How to teach and not to forget. Good advice from the Basil plant

Как учить и не забывать. Дельные советы от Василия Шинкоренко

It-entrepreneur Basil plant has shared in his blog a method of learning and memorizing information. The approach, he said, is universal. You can apply it to any subject or sphere of activity from programming to Economics. Published a compressed translation of the article.

First of all

Set a time frame, take breaks and learn what is interesting for you.

Classes need to limit goals, and on time. Goals such as “read x number of pages today” are doomed to failure because they are based on the wrong motivation. When a person plans to read N pages before lunch, then inevitably begins to adjust the process under this goal, focusing on speed and not on understanding. The insights do not come and read to remember to be very tight.

It is important not to overwork and rest. I do 3 hours a day and every half-hour doing 5-minute breaks. A pause is needed in order to let go of thoughts in the “free swimming”, to strengthen more neural connections and to physically stretch.

As for the material, I learn what is interesting to me. First, life is too short to do something you don’t like. And secondly, when I teach what I like, Wake up in me the curiosity and excitement. And curiosity is very important if you want to purchase the versatile and profound knowledge and to master something.

For example, if you learn JavaScript, and burn it, then go to Google, even those topics which you have in the tutorial — simply because you are curious. Otherwise, you’ll just bone tutorial, and knowledge will be rather superficial.


How do I build classes

Free working memory, use metacognition, and ask a lot of questions to better understand what they read

When I study in front of me on the table are always two of the gadget: right — a laptop, which is open the material under study (book, article, video) and the iPad with a text editor.

Study in the morning.

Before each class, I put the timer on 30 minutes and three Drafts to create a file:

  1. the file for random thoughts (top mark time)
  2. file for thought on the subject (also mark time)
  3. a file with the questions.

The first file is needed in order to unload the head. As soon as I sit down to study, the brain immediately begins to generate a whole slew of thoughts, ideas, plans, memories. I suspect the whole thing in an associative memory, and their triggered random words and sentences from the text that have special meaning to me.

The problem is that I can’t focus until you write down any thoughts and plans, because they overwhelm the working memory. The brain works with such a speed that it impossible to concentrate. The first file helps 1) to free up working memory and focus on the subject and 2) to record these ideas to return to later.

The second file for notes about what I was studying. This is called metacognition (metacognition), or the ability to think about their thinking. This thing is the coolest thing that I’ve ever faced, helps to improve understanding. When I something is not clear or understandable very superficially, I start writing in the first person something like: “Here Peter says that monopolies 4 traits, but I don’t understand why it relates to branding. So why?”

I must say that I do not write sentences/paragraphs, and begin each thought with a new line. Even point did not. It helps me to focus on understanding, not on design and typos, and better articulate ideas. Another important point: in my gametocyte is text only — no colors, underlines, bold, italics and the here this here just to not deal with choice of the font for the title and get to the core. Moreover, it is much faster than any multipurpose text editor that is simply priceless when you need to catch the thought by the tail.

So I taught React.js.

To write a lot: one hour classes in this file comes from a 500 to a thousand words. But each letter is worth it because:

  • When I use metacognition, I realize it’s much better than when do not. And at least twice as much information can remember later on and to apply in practice compared to other techniques of training — and I have tried many different. Here and here there are studies about metacognition.
  • This allows you to clear the memory. The head is not so strained, as it usually happens, when you read a lot of articles in a row and starts to boil the brain. This is because you absorb too much information, not really comprehending her. “Sit” a few months on the metacognitive approach, I just can’t abandon them. Unnecessary cognitive overload me to anything.
  • Metacognition improves the ability to remember new due to the formation of connections between old and new information (elaboration) and interleaving (interleaving), or alternating the practice of teaching. When I record my thoughts in a file, they themselves impose on other facts on the subject — Hello, associative memory. It also contributes to the mastery of the material.
  • I think with metacognition I have become better able to Express vague thoughts in the exact words and phrases that I write down and later analyze.

And I type 2-3 times faster than most people because I use shortcuts.

The third file, with the questions. Whenever I encounter something incomprehensible, then try to break that something into a series of simple questions. Each of them solves a small piece of the problem. If the subject is too difficult, I “attack” him with questions from many different points of view to decompose into smaller parts.

Each new session I start file the questionnaire with the previous one. Before you take on something new, read and respond to old questions. Sounds boring, but actually very fun to explain something out loud. Answering the questions, you will better understand what they read, and in my head formed more associations. Incidentally, this is also one way of learning — and perhaps the most effective.

I will not dwell on the questions about them I wrote great Michael Nielsen here.

After class

Write a detailed summary, provoke more associations, use the technique of interleaving, apply knowledge in practice and decide what you want to remember forever.

So, at the end of classes I have three completed file and I am getting small results.

