How to remember what you read

Your life is probably too busy to allow you the luxury of reading and re-reading a multitude of times to make sure you understand and remember what you’re learning. And maybe for you, reading is slow, hard work and you find it frustratingly hard to remember what you’ve read.

So here are some tips to help you learn, understand and remember what you’ve read.

  1. Know why you’re reading. Don’t just sit down to read a chapter or a section. Read it to find something that applies to you, to learn about a theory, or to find out the best way to approach a task, for instance.
  2. Get a quick overview. Skim through the pages of what you’re about to read to check out the headings, illustrations, and key paragraphs and terms. Gaining this overall sense of the material primes your brain for learning and makes it easier to remember when you read the material through properly.
  3. Then read in depth.  Read for meaning, looking for full concepts, ideas and thoughts, rather than reading word-by-word.Read actively: relate the material to what you already know and to similar situations you’ve seen or experienced. Think about the practical applications of the material. Consider whether you agree with the material based on your own experience. Work out how what you’ve read applies to your own workplace.

    Every few paragraphs, stop and paraphrase what you’ve just read to make sure you understand it. If it helps, pretend you’re explaining the material to someone else; if you can’t explain it, you haven’t ‘got it’ yet.

    Every few pages, or every 10 or 15 minutes depending on your attention span, stop and quiz yourself on what you’ve read to make sure you understand it and can remember it.

  4. Toss the highlighter and take good notes instead. I’ve described good note-taking techniques in earlier blogs. Make sure your notes tie in with your reading goals (Step 1 above). You can make notes as you read, but it’s better to make them from memory just after you’ve read and then go back and check your notes against the text for accuracy, adding to them as necessary; that really makes the material stick. If you’re a visual learner, add drawings to your notes that represent key points or concepts.
  5. Think about what you’ve read immediately after reading it and soon after reading it. Think about it again every day for the next two or three days — while you’re brushing your teeth or showering, having a quiet walk or a cuppa — whatever works for you. Make that a a habit so you don’t have to remember to do it!

To find out more about this topic, check out this SharpBrains blog.