WHAT Flashcarding (27-Feb-15)

WHAT, Wolfberg's Helpful Anagramming Tool, is really a toolbox of powerful tools, with many facilities. You can make effective use of WHAT right away by using just a few of its features, and this document introduces how to do flashcarding. If you have not yet read any documentation for this program, you may find it better to first read "WHAT's First - Getting Started Using WHAT", but if you are specifically curious what flashcarding facilities are provided, give this a try.


These are the sections of this document: Introduction, Example, Overview, Card Preparation, Working with Flashcards, Error Correction.


WHAT supports the creation and use of flashcards integrated with the other features of the program. This document introduces you to flashcard creation and use, but it begins by describing how to do flashcarding with a flashcard file provided with the WHAT distribution, so you can first focus on what probably matters most to you.


The WHAT distribution includes a file already made for you to try flashcarding for yourself. It has 112 items, which are the 112 most likely alphabetically ordered 7-letter racks with bingos. These items (7-letter racks) in the file are in order by decreasing probability. The first rack, which is the most likely one, is AEEINRT, and the there are 31 equally likely racks, including EIORSTU at the tail end of this list. By the way, do you know the words these two racks form? There are four words in all.

First, import this file to a WHAT wordlist. Don't be misled by the term "wordlist"; although this term sounds as if it refers to a list of words, items in wordlists are not restricted to being words. For this example, we are recommending you use wordlist number 7, just because these are 7-letter words. You could choose any of the 99 possible wordlists. To do this, menu pick File→Import→Wordlist, and a "Make a New Wordlist" dialog is opened. In the upper left part of that dialog, set the wordlist number you want to use, such as 7. On the already-selected Import Wordlist tab in the lower part of the dialog, click on the OK button. A file opening dialog appears, and you should locate the example file, which is probably located (according to where you installed WHAT) at:

  C:\Program Files\WHAT\samples\fc7top115.wds
After finding this file, click on the Open button. Both dialogs close, and a command created for you by WHAT appears on the command line in the workspace. Press the Enter key to perform the command. You will next see a message confirming the file has been imported.

To prepare to work with flashcards, issue the command to have no slate presentation for the long-term. If you know this command, you can type it and press the Enter key, but alternatively, you can use WHAT to create the command for you. This is how you do this:

You are now ready to begin to deal with the flashcards in wordlist 7, and you have a choice of two styles of card presentation. For this example, you are advised to do randomized flashcarding. You can use the WHAT GUI to make the command, or you can type it if you know it. Here is how to use the GUI:

The first flashcard will be presented to you as a command. Since you are doing randomized flashcarding, we cannot say exactly which card you will see. WHAT chooses among first 20 cards in the wordlist. Let us say you are shown, for example:


At this point, you are prompted to issue a next command. Let's suppose you have no idea what these letters form and you just want to see the answer. If you know the command to type, which is just an apostrophe, then you can type it (followed by pressing the Enter key), but you can alternatively use the GUI to make the command for you:

These two words are on the slate right now, and you could use WHAT commands to formulate questions related to these words, such as asking to see hooks, anahooks, etc., but let's continue with just dealing with the flashcards. You should decide how tough that card was for you. If you think is was 25% tough, type and perform the command:

WHAT interprets that number as a fraction, as if you had preceded it with a decimal point. This particular command is therefore interpreted as the fraction .25, and so WHAT will move the card in wordlist 7 from where it is near the beginning to 25% from the tail end of the list, which in this example happens to be item 84 (of the 115 items) in that wordlist. Had you indicated its toughness was zero, it would be moved to the tail end of the list. You can use the one-character command of N that is equivalent to the digit zero command; it means "Next".

As a result of performing a toughness command, that is a number interpreted as if it follows a decimal point, or an N command, you are then shown the next flashcard. Once again, WHAT randomly chooses the card from among the first 20 cards in wordlist 7.

Although, you asked to see the answer for the first flashcard (that was AEILNOR), you are not obliged to look at the answer before disposing of the card, such as with a toughness command. If you think you know the answer and don't want to bother seeing it, just go on to the next card.

On the other hand, perhaps you want to get some hints about the answer before just seeing it. For example, you could ask how many words are there on the slate, or you could ask what is the first letter of the first word. There are several other kinds of probes you might want to make; some suggestions are covered later in this document.