First, I make a brief — 3-5 sentences — a summary of what you have learned. The laptop is closed. Because if not peeking at the text, then you write only the essence investigated, but the memory will remain a small “anchor”, which then will help you remember what was the whole book.

Summary classes React.js.

Very often I write in the abstract is not what the text was, and what he means to me. Therefore, if two people will make a summary of the same material, it will be two completely different summary.

Then I write down the answers to three questions.

  1. What are the main ideas?
  2. How can I apply studied?
  3. Like new fit in with what I already know?

The first point speaks for itself. I try to recall what they have learned and to write as much as possible the main facts. When I started to use metacognition, I noticed that I was able to remember 3 times more than before.

The second question is about the use is studied in practice (transfer). This is the true goal of education, otherwise the acquired knowledge useless. But you can use them, they should come to me as soon as you need to. The answer to this question helps to understand how to apply what is learned. And usually adds new tasks to the to-do list.

The third question forces you to consider how the knowledge fits in with your background. The point is that when you answer it, you have not only formed new connections, but also improves long-term memory, since you vspominaete something already known, what new information is correlated. But still develops creative thinking, because you generate new ideas.

Then I take these three files and fill in the application Anki. This is a program for memorizing information by means of interval repetitions (spaced repetition). Works simple: create a card with the new information, and the system periodically throws them to you for verification. If recalled, the card is postponed to a later date. You can be sure this app will make you remember everything you upload. And also think about what you would like to remember forever.

Details about Anki here.

Between classes

Tell your friends about the fact that you are studying, use the interval repetition and foster a habit of daily study to repeat.

Tell your friends about what you learn

When I learn something cool, I always want to share it with your friends. When you explain something to other people, it becomes immediately clear whether you learned it or just memorized the words. Sometimes I just write them messages or discuss things in private conversations.

Interval repetition

Another method, which helps to remember better, is the self — test. Few people like checks, because they are often associated with tests in schools. But in fact they are very useful and can be fun if you do them correctly. I’m learning with checks; during reading ask questions and try to guess the answer even before I read it.

In every spare moment between classes I check myself on Anki. For example, while standing in line at the store. And it seems to me that I use a lot of interval repetitions and the metacognition during the working day.

About spaced repetition could be found in the articles by Michael Nielsen on long-term memory and on the website Guarna Branwen.

Daily repetition

Another terribly useful habit every day to remember studied. That’s the first thing I do every day, waking up in the morning and the last before going to bed.

It works as follows.

In the evening I create the new Drafts file and ask yourself, “What do I remember from the previous day?” The first thirty seconds or does not occur anything from the word “quite”, but after a few moments I remember more and more. Now, after several months of hard training, I can remember about 90-95% of the facts that learned the day, whether they are about the work of some of the components of the JavaScript features of monopolistic companies, or why combined practice improves memory. I would venture to suggest that through the process of remembering information twice daily the mind learns better to accept it and it is better deposited in the memory.

If you think it’s a waste of time, I will say this.

Very often what people call creativity and intelligence, is nothing like the memory. If you think that is possible at any moment to take to Google something it is not. The thought process is incomparably faster than googling and having received and when you think about something or solve an important problem, your knowledge base needs to be ready instantly. In addition, the most original thoughts and ideas come not while studying, and in the soul, in nature, when you look at the stars or walk around the city. When you can’t Google. In the long run the little 10-minute habit to reproduce in memory the information is fully justified.


Use a mixed practice.

As for practice, it should be mixed (mixed practice). Its essence is that the synthesis exercise should go at the end of the book, and not at the end of each Chapter. In block practice (blocked practice), when, after a Chapter on subject X is immediately followed by exercises on the same topic X and that one makes less cognitive effort. In one experiment, medical students, training which used a mixed practice, showed a 50% higher results in the task of diagnosis.

Example: mixed practice in learning programming

Unfortunately, most schools and platforms for programming don’t bother to cognitive science. And all make the same mistake: on the left give the theory, and the right exercises. This is worse than block practice, because in this case something is forgotten and that “something” must be removed from short-term memory. Most sites for learning programming is banal it is necessary to reprint the code in the left box to the right. And took enormous willpower not to peep into the sample.

I try to use mixed practices and interleaving — connect different ideas or methods of solving problems. For example, if the task is to write a sorted array of numbers in JavaScript, it is expected that you just write sort. I first create a function that takes an array and returns the sorted and then another one sorted in reverse order, then create a multidimensional array and write a function for sorting. In this case use all the ways to sort what I can remember. Or create an array of words or letters and are sorted alphabetically. Well, you understand.

And Yes, it takes a lot of time. But the benefit of this is certainly not less than from watching tutorials.


To find the best study material each day, review at one book on Amazon.

How you learn is important. But equally important, the source from which to draw knowledge. I think most people in the totally wrong approach to choosing books.

