring up. But Pleco 3 is already so useful for learning Chinese that I'm happy to spend the time with it, waiting for an even more perfect Pleco 4.0 to come out. :)

Edit: Your suggestion on adapting the SRS based on what the user has read sounds interesting. But how could Pleco determine whether you have read, understood, or are able to translate the word from English to Chinese without actually having tested you on it? I believe that one of the few ways to manage this problem is to read clearly defined texts and study the exact flashcards that occur in that text on the side.


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Staff member
We will be accommodating this in 4.0, actually, but to be honest it's not so much because I've changed my opinion on the matter as because I've concluded that long-term SRS is a load of hooey and so our default system is being redesigned to only use SRS for short- to medium-term reviews and then just fill that in with long-term reviews (not scheduled with any particular urgency) up to whatever your configured limit is; i.e., we no longer pretend that the precise schedule matters for SRS once a word is learned.

Your point that other activities reinforce learning is actually a big part of why I think this long-term SRS is a load of hooey, in fact there are decade-old posts here from before we added SRS at all when I was resistant to the idea because I felt that way even then :) We are adding a feature to let you mark flashcards as reviewed when you look them up in the reader which should help a little bit with that external element.

I do not however think that warnings do the job here because history has taught me that people ignore those, even the most obvious ones (we get huge numbers of people who despite constantly being nagged by our app to back up their flashcards refuse to do so and then get upset when they go missing, e.g.) - if it's not obvious enough for people to get it without an alert / warning then it's not obvious enough to build your system around. The current system of it being incredibly obvious that you have a lot of overdue cards seems like it works better than any alert would.

Also, regarding your comment on ending a session when it's not done yet: you should be prompted to review incorrect cards even in that case, is that not working correctly for you?