You can continue working with this list like this until you have had enough. There is no end to this endeavor, since the cards keep circulating. At this point, if you want to preserve where you are in working with this list, you should export wordlist 7 to a file. Choose a new file name for this file, so that you do not overwrite the sample file you imported. To do this, start by menu-picking

  File→Export Create→Wordlist→wordlist 7

Perhaps this example is sufficient for you to start using WHAT for working with flashcards. Many options available to you were purposely omitted, and you have not seen how to make a flashcard wordlist. The remainder of this document presents many more details about this subject.


In word study, the expected uses of flashcards are for anagramming, but this is not the only form of flashcarding in WHAT. In general, a flashcard is a WHAT query, and the answer to the query is not given until you, the user, request it. For the expected anagramming flashcards, we suggest the query consists of the letters of the word in a canonical order. You specify that canonical order. By default, this is alphabetical order, so if that is what you would like to use, make no change. Our preference is to first present the consonants in alphabetical order followed by the vowels in alphabetical order and using one space as a separator (e.g., NRST AEI).

Perhaps you would like to use flashcards for learning the meanings of words. In this case, the words themselves may be the queries, rather those words in canonical order. Perhaps the queries could be unacceptable words that have acceptable anagrams, such as RATIONER. WHAT can make or help make some of the forms of flashcards, but there are some flashcards that may have to be made using a text-editing program outside of WHAT. An example of this would be when the query includes a blank. At least for the present, WHAT does not have a way to place a blank or any other non-letter into a wordlist item.

For example, you might want to quiz yourself on extensions to words, such as what are the 3-letter prefixes for QUATE. In this case, your flashcard would be something like

Such items may be members of wordlists, despite the fact they are not really words. An item of a wordlist being used as a flashcard is in general one WHAT command; it may even include a comment as part or all of the item. Comments begin with two slashes on a command line.

WHAT can help you make wordlists consisting of words in spelling order or canonical order. If you would like to get fancier, you should use a text editor, such as Notepad, Emacs, or MS Word, to prepare such text files.

Each flashcard used for WHAT flashcarding is one wordlist item, usually a word in canonical order. You use WHAT to create such a wordlist, and then you export it to a file, assuming you want to continue with this list of flashcards in a future session with WHAT. After you create the wordlist, you may want to leave it in a particular order, such as by decreasing probabilities of the words, so you come across the most likely words first, but you instead may elect to shuffle the list.

There are two different styles of flashcard use. These differ in how WHAT chooses each item of the wordlist to present:

You are expected to set WHAT's presentation so that nothing is shown as a result of performing a query. This command does this:
When a flashcard is presented, the pressing of a terminating Enter key is done automatically. In other words, WHAT performs the command without your having to press the Enter key. You are presented with a WHAT prompt, and you can then issue various commands, such as showing you the answer (with the apostrophe command), or perhaps partial information as hints, such as what is the first letter of the first word, with the command:
Then you control the disposition of the flashcard:

Card Preparation

The expected use of flashcards is to make the card as a set of letters in canonical order. If you want to make about 2000 cards for the study of the most likely 7-letter words, it is best to choose this number based on changes in word probability. It could turn out that there is a change in probability at the 2000th card, but in fact there is not, so you have to do a little preparation study to figure out what number of cards to make which is close to 2000.

Choose a canonical ordering if the current ordering is not to your liking. If you are content with the default of alphabetical order, also known as alphagram order, you need do nothing about this. If you want to see the order, or if you know you do want to set a different canonical order, click on the Canonical Output tab in the upper right of the WHAT window. The current order is presented, and that tab includes a graphical box with a pull-down menu of choices. You could simply select one of the listed alternate canonical orders, or you could click on the New button there to declare yet a different order. If you do make a change, you will see the command built for you in the workspace, and you must then press the Enter key to perform that command. For the purpose of this example, let us say the canonical order was changed with this command:

To make this process less tedious, your next steps should be to make a couple of long-term changes. After the flashcard preparation, you may want to put back these long-term settings to the way there are to start. Go to the Query tab on the left side of the WHAT window, and go to the pull-down menu at the very bottom of the tab in the Result box. The current choice there is probably "Words", which is the initial setting when WHAT begins. Change that to "Canonically-Ordered Words", and then click on the Make Long-Term button above the workspace. You will see this command made for you on the command line in the workspace:
Press the Enter key to perform that command.

