My retention rate is something like 95-98% for characters and 83-88% for words. I don’t worry too much about progress or getting things wrong, and just try to keep practising consistently each day. I’ll often get a relatively easy word wrong, but it soon gets scheduled out again if I really know it.
Same with leeches - I have some words I’ve spent 15 minutes on with <50% success, but if they come up I can normally get them scheduled out a few weeks later pretty quickly, even if I end up practising 5 times an hour until I get it. If a few weeks later I’m still having trouble, I just trust in the scheduling and keep going.
Half an hour a day is around what it takes for me to keep my queue flat, like you if I do an hour I can pick up new words. If you’re consistent each day you’ll see which way the numbers are going, so you’ll know that eventually you will pick up new words again. This might be enough to prevent demoralisation. I had a period of six months ending earlier this year where I was just slowly reducing the queue without getting to zero.
For some words or characters I get them confused easily. Sometimes this is just the language not always being clear, other times it’s me not really being clear on the meanings of the underlying characters. Doing a little bit of reading around the characters, looking at example sentences in a dictionary, cross-checking whatever you’re getting confused against can help build up the underlying knowledge.
Sometimes the definitions in Skritter are not as clear as they could be. It helped me a lot when I started reading a bit about which characters where variants of others and updated Skritter definitions to make this clear. For example, marking 帐单 as a variant of 账单 in the definition immediately improved my retention.
I found pts’s comments in the old forum useful here: http://beta.skritter.cn/forum/topic?id=90571003 . He suggests thinking carefully about each individual character to ensure you’re really clear about the meaning.
I have never banned words except ones that were incorrect in the Skritter database or really rare to the extent I didn’t think I’d use them. I stopped adding the tail end of some of the lists where you start seeing very rare characters, some of which don’t even have definitions in Skritter. My long term goal is to have a similar level of vocabulary as say a typical graduate in China might do, so I just add words that fit in with that goal.
I have recently upped study time from 30 minutes a day to closer to 60 minutes a day in order to add words in the quick add list from the Zhongwen Chrome browser plugin. I’m working down a list of around 3,000+ words that I’ve encountered in reading online. I think partly because of having seen them in context, a lot of these are relatively easy to remember. So I don’t really agree that the more you learn the more you have to study.
If you do add a lot of words in a short period, it can cause a bump in your reviews that can take a long time to clear. Same if you reduce your study time. But I’m finding that I can add a 100 words every few days without much trouble, mostly because a lot of them are characters I already know, or words I’m fairly familiar with already. The more words and characters you know, the easier it is to add new ones as they tend to be similar to something you know already. I prefer a low retention rate because it allows me to add new words and characters quicker, which often supports understanding of those you already know.
Personally I’m happy just studying on Skritter, but when I reach my daily targets I like to study in a different way as well. At the moment that generally means conversation practice or reading, and over time I’d like to introduce more writing and listening. Variety helps keep things interesting and provides context and a gauge of progress over time.
I mostly study simplified, but did switch to traditional and simplified for a while. I decided I was OK just being able to read traditional and not write it, so went back to just simplified. There are a couple of lists of characters which are variant in simplified versus traditional which are what I would use to switch. It shouldn’t take too long to switch I don’t think. I didn’t like studying both at once as there’s not much point studying 语言 and 語言 type of variants.
I never tried starting again from scratch - I didn’t really see the advantage of throwing away existing scheduling data. I would personally just switch to simplified and take advantage of the characters you already know.
Finally the main secret I have found is the more time you put in the more you learn. There’s not really much way around that. If you’re going to learn 5,000+ characters and 20,000+ words, it will take a while. Say four minutes a word for 20k words and that’s >1,300 hours. At 30 minutes a day that’s around 7 or 8 years.