Mar 222012

Multiple-choice testing with CS Zika

Multiple-choice testing with CS Zika

CS Zika is another iOS app from Clavis Sinica (see also the review of CS Xiezi). This one is a multiple-choice-format vocabulary tester that supports simplified or traditional characters.

You can choose one of three largish sets of vocabulary: most common 300 characters, next most common 500 characters, and the 178 radicals. There are also fifteen 25-word lists of themed vocabulary available, such as countries, food, business terms, and academic subjects.

How the test works:

You are prompted with a character (or word) and first try to choose the correct pinyin. If you get the pinyin right, you then try to choose the correct definition. If you get the pinyin wrong, you are shown both the pinyin and the English, along with a list of words that include the character in question.

The feedback is very like that of CS Xiezi (see that review for an image). At the end of the test, the app shows how many characters were in the set, how many  you did (the total of the number in the set and the number of times you had to do over missed characters), and your final score as percentage. The app does not tell you the specific characters that you missed. Nor does it keep scores from previous sessions for tracking progress.

While the default is to test the first 25 cards in the set, you can choose to be tested on the the second 25 (25-50), the first 100 (1-100), or whatever, up to the size of the category. But there is no way to be tested on a number of random words. For example, you cannot have a test of 25 questions drawn from any of the 300 most common characters; you have to pick a specific range of 25. I don’t think that I have ever seen any similar app where you pick a test pool based on the listed order of the vocabulary items. Given that some of the sets are based on frequency, maybe you’re just meant to master the first 25 and go on to the next, but it’s a real nuisance to keep changing the settings and if you switch to another of the lists, you’re likely to forget where you were in the first. It’s a method of card selection that might best be described as primitive.

List of compounds formed from the character in question

List of compounds formed from the character in question


  • Having the pinyin and English tested in separate stages is great. Too many flashcard apps adapt the paper card model literally and only have a “front” and “back”. But I’d like to have a chance to pick the English, even if I get the pinyin wrong.
  • For each character, you can see a list of words formed from it or, when testing radicals, a list of characters formed from the radical. This is the best feature of the app, in my opinion, but the implementation is bewildering. You can actually see the list of compounds before you try to choose the correct pinyin. The compounds give away the pinyin definitely, and quite often the meaning as well. Why not make the list available only after you try to answer? Of course, you’d only be cheating yourself by looking, but the app could implement a penalty system so that taking a look at the compounds before you answer lowers your score.
  • The themed vocabulary lists are nice.


  • The app is not “smart”: it seems to do no tracking or adapting (it will not test you more often on things you get wrong). It also gives minimal feedback; you will see how many things you got wrong, but not what they were.
  • The test is one-way: you cannot choose to have pinyin or English as the prompt. So you can only test your recognition of Chinese, not your ability to produce it.
  • There is no way to browse the word lists. Note that, despite the name, the app is really analogous to a quiz or test, rather than flashcards.
  • There is no way to customize the word lists.

The app has a clean design and functions snappily, but as with CS Xiezi (again, see that review), the educational value seems lacking. If I really wanted to learn from this, I would have to keep track myself of what characters I miss as I go along, then take those characters and enter them into a good flashcard app (that uses the Leitner system or Spaced Repetition) so that I could actually study and learn them.

CS Zika – Chinese Flashcards is available on the CS Zika - Chinese Flashcards - Clavis Sinica.

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