Next, set the presentation of words to be based on decreasing probabilities for the long-term. You can have WHAT help you construct the command to do this by going to the Presentation tab on the left and going to the Order By box near the bottom of that tab. Using the menu, select "decr. word probability" (where "decr." stands for decreasing), and you will see this subcommand placed on the command line in the workspace:

Suffix this with an exclamation point to make this a long-term request. If you don't know or recall the appropriate character to indicate you want to make something long-term, then you can click on the Make Long Term button above the workspace; by clicking there, an exclamation point is suffixed to your command. As a feedback indication, "decr. word probability" changes from yellow to green to mean it is being done for the long term. Once again, press the Enter key to perform the command.

There is a point worth noting at this time, but it is a bit subtle, and you can skip past this if you do not want to deal with this subtlely. When you are preparing your flashcards, probabilities are calculated based on Set (B), the representation of the full bag of letters. By default, this is a well-known letter distribution of 98 letters, and you have the power to change that set to whatever you want. There are many possible changes you could make especially for the production of personal flashcards, and the one that dominates is that you may want to boost the number of S's from 4 to 5 or 6. This is because in a game, you may tend to hold an S on your rack until you can use it for a bingo. Also, with an S in your word, you are more likely to be able to get it onto the board. You therefore may want to learn words that have more than the real probability of S's based on getting 7 letters at random from a full bag.

In order to alter the letter distribution, select the Sets tab in the upper right of the WHAT screen. See the "Set B" area at the bottom of the tab. Click on the ellipsis at the right end of the Set (B) box, and the "Update Definition of Set (B)" Dialog comes up. You can probably find your way from there.

Having set up the production of canonically-ordered words for the long-term and the sorting order for the long-term, now get all the 7-letter racks, and merely show how many there are using the command:

7. means seven blanks for a pattern match, and the number sign means you want to be told the number of resulting words (and nothing more). You are told there are 19424 items on the slate. Now look at the 2000th item with the command:
You are presented with the rack DGLS AIO. Now you can find out how many cards there are if you cut off the words either excluding or including that rack along with other racks of the same probability.

So, you will be making a new query that includes filtering based on probability. On the Query tab on the left, click on Probability in the Filtering box. You will be given an opportunity to change the relation and quantity, which is initially "greater than or equal to zero". Click on the ellipsis at the right end of that relation and quantity. When you click there, a dialog is brought up that allows you to specify a number or a word. In this case, you should specify the word DGLSAIO, as discovered in the first probe you made. So, click on "Probability of String" and type dglsaio into the box for the string; then click OK. Your input is accepted, and the dialog closes. The command made for you is:

   /%0 /%{dglsaio}
Suffix your query string with 7.#, which means to seek 7-letter words (really racks, since output is in canonical order) and report on how many there are. When you press the Enter key to perform the command, you will see the answer is 2298.

Now, bring back the previous command by pressing the up-arrow key (not uppercase 6, which is a caret character). Modify the previous command by inserting a greater than sign between the percent sign and left curly brace. You will be shown that this indeed means you are filtering for words whose probabilities are greater than that of DGLSAIO. Press the Enter key to perform that command, and see there are 1843 such words. So you can now decide which group of words you want to use for this set of flashcards you are now making. If you want to use the smaller number, those words are now on the slate as a result of making the most recent query. If you want the larger number, bring back the earlier command that yielded 2298 words, and perform that query again. To bring back an earlier command, you can press the up-arrow key repeatedly until you see it, or you can select that command from the Command History window above the workspace using a pull-down menu selection.