Although it’s very simple: I want to find the best — have a lot to try and choose.

There are two reasons why you should not rely on the bestseller lists of the New York Times. First, because they are bestsellers, so read them all. And if you read what I read all it and think you will as well as everything. Second, because the value of books is subjective. The same text can turn my world will not mean anything to you, and Vice versa.

So I have trained myself to read one book a day.

  1. I go on Amazon and pick a few that interest me in books. It usually recommendations of wise people that I trust. If a book advises a lot of respected people, it is unlikely this kind of garbage.
  2. Download fragments of all of these books. I think trial pieces — one of the most underrated things in the world. They are free and there are almost all books. And downloading books from the library of Project Gutenberg — they have an amazing free collection of almost all the old books that really deserve attention.
  3. In the Kindle app I have a folder of books I want to read. Into all the fragments.
  4. Every day at 15:00 I’m doing an hour — walk 10 minutes to the cafe, order a Cup of coffee. Take only the phone and the tablet leave the house.
  5. Open the first fragment from the folder and begin to read. In the Drafts on the smartphone create a new note with the title of the book you are viewing. Usually start with the annotations to understand what the book is about, write a couple of sentences trying to guess what will happen next. Turn to the contents and looking for something that will hook the eye. Then turn on the link and begin to read. If nothing is caught, it’s not the book itself. Everything not read only the first sentences of paragraphs, and then scan the rest of the text. It may seem that at a cursory reading, many do not understand. So. But my goal now is to awaken curiosity.
  6. I have enough for 10-15 minutes to know whether to read the book. If there is any doubt, feel free to delete the fragment.
  7. If the book is worthy, then buy. If you are not sure, delete the folder and forget about it.
  8. Do this every day.

Thus, for the year I’m reviewing 365 books. Two of them will change my life, ten will be very interesting, ten — a little less interesting. The remaining 94% is garbage.

If I didn’t have this habit, if I read books from cover to cover, I would randomly chose about 20 books out of 365 with minimal confidence that they will be suitable. I have done so over the years. So could please take 5-10 minutes a day to find quality material, because studying — both with the food: you are what you consume.

Another point is that this habit is tied to a specific action. Binding to the trigger is very helpful to cultivate a new habit because you won’t forget about them like you are with me often. Do not rely on memory and habit bind to some action, which you anyway will do, such as take a shower, brush your teeth or to eat Breakfast.

And reward yourself for completing actions that must become a habit. For example, buy a coffee or take a walk. About the award the people do not forget so you will have more chance to remember and about the habit.

About the habits I recommend to read this book.

This habit

Limit the duration of employment, start small and repeat daily.

I started with 10 minutes a day. A little, but that’s the whole point. If you attach this habit to another regular action, such as take a shower after work, then everything is very easy.

Interestingly, when I artificially set a time frame for new habits, just due to time constraints, I wanted to do this even more. The brain sought to make maximum use of those 10 minutes, because I knew that another opportunity to study at this day I will not — and learn I wanted very much.

Never procrastinate. If you do not have time to learn in the morning, no need to spend time on it tonight. Because in this case, your brain is an excuse to relax, each time more and more, and off from school. Do not relax.


  • It is very helpful to eliminate anything that can distract you from the gadget with which you learn. I deleted from my iPad all instant messengers, social networks, e-mail services. This greatly simplified my life, still don’t understand why didn’t do this sooner.
  • Create a calm environment. Before sitting down to study, I put the room phone to no desire to draw it to him because he caught my eye. It saved me a lot of time and effort. And it concerns not only studying: the same approach I use in work. When I sit down to work, all to an outsider (including the wife) stays at the door.
  • Metacognition is applicable not only to studies. If I write code or think up some processes, I work much easier and more fun when I realize that actually doing now, not just banging on the keyboard.
  • If I do not understand some material, I sketch. In the process of drawing you decompose complex things into simpler parts.
  • When I planned the process of learning something new, then have no fear. Because I knew exactly what to learn, and it’s only a matter of time. It gave me the courage to take on bold projects, which I used to think I did not dare.


This applies to articles or videos?

This method of learning is applicable to anything. Provided that you read the article to understand it and then to use the acquired knowledge. If you read science fiction or the media, that is probably overkill.

How long does it take to fit in this method of study?

Less than it seems to start to apply it and see the effect. But much more in order to master them. I’m still learning.

This teaching method is applicable to programming?

Of course. I came up with it in order to learn to program. Email me at I have many other tips for those who are learning to code.

Is it possible to use this method if I don’t have a second gadget, if you read from a smartphone or a paper book?

Yes. I tried to learn and in this format — one device, it is also quite effective. For metacognition it is better to learn with two, but one device is better concentration. If the smartphone collapse Kindle and open somatocyst, read will have to restore from memory, and not written off from the books. It turns out that it would be more to train short-term memory.

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