Remembering to forget

Oumaima Azzat
4 min readJun 27, 2021

how to instill the material you're learning long-term

Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

Memorizing patterns. In some cases learning from patterns could be useful, however are you really learning or just memorizing patterns you’ve seen before. This learning style could either be a pro or con to ones learning process. I am no stranger to learning from pattern and iteration. During my bootcamp I had a tendency of learning from pattern instead of learning the purpose of what I was coding. It took trial and error for me to realize what I was subconsciously doing. Was my code working because I fully understood the process or because thats what I saw in previous coding work and lessons.

Its such a sticky habit to get out of — especially when you're trying to keep your head above water in an intensive bootcamp *insert drowning emoji*. Don’t get me wrong, there are times where working from memory is beneficial and convenient. Say you’re learning how to salsa, there is a high chance that you’re learning from a memory of pattern and it works! You don’t necessarily have to know the background and origin of salsa dancing (it would be nice to though) but guess what you know how to salsa…. see the difference? Here are some tips and tricks to kick the the habit of pattern learning when it is not beneficial.

Interval learning. It sounds like an easy concept but sometimes we forget to take breaks and space out all the learning we’re doing. Humans tend to want to pack as much information as they can when they start learning. It’s only natural to want to gain as much knowledge as one can. However, how is your brain storing all of this new knowledge. Are you truly digesting all of this new content? Some of us are better at this than others. For those who are not, think about interval learning. Interval learning, also known as spaced repetition is one of the most powerful techniques in existence for improving your brains ability to recall what you study.

Allowing yourself to have timed intervals of learning improves the chances of your brain storing the information long term. Space things out. It’s such a simple technique that a lot of us tend to overlook. You are more likely to retain one new topic in one hour rather than three new topics in an hour. You are allowing yourself to dive deeper into these new topic which leads to a genuine understanding of what you are practicing, rather than executing from past patterns.

Active reiteration. We’ve all be told that practice makes perfect. There is no lie in that. Again, a simple technique that a lot of us may overlook. It’s natural to want to make it to the finish line with a lab, a code challenge, or any technical practice. Ask yourself though — “am I understanding or just understanding to pass?”. It’s common to study for something, just to forget it post-lab or challenge. This is where active reiteration is useful. Say your practicing a new concept and your code is working whether its your first attempt or sixth. Delete your code (seriously), and do it again. While your are recoding think more about the “Why?” — why are you doing what you’re doing? Why does that code work?

Questioning your actions throughout coding is a genuine way to engrain the material in your brain. This improves the chances of your brain being able to recall said information in the future. A fun tip for active reiteration is to code while explaining your code. Have a friend or family member present and let them watch, while you explain what you’re doing and why. Walking someone through your code can really solidify your understanding. This further allows you to reiterate while being purposeful of your work.

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

Self-awareness. One of the most important things I have learned so far throughout my programming journey is to remember to be present. It’s easy to get lost in the zone while programming. You’re googling, coding, checking stack overflow for possible solutions, the list goes on. Before you know it it’s been hours. It’s nice to check in with yourself. Ask yourself what you’ve learned and if it’s something you truly understand or not. You are looking out for your future self — whether it’s tomorrow or next week. A subject may arise that you remember covering briefly. Do you then code from memory and understanding or pattern and past solutions? This is where the practice of self awareness comes in. Be purposeful and intentional while you learn and practice. You’re more likely to retain content when you are mentally present.

Photo by Fab Lentz on Unsplash

It’s easy to think about a past solution and how it may work for a present problem. Pattern learning may be a good technique for salsa dancing. However, it may not be the most beneficial learning technique for programming. These tips are what guided me towards concept retention, when I was remembering just to forget. Allowing yourself to learn in intervals, while continuously practicing and reiterating your skills is a great formula for success.

“In the end we retain from our studies only that which we practically apply.” — Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe :)



Oumaima Azzat

Full Stack Software Engineering Student at Flatiron School