5 Tips to Remember What You Learn Better

As a software developer you need to remember tremendous amount of information. This information is in the form of language syntax, object models, programming concepts, business domain concepts and more. Many of my training participants express their desire to remember what they learn in a better way but often fail to do so due to some or the other reason. While there can't be a single best way to remember things better here I give some tips that work for many developers.

Remember graphics not text

I explained elsewhere that human brain is not designed to remember textual information. If you look around in the nature there is no text, everything is graphics. Mountains, trees, roads, birds, people - everything is graphics. Human brain remembers audio, images and video in much better way than text. That's why we remember faces quite easily but not names. This is also the reason why most of the developers find reading books a boring activity. So, when you study something new try to learn it using visual inputs. This visual input can be in the form of a trainer teaching you something using whiteboard and on-screen demos or some video. When you remember things, try to represent them as graphics or images. For example, if you are learning how a particular design pattern works, convert the functioning of that pattern into an image and remember that image. That image need not follow any specific rules or restriction (for example you may represent a class with a circle as against a rectangle used typically) because it's for your own brain and not for anybody else. Choose symbols that are easier for you to remember and associate. You may use short tags and labels along with the symbols but your primary focus should be that image.

Prepare notes and cheat sheets

Many of the .NET books available today easily cross a page count of 1000-1500. Reading and remembering this much information is quite boring and monotonous job for human brain. Moreover referring a piece of information from such a huge compilation would be daunting task. So, while you are reading a book always make a habit of preparing notes and cheat sheets. The notes you prepare need not be elaborate ones. Make them "visual" as I explained earlier. More images and less text! If you are learning a new technology (say ASP.NET MVC for example) make cheat sheet that outlines important objects, methods, properties and concepts. While making notes and cheat sheets avoid using black and white colors. Use some other colors - blue, red, green, purple! This way the brain finds the information interesting and quickly absorbs it. Another trick that works while preparing notes is - associate new knowledge being learned with the concepts you already know. For example, associate MVC view with .aspx, Controller with code-behind and EF data model with DataSet (this is just to give you an idea). This association can be also with some real-world concept. For example, events can be associated with radio broadcasting. At the end of this exercise the information from the 1000 page book gets compressed into say, 30-50 sheets of paper.

Refresh what you learned often

Once you prepare notes and cheat sheets as mentioned above the next step is to refer them again and again. Don't just prepare them and keep them in your drawer. Keep them at such a place where you can easily go through them whenever you get time. Every time you refresh your understanding it gets embossed in your brain.

Try to express your understanding

A common complaint from developers is that they know things but still fail to answer questions during job interviews. This happens because they never try to express the knowledge in their own words. So somewhere in their brain knowledge exists as concepts, ideas and so on but it doesn't come out in concrete sentences. An easy way to overcome this difficulty is to do mock interview. Imagine that you are sitting in front of an interviewer and try to answer a question under consideration as clearly as possible. You may not be able to do this satisfactorily during the first round but every attempt will make your understanding more and more clear and accurate. During this process you also remember the concept in a much better way than before.

Take care of your health and diet

Human memory depends on many biological factors. The state of your body and mind play an important role in how efficiently you remember things. All of us have some time of the day where our grasping capacity is much better than the other times. Find out this setting of your body clock and try to learn new technologies during that time span. A relaxed mind can focus better and hence has better grasping than a tired and stressed mind. Learn meditation or any other yoga technique that helps you improve concentration. Before reading any book or online content ensure that you are relaxed and stress free. Even your diet plays an important role on your memory. Avoid food items that are difficult to digest (especially avoid tamasic food items). Drink enough water, take regular exercise in the form of walking, jogging, swimming or yoga.

Remember that putting all the above tips to use is a matter of regular practice. They won't work from day one. You will need to follow them on ongoing basis. But once they became a part of your learning process they benefit you beyond any doubt.


Bipin Joshi is an independent software consultant and trainer by profession specializing in Microsoft web development technologies. Having embraced the Yoga way of life he is also a yoga mentor, meditation teacher, and spiritual guide to his students. He is a prolific author and writes regularly about software development and yoga on his websites. He is programming, meditating, writing, and teaching for over 27 years. To read more about him go here. More details about his Kriya and Meditation online course are available here.

Posted On : 05 September 2013