Making Python Stick in Your Brain Using the "Chunking" Method to Remember Built-Ins

From finishing the popular Coursera class on “Learning How To Learn,” my biggest take-away was that you can really only keep six or seven things in mind at once. After that, the brain starts to struggle and make a lot of mistakes. There is plenty of research to back up this idea, but I think anybody who’s tried to remember a grocery list knows this is true.

Balancing out this limitation, however, is the brain’s ability to deeply nest data. For example, you can divide your relatives into your mother’s side and your father’s side. Then you can further divide into individual family units, e.g. “The Greenbaums.” Finally, you can name everybody in each of these families. Proceeding like this, chunk by chunk, you can easily and reliably recall dozens of names. Now contrast this exercise with trying to name your entire extended family in random order.

The idea is that by dividing information into nested, meaningful “chunks,” we can navigate the data at any level of granularity we need. We never need to think about more than seven items at a time. In this last case of family, the structure came naturally. However, to be smart about memorizing, you can actively reorganize information into nested chunks like this.

While programmers often deride memorization, there are spots where it can help you improve a lot. One area is memorizing built-in methods for things like dictionaries and lists. Having to stop to look these up throughout the day can slow you down a lot in aggregate. Can we apply the same chunking technique to help memorize these methods? It’s certainly tougher with things this abstract, but I’ve given it a shot. At least personally, I think the organization scheme I came up with sticks in my brain much better than the long, flat list of method names in the documentation. Your milage may vary!