How to remember everything when learning to code

One of the most common questions we hear from Codecademy learners is, how do I remember everything I’m learning? When you’re just starting to learn to code, it can feel a little overwhelming. But rest assured, you don’t have to memorize everything all at once.

8 tips for remembering everything you’re learning

We’ve put together eight learning tips to help you retain as much information as possible and learn quickly and easily.

1. Focus on understanding concepts and ideas

When it comes to learning spoken languages, you need to do more than just memorize the words. You need to understand how the language works in practice. Similarly, when you’re learning how to code you need to understand the overarching concepts and ideas — not just memorize the programming language.

The basic concepts and algorithms of all programming languages are important to understand so that you can make connections across your learning. Once you have a handle on those building blocks, you’ll not only know when to use them, but you’ll also be able to apply those concepts to multiple languages.

For example, if you memorized a standard “if … else” statement in JavaScript, but didn’t understand the overarching concept of conditional statements — or how or why to use them — it wouldn’t do you much good.

2. Apply what you’re learning

We may think we need to memorize code, but that’s not a natural way to learn things. Memorization alone doesn’t do the trick. Application of the new concepts you’re learning is key. It helps build connections in your brain, leading to muscle memory — a much easier way to remember and use new information and skills.

As we mentioned above, if it was easy to learn from memorization, we’d be able to pick up a new language by simply reading the dictionary. But we learn new languages by putting our skills into practice by working on projects. So, don’t get wrapped up in remembering all the language details. Focus on learning new ideas and putting them to use. This is when you start to see how all the concepts you’ve learned come together.

Have you ever struggled to figure out what went wrong in a project? Maybe you were working on a simple piece of code and it took you hours to find that missing semicolon or a capital letter was typed instead of a lowercase letter, throwing off your entire program. It’s those experiences that help you learn and get better — and once you’ve solved them you’ll have an advantage the next time you run into the same problem!

3. View other people’s code

Another way you can learn about how to apply code on different projects is by viewing other people’s projects and codebase. You can use websites like Google Chrome Development Tools and GitHub to view another developer’s projects and code.

By taking some time to see how other people approach a similar project, we can pick up how to apply the concepts and ideas we learned in new and exciting ways. You can download repositories from GitHub to view the code in your text editor and even use the code in one of your projects.

4. Find a community

Another method of increasing your knowledge is to be part of a community that will give you feedback on your projects. You can share your code and view feedback on other members’ code. Be open to feedback whether it’s good or bad because it’s all an opportunity to learn and improve. Don’t be afraid to give feedback on other people’s code too, because you can learn a great deal by understanding how someone else approaches a project.

Join the community in the Codecademy Forums to ask questions, discuss topics, and provide answers for others. You can also look for an existing Codecademy Chapter, or start your own, to connect with learners in your local area.

5. Know where to find answers to your questions

Searching for answers to your specific questions is another way to increase your retention. Just like we mentioned above, applying your knowledge will help form pathways in your brain to remember key concepts. You’ll never memorize everything, but you can always perform a quick search online.

There are a number of places you can go to search for answers and help online, starting with communities you’re a part of. Search the Codecademy Forums or, if a post on the topic doesn’t already exist, start a conversation.

You can also perform a search on Google to find answers. For example, you could type: html5 variable examples GitHub. Your search will then direct you to a trusted site (in this case GitHub) for your answers.

6. Compile good resources

When you come across a great resource in the searches you performed above or when you are learning new concepts, store them in a spot for safekeeping and easy access. You can have a file folder on your computer titled “Code Resources” where you can save all the PDFs and documents or repositories that have been most useful, or a collection of bookmarked links, articles, and blogs in your browser.

While you’ll be maximizing the amount of knowledge retention with these tips, you may need to refresh yourself on some concepts and ideas in the future. So, keep these files or links in a spot you can continue to come back to.

7. Take notes

You may have heard this in the past among other learning tips passed down by teachers and fellow learners. Taking notes helps you learn because it turns you from a passive listener into an active learner. When you’re taking notes, you’re focused on what you’re learning, and you won’t be as tempted to zone out or check your phone during a lesson.

Note-taking also helps you to clarify the concepts you’re learning and forces you to write down the most important concepts in your own words. The act of writing things down also helps you to remember things more easily.

8. Practice!

We saved the most important of the eight learning tips for last. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. We aren’t aiming for perfection, but if you commit to practicing your skills for just a few hours a week, you’ll be surprised by how much progress you’ll make.

If you take all these tips on your learning journey, you'll retain so much more, and you’ll enjoy the process. It’s way more fun to work on a project than to memorize code. And joining a supportive community that helps you improve is more enjoyable than doing it alone.

Remember, learning is a life-long journey, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself in the short term. Use these tips to retain as much as possible, but know that there will always be something new to learn. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back every time you solve a problem or successfully complete a project. You should be proud of all you’ve learned and accomplished.

Get more practice, more projects, and more guidance.

How to remember everything when learning to code
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