Now, you can look at the slate and see words presented in canonical order. On the Presentation tab on the left, click on the radio button labelled "In canonical order" in the Words Are box near the middle of the tab. You can see just a semicolon is used to specify this on the command line being constructed in the workspace. If you then press the Enter key to perform the command, a dialog comes up announcing you are trying to present a large number of items, namely more than 500 items. If you elect to see the first 25 of these, this is what you see:

       (first 25 items only)

You may wonder what is that underscore doing there where a space was intended. When WHAT presents words packed in rows or columns, it displays each item together without spaces by replacing spaces by underscores. If instead you were to look at these one per line, you would see spaces that are there, since that space replacement is not done (because the presentation is not in rows or columns). For example, the command:

results in (after you choose to see just the first 10 items):
       (first 10 items only)
Each one of the above lines is what a flashcard looks like, and the final step for you is to export this to a file. Menu-pick File→Export Create→Wordlist, and indicate which wordlist you are exporting. After dealing with a file opening dialog and choosing the file to which you want to export the wordlist, the command is made for you on the command line in the workspace. Press the Enter key to perform that command. I suggest a name for the file, such as fc7part1.wds. Your flashcard file has been saved and you can use it in a future session of WHAT. You could immediately start to use it too, however, the slate cannot be used as the basis of flashcarding. You would have to either import the file you just created to some wordlist, or, more simply, you could save the slate to a wordlist. If you want to use wordlist number 7, then you can type the command
or you can use the GUI (i.e., Graphical User Interface) to help you formulate the command. Start via the menu pick

When have completed the flashcard preparation, set the long-term setting for query results back to "words" (instead of "canonically-ordered words", to which you changed this earlier), and remove the sorting by decreasing probability for the long-term (that you also specified earlier). Other settings you may want to undo are your choice for canonical ordering and also the letter distibution.

If you do not want to perform all these individual steps to return to initial long-term settings, you could perform a general clearing of the various settings. To do this, select the WHAT tab in the upper right of the WHAT window, and click on the Show Clear/Reset Buttons button. Then click on the Restore Initial Settings button.

Working with Flashcards

When doing flashcarding, if you intend to move cards into other lists, choose a wordlist number for your flashcards such that the next three wordlists are available to you and are not in use for some other purpose. For example, if you are using wordlist 7 for flashcarding, be sure wordlists 8, 9, and 10 are available. One way to check on this is on the Wordlists tab in the upper right of the WHAT window. You can alternatively issue a /L command to see a wordlist report in the workspace.

Typically, you would want WHAT to have a long-term setting for presentation to be "Nothing". You can effect this using the GUI on the Presentation tab at the left side of the WHAT window, and then click on the Make Long-Term button above the workspace, or perhaps by now you have learned you may type the command:

Press the Enter key to perform the command. You may now begin flashcarding.

Once again, you can use the GUI to formulate your command or type your command if you know it. To use the GUI, menu-pick Tools→Flashcarding and then you must indicate whether you want sequential or randomized flashcarding for now. In addition, you will select the wordlist to use via menu picks. The command built for you, if you are doing randomized flashcarding, is:

As usual, press the Enter key to perform the command, and you are off and running. You are shown the first flashcard. You can go off and do other things with WHAT, and you can ask to see that current card again by issuing the 1-character command of F.

The general form of the command to begin sequential flashcarding is:

   <wordlist-number> : <item-number> FC

In this form, the colon and item number are optional; in the absence of an item number, flashcarding begins with item 1, but if an item number is specified, that will be the first flashcard, and all earlier items in the list will be skipped. At present, the GUI can help you issue the command to start sequential flashcarding only from the item 1 of a wordlist; this will likely be generalized in the future. Until then, you must type your own command to start sequential flashcarding at other than item 1.

You can use only one wordlist at a time for flahcarding. When flashcarding is on, you can see what wordlist it is and the flashcarding mode in WHAT's status line at the lower left of the WHAT window.

When each flashcard is presented, it is interpreted as a command, but since you have made the presentation to be nothing, you see only a prompt for the next command. The answer that the flashcard produced is on the slate at this time, and you can use WHAT to make probes or even tell you the answer. The full repertoire of command is available to you, but these are examples of commands you are most likely to want to use at this point:

anestri/? - is ANESTRI a word on the slate?
~ - are there any words on the slate?
3~ - are there 3 words on the slate?
# - how many words on the slate?
/1 - what is the first word on the slate?
1/ - what is the first letter of each word on the slate?
2/3 - what is the 2nd letter of the 3rd word on the slate?
(the words on the slate are in alphabetical order)
' - what are words on the slate (the whole answer)?
> - what are words on the slate, including their back hooks?
" - what are words on the slate, along with their definitions?

