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Learning is a subject often fraught with frustration, angst, and pressure. But it really doesn’t have to be that way. The traditional school system, conceived long before the advent of computers and modern learning methodologies, isn’t really the best way to learn. There are many tools and methods that improve on what’s available in most schools today, but in this post I’d like to introduce you to one specific contender called Cerego.

Cerego is currently in closed Beta, but we’ve got invites to give out to 500 lucky readers. Read on to find out more about the service, and if you want to take it for a spin, you’ll find those invites at the end of the post.

Cerego’s Claim to Fame

To understand what Cerego is all about, check out this quick video promoting the service:

In a nutshell, Cerego uses the spaced repetition to help you better memorize collections of items, ranging from dog breeds to US state flags to the prefectures of Japan. The service employs an algorithm that helps it detect when you’re about to forget a piece of information, and tries to present that datum for review at just the right moment (i.e, before it slips your mind).

If this concept sounds familiar, then perhaps you’re thinking of Anki, which we reviewed Learn A New Language With Anki's Flash Card System Learn A New Language With Anki's Flash Card System Read More back in 2009 (I reviewed its Android version Boost Your Brain Power & Memorize Important Information With AnkiDroid [Android 1.5+] Boost Your Brain Power & Memorize Important Information With AnkiDroid [Android 1.5+] Alfa November Kilo India. That’s how you spell "Anki" according to the NATO phonetic alphabet. And no, I didn’t need Wikipedia to come up with that. I just know the phonetic alphabet now. And I... Read More in 2011), or of AnyMemo which Saikat reviewed Memorize Anything In Double Quick Time With AnyMemo Free [Android] Memorize Anything In Double Quick Time With AnyMemo Free [Android] If you thought that flash cards (or flashcards) were only for students in vocabulary training, you wouldn’t be more wrong. Flashcards can be used to memorize anything that requires retention through repetitive repetition; and that... Read More just a few short months ago.

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What I Will (and Won’t) Cover

If you read any review of Cerego that raves about its astounding learning methodology and how well it works, take it with a big grain of salt. It’s not that Cerego isn’t good. It’s that in order to effectively evaluate a tool that’s supposed to help you retain knowledge, you need to use it for months, or maybe a year or two. Cerego hasn’t been around for that long, so quite honestly, there’s no real way to tell how well it works in the long run. You won’t find me extolling the virtues of its method here.

What you will find, however, is a thorough evaluation of its interface, the extent of the material that it offers, and the learning experience. That should be more than enough to help you decide whether or not you want to give it a go yourself.

Video Walkthrough

Cerego’s founder (who doesn’t sound British at all) recorded this video showing what a very quick study session looks like:

The way Cerego deals with your answers is interesting, and very different from Anki. Anki just asks “how hard was this to remember?” and believes you. Cerego asks if you know the answer, and then has you prove that you do by selecting it from a number of options.

Learning Isn’t The Same As Understanding

One very important thing Cerego’s marketing content neglects to mention is that remembering and understanding are not the same thing. If I work hard enough, I’d likely be able to rattle off a whole poem in Basque (or Lojban) without understanding a single word of what I’m saying, much less appreciating its artistic quality. Some people in the spaced repetition industry understand this well – check out Supermemo’s brilliant article The 20 rules of formulating knowledge in learning (a must-read if you’re into spaced repetition).

Rule #1 is “Do not learn if you do not understand”.  I just wanted to put this out there so you understand where I’m looking at Cerego from.

Getting Started

Once you log into Cerego, the first thing you’re going to have to decide is what you want to study:


There are currently 28 courses, ranging from US states and statistics terminology, to brain anatomy and dog breeds. A pretty eclectic mix, which is a good thing. For each course, you can see how many items it contains, how many people are studying it, a star rating, and how many people rated it:


I also like that Cerego clearly credits the author of the course, who no doubt put in quite a bit of time creating the content. I’m going to go with this dog breeds course because, well, I like dogs. Cerego doesn’t limit you to one course at a time, but I’m going to start with just this one.

Having decided that, I clicked the Learn button and launched into a study session.

A Study Session

When beginning a study session, you get a quick overview of your progress (0% for me, as it’s my first session). You can also set the length of the session:


I’m going to go with the maximum, a 20-item session. Upon starting the session, I got this:


This is apparently the “learning” stage. First, the photo of the dog flashed onto the screen and disappeared. Then the word Papillon flashed and disappeared. Then, both appeared at once. I’m now supposed to look at the screen and understand that this breed of dog is called a Papillon. Having never heard of this breed before, I click the “I” button and get a rather informative blurb – “The Papillon (from the French word for butterfly) also called the Continental Toy Spaniel, is a breed of dog of the Spaniel type. One of the oldest of the toy spaniels, it derives its name from its characteristic butterfly-like look of the long and fringed hair on the ears.”

Good to know! I like that the creator also included the derivation of the name, as it makes for a good mnemonic device.  The image itself was quite small, though, and there was no way to make it larger. Again, this is the responsibility of the content creator.

Moving on, Cerego presented me with a few other dog breeds in this way, until it popped the first question:


Of course I know this, it’s a Papillon! Immensely pleased with myself, I clicked the Yes button.


Cerego now tested me, and wanted me to click on the right answer. This is an interesting twist for me (I’m used to Anki). It then decided I’ve waited too long before answering (I was busy taking the screenshot!) and highlighted the correct answer, which was indeed Papillon. It then had me review the card because I messed it up (said I knew and then failed to answer).

