Top 10 Best Tips to Help You Remember More of What You Read

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By Cynthia Dalton

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go. — Dr. Seuss

Top 10 Best Reading Retention Tips from The Experts

All the information coming our way every day is nothing short of an embarrassment of riches. It’s exciting to live in times where just about any piece of information is at one’s finger tips almost instantly. We have access to books as never before, both digitally and in hard copy form. But sometimes these riches can also be overwhelming. We are required to read, digest, and remember more information than ever before. So, how do we remember what we’ve read? Here are 10 tips to get a handle on all we read.

1. Get Some Context

In their article, How to Remember What You Read, Farnam Street ( suggests:

A good place to start is by doing some preliminary research on the book. Some books – for example, A Confederacy of Dunces and The Palm Wine Drinkard – have a very different meaning once we know a bit about the life of the author. For older books, try to understand the historical context. For books written in an unfamiliar country, try to understand the cultural context. Some helpful questions to ask include:
  • Why did the author write this? (Did they have an agenda?)
  • What is their background?
  • What else have they written?
  • Where was it written?
  • What was the political, economic, and cultural situation at the time of writing?
  • Has the book been translated or reprinted?
  • Did any important events — a war, an economic depression, a change of leadership, the emergence of new technology — happen during the writing of the book?

    2. Have a Question at the Back of Your Mind Before You Read/Watch

    In his article for,The Only Way to Remember Everything You Have Read, Leon Ho advises:

    When you pick up a book or sit down to watch a movie, have a purpose in mind. If you don’t, your default mode will simply be to get to the end of the book or film. Have a question that you’d like to answer before you begin. For example, reading The Power of Habit without a purpose will not be very helpful. It will seem useless to anyone who isn’t ready to build a habit no matter how good the book is. On the other hand, if you think of a bad habit that you’d like to quit before you start reading, you can instantly connect what you’re reading with your own life. When you spot related chapters or ideas in books, find ways to connect them. Highlight them, write notes, or clip the sections that are related.

    3. Do Some Note-Taking

    In his article for,The Complete Guide to Remembering What You Read, Niklas Göke suggests:

    Note Taking. The question is not whether you should take them, but when. Two options come to mind:

    1. While reading… One thing that won’t block your flow and will be of huge benefit later, is highlighting… While reading, some sentences naturally feel more important than others. Phrases pop out, paragraphs demand: “Remember me! I’ll be important later.” Follow your gut. Be spontaneous. Let your subconscious do the work, your eyes point out the result and your fingers make the mark.

    2. After reading
    … Speaking of subconscious, while I’m sure you’re eager to take notes right after closing the last chapter, waiting for a few days until you extract a book’s lifeblood comes with a few advantages.

    The following… I found in Benedict Carey’s book, How We Learn… there’s the Zeigarnik effect, which is your brain’s tendency to remind you of things you’ve left unfinished. In learning, this means while you’re taking a break after a 4 hour hardcore math session, your subconscious keeps processing the last problem you got stuck on and the solution might come to you in the shower the next morning. Letting the impressions of a good book sit for some time holds them in your subconscious and makes later drawn conclusions stronger… the spacing effect rushes to your side, which indicates learning works better spaced out over time, rather than limited to a single event. Ever forget someone’s name right after they introduced themselves? That’s because mumbling it over and over again right away doesn’t help. It just makes your brain bored. Your brain needs breaks to remember things. Sending yourself a reminder with John’s name two days after you heard it the first time will be much more efficient. And so will leaving the book on the shelf… [also] this gives you the opportunity to explore other, topically similar books in the meantime

    4. Reflect Upon What You Have Read

    In her article for, Science Says This Is the Simplest Way to Remember More of What You Read, Wanda Thibodeaux advises reflecting upon what you have read:

    Whether it's Facebook content, Bill Gates' favorite book, or the latest critical business report, most of us enjoy reading or have to do quite a bit of it through the day. But in the rush to do everything in less time, you might be missing a crazily simple way to commit more content to memory: Just go back and give yourself a little time to reflect on what you just read. Now, when I say "reflect," I don't mean sit there pondering for an hour. I mean sitting just long enough to:
  • Mentally identify the main points or concepts
  • Jot down some notes (you can't write everything, so this forces your brain to choose what's most important)
  • Consider the ramifications or implications of the content
  • Think about how the content connects to your personal preferences, personality, and experiences
  • … when you give yourself a few minutes to rest and think about what you just ingested from the page, you're allowing your brain to better connect the new information to what you've already done or understand. And because the brain is wired to respond to emotions quickly and efficiently, connecting them to memory formation and the interpretation of facts and rational thought, if you can allow yourself to really acknowledge and respond to what you feel during your reading reflections, you stand a better chance of the new memories being more powerful and easier to retrieve.

    5. Train Your Brain with Impression, Association, and Repetition

    In his article for, Warren Buffett’s Best Kept Secret to Success: The Art of Reading, Remembering, and Retaining More Books, Kevan Lee shares 3 ways to remember what you read:

    A great place to start with book retention is with understanding some key ways our brain stores information. Here are three specific elements to consider:

    1. Impression

    2. Association

    3. Repetition

    Let’s say you read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of our favorites here at Buffer. You loved the information and want to remember as much as possible. Here’s how:

    Impression – Be impressed with the text. Stop and picture a scene in your mind, even adding elements like greatness, shock, or a cameo from yourself to make the impression stronger. If Dale Carnegie is explaining his distaste for criticism, picture yourself receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace and then spiking the Nobel Prize onto the dais. (Another trick with impression is to read an important passage out loud. For some of us, our sensitivity to information can be greater with sounds rather than visuals.)

    Association – Link the text to something you already know. This technique is used to great effect with memorization and the construction of memory palaces. In the case of Carnegie’s book, if there is a particular principle you wish to retain, think back to a time when you were part of a specific example involving the principle. Prior knowledge is a great way to build association.

    Repetition – The more you repeat, the more you remember. This can occur by literally re-reading a certain passage or in highlighting it or writing it down then returning to it again later.

    Practicing these three elements of remembering will help you get better and better. The more you work at it, the more you’ll remember.

    6. Think in Pictures

    In his article for, 8 Tips To Remember What You Read, Dr. Bill Klemm advises:

    A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it can certainly capture the essence of dozens of words. Moreover, pictures are much easier to memorize than words. Those memory wizards who put on stage shows owe their success (as do card counters in casinos) to use of gimmicks based on mental pictures. Ordinary readers can use to good effect the practice of making mental images of the meaning of text. The highlighted key words in text, for example, if used as a starting point for mental pictures, then become very useful for memorization. One only has to spot the key words and think of the associated mental images. Sometimes it helps to make mental images of headings and sub-heads. Pictures also become easier to remember when they are clustered into similar groups or when they are chained together to tell a story.

    Mental pictures are not the only way to facilitate memory for what you read. I understand that actors use another approach for memorizing their lines for a play, movie, or TV show. Actors “get into the part” and study the meaning of the script in depth, which seems to produce memory automatically for them. When the same script is memorized with mental images, it appears that the text is being looked at from the outside, as something to be memorized. Actors, on the other hand, appear to be looking at the same text from the inside, as something to be experienced. The actors probe the deep meaning of the text, which inevitably involves attending to the exact words. For example, they seem to explore why their character would use a given set of words to express a particular thought. This is still a process of association, except that actors are associating words with real meaning and context as opposed to contrived visual image meaning and context.

    Both approaches require engagement. The reader has to think hard about what is being read, and that is what helps you to remember what is read.

    7. Rehearse As You Go Along

    Dr. Klemm further suggests:

    Read in short segments (a few paragraphs to a few pages, depending on content density), all the while thinking about and paraphrasing the meaning of what is written.

    To rehearse what you are memorizing, see how many of the mental pictures you can reconstruct. Use headings and highlighted words if needed to help you reinforce the mental pictures. Rehearse the mental pictures every day or so for the first few days after reading.
    Think about the content in each segment in terms of how it satisfies the purpose for reading. Ask yourself questions about the content. “How does this information fit what I already know and don’t know? Why did the author say that? Do I understand what this means? What is the evidence? Do I agree with ideas or conclusions? Why or why not? What is the practical application?” How much of this do I need to memorize?” Apply the ideas to other situations and contexts. Generate ideas about the content.

    It also helps to focus on what is not said. To do that you also have to keep in working memory what was said. This not only helps memory, but you get the opportunity to gain creative insights about the subject. In short, thinking not only promotes memory formation but also understanding.

    8. Operate Within Your Attention Span

    Dr. Klemm also suggests:

    Paying attention is central to memorization. Trying to read when you can’t concentrate is wasting time. Since most people have short attention spans, they should not try to read dense material for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time. After such a session, they should take a break and quiz themselves on what they just read. Ultimately, readers should discipline their attention so they can concentrate for longer periods.

    9. Connect the Dots

    In the article, 3 Best Ways To Remember What You Read, advises:

    Connect the dots! Most “new” information is never truly new. It always relates to previous knowledge. With that in mind, each time you come across new information make sure you find ways it connects with things you already know. Making all those connections between existing and new knowledge helps your brain better process and understand new knowledge while making it easier for you to recall it when necessary. Of course, there will be times where entirely new knowledge is received, but it’s still possible to connect it with already-acquired knowledge. It’s just that the connections will be far-reaching and more imaginative than usual. Always look for the bigger picture. Information is never isolated, dry pieces of facts. They are always part of a bigger pool of knowledge. Concentrate and make the effort to see how everything new you learn will and can be associated with your existing knowledge.

    10. Transfer Your Notes

    In his article for, How to Remember Literally EVERYTHING You Ever Read, Sean Johnson discusses a tech approach:

    As soon as I finish a book, I open up Evernote. I have a notebook for books, and I create a new note for the book. I transfer all my highlights and annotations, noting the page number and whether it’s a principle, story or reference. I also have a second notebook for quotes. Any quotes I highlight I put in both the book’s note, and in their own note in my quotes notebook. I tag my quotes by theme so I can track them down later if necessary. Sounds tedious, but it typically takes less than 20 minutes. I’ve found that the act of typing my notes into Evernote dramatically increases the likelihood I remember the material later.

    These 10 tips are just the beginning. Be