You do not have to act upon this flashcard right away. You could make other uses of WHAT, and when you are ready to deal with the card, you could have it shown to you again, and you can issue commands relating to the current flashcard, that has been remembered all this time.

At this point you have a few options of what to do with the flashcard. The first option to mention is the most likely choice - the typical one: you can keep it in the same wordlist, shuffling it back at a point according to how tough it was for you, for example, the command

indicates toughness. WHAT interprets the number with an assumed leading decimal point to indicate a fraction (in this case, .8). You are indicating this card was 80% tough for you, so you are asking WHAT to put this card back into its wordlist 20% from the beginning of the wordlist.

As a result of issuing the toughness command, you are presened with the next flashcard. But if you do not want to keep this flashcard in the list (not the usual situation), you can either delete it, or copy it, or move it somewhere. For exmaple, maybe you want to move it to a list you are making for yourself where you are collecting simple-to-get words for infrequent practice.

By indicating the toughness, you control how often the same card shows up in your flashcarding. When a new card is presented, it is randomly chosen from the first 20 "words" in the wordlist, so even of you keep saying words had a toughness of 0 (and thus the card went to the tail end), they would not show up in the same order the next time you come upon the same cards.

These are more 1-letter commands you can use:

N - When doing sequential flashcarding, leave the card where it is and go on to the next card; when doing randomized flashcarding, move the card to the end of the wordlist, as if its toughness is zero, and present the next card.
D - Delete the card, and then present the next one.
X - Move the card to the next higher wordlist.
Y - Move the card to the wordlist numbered two higher.
Z - Move the card to the wordlist numbered three higher.
M - Bring up the Item Disposition Dialog to move the card (with generality); this dialog can also be used for copying and deleting the card.
F - Bring back the same flashcard and perform it.

This 3-character command also brings back the same flashcard:

You can also bring up the Item Disposition Dialog via menu picks, such as:
Tools→Flashcarding→Copy Current Card
If you use the Item Dispostion Dialog to dispose of the card, you will need to issue your own N command to proceed to the next card.

You decide when to stop working with flashcards. To turn off the mode of working with a wordlist to do flashcarding, issue the command:

You can use the GUI via menu-picking Tools→Flashcarding→Off to put that command on the command line in the workspace. Press Enter to perform the command, and flashcarding is turned off. The indication that flashcarding is being done is removed from the left end of the status line.

When not flashcarding, the 1-letter commands N, D, X, Y, Z, and F are diabled, and so are commands consisting of just a number, namely toughness commands.

When you are done with a WHAT session, you will probably want to write wordlists used for flashcarding out to files, so the current order is retained for the next time you will use these lists. If you have moved cards to other lists, remember to save any such other lists you want to retain. When doing randomized flashcarding, you can pick up where you left off in a future session, but if you are doing requesntial flashcarding, if you have not worked your way to the end of the list, you will want to make a note of where you left off. You could write this down somewhere, or you could change the wordlist's label to note the number. Wordlist labels are noted in exported wordlist files. An alternative is to delete the items you have considered.

Here are two methods to find out where you are within your flashcard wordlist:

Flashcarding is not limited to quizzing you or for your learning and reviewing. You may want to use sequential flashcarding as a way of looking through a list of words, and segregrating out those words that you want to review later. For example, if you are learning all 4-letter words, you might to make a list of those fours that are not well-known to you. Common words you already know may as well not take up space in your study lists.

The facilities for moving, copying, and deleting items among wordlists are usable independently of flashcarding.

Error Correction

Perhaps you are going through a wordlist using sequential flashcarding, and you are simply going too fast. You see a word and mean to type an X to move the card, but instead you type an N, which means to advance to the next card. You can type the M command to bring up the Item Disposition (or Delete/Copy/Move) Dialog. You will see that the selected item is the current flashcard, but you can click on the From Wordlist button and then back up the item number by 1 to select the card you wish to move. Then make the appropriate choices in the Destination area of the dialog. When you specify item 0, it is interpreted to mean the end of the list, and that is what you would want in this case.