It then asked me about another dog it showed me before, an Afghan Hound. This time I was quick to answer, and was rewarded with a satisfying “Ding!” sound effect, and a great big checkmark:


The system then taught me a number of other breeds,  and then asked me my first reversed question. It showed the word Papillon and asked if I knew what it was. Once I said I do, it had me click a photo of a Papillon out of a few possible selections. I got it right.

I did click a beagle instead of a basset hound once. Cerego was quick to correct me and show me what a basset hound really looks like, but it never told me what I clicked was a beagle. The next question had me identify a beagle though.

One thing that was a bit stressful about the process is that once you click “Yes” (I know what this is) you get very little time to pick the right answer from the list. Literally, five seconds or less. Sometimes just reading the names takes as long, so you need to be fast. The material was presented systematically. Cerego introduced me to three new breeds at a time, and then asked a few questions, and then three more breeds, and so on.

As you progress through the session, the progress bar on top of the window slowly fills up. It’s not time-based – it only fills up when you get answers right. This means a session’s actual length could vary based on your performance. My 20-item session took far longer than I thought it would. When I finally completed it, Cerego  showed me this overview screen:


That cluster of circles on the top-left of the graph represents the items I’ve worked on in this session. Cerego tells me these 20 items are 35% of the total items in this pack (57 items in all). The main thing that bugged me about this particular pack were the tiny photos – they really were too small.

Cerego also shows individual course items:


So you can review the items at your leisure and read their related notes.

Final thoughts

Cerego also allows you to create your own content and share it with the world, which is brilliant, but I won’t go into it here. On the whole, the service feels polished and well thought-out. A lot lies in the hands of the content creator, but Cerego has done its job providing you with a solid framework for spaced-repetition study.

We have a link that’s good for 500 invites, so if you’re quick enough, you’ll get to try it out yourself! If you do (or if you use any spaced repetition system to learn), I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

  1. Mark Alsisto
    January 31, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    "Do not learn if you do not understand"

    People learn to understand things. Before taking statistics or maths, do you understand it? How about foreign language, do you understand the language before you learn it? etc....

    • Erez Zukerman
      January 31, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      In the context of this piece, the intent was memorizing things -- don't try to memorize a fact you don't understand.

  2. Pran
    January 31, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Would like to use the invite.. Thanks

  3. Sonya Macey
    January 31, 2013 at 1:20 am

    I have started the exotic animals course and am enjoying it. I have noticed however that one of the animals is incorrectly labelled as a kangaroo when it is a wallaby - being Australian makes them slightly less exotic. How do you notify them of mistakes? I also have a strong visual memory - with only one picture for each item I feel like I am 'cheating' - if there were a range of pictures available for each item it would be more difficult. Seems very similar to the Rosetta Stone system with languages.

    • Erez Zukerman
      February 2, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      Good points indeed! I'm not sure about notifying for errors, but you can create your own decks.

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      February 2, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      Try to ask that to the official support. I'm with you about the images. They can make it more difficult. It can be justified however, if they think this tool will help us with the basics and we're supposed to take the knowledge to tackle on actual, in-depth learning materials if we're interested.

      I'm taking the Japanese Kanji. I think it's better if the content writer includes the furigana of the word instead of just translation, but on the other hand it actually help me focus on the meaning first. I've already known several sets of Kanji, so I'd be delighted if I can remove these characters from my session so I can focus on things I have to actually learn.

  4. Walt
    January 31, 2013 at 12:36 am

    This is interesting stuff. I need an invitation!

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      February 2, 2013 at 3:16 pm

      Click the link at the end. That's the invitation.

  5. Ivan Biolango
    January 30, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Thank you I love this.

  6. Matty
    January 30, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Interesting n' would like to try it out

  7. Jeff Bouton
    January 30, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Would love an invite. Nice write-up!

  8. Ashutosh Dave
    January 30, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    This is something interesting and very useful!! This will make learning and recalling fun!!

  9. Dawa Sherpa
    January 30, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Looks Good

  10. Tanim Istiaque
    January 30, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    How does it compare to coursera

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      February 2, 2013 at 3:16 pm

      Unlike Coursera, which is a full-package of college level materials with lectures and exercises, Cerego is equal to crash course.It's best to use as supplementary materials and ensure you have the necessary material retention, but for complicated topics I hardly recommend you to use it as the only source. For simple topics however, it works very well on its own(like memorizing state names, or periodic table).
      Both of them cater for different needs and can't be compared head to head.

  11. Xeon Shu
    January 30, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    looks great!
    but i hope procrastination doesn't stop me from doing this

  12. Anonymous
    January 30, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    I signed up and it is just awesome!

  13. Jagbir Sembhi
    January 29, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    i am waiting for it. thanks

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      February 2, 2013 at 3:12 pm

      The invite isn't sent anywhere. You should click the link provided at the end.

  14. Nicky Nilson
    January 29, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks waiting for invite

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      February 2, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      Waiting for what? You're supposed to click on the invite link

  15. E F
    January 29, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Isnt this the same company that does iKnow (formerly

    • Erez Zukerman
      January 30, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      Wow, that's a good point! You know what, I'm actually not sure. Their press materials mentioned NYU but I didn't see anything about Japan. I'll check with my contact.

      • Lora Kirk
        January 30, 2013 at 7:23 pm

        Your profile info defaults to Japan time zone and Language = Japan, for what that's worth.

  16. Jurmy Chris
    January 29, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    getting smarter is always a good thing. THX :)

  17. Scott Macmillan
    January 29, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Rule #1 is “Do not learn if you do not understand”.
    That is the same rule that I use so this isn't for me.

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      February 2, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      Well for some topics like dog breeds or plant taxonomy you need to do a lot of memorization, in which this will come in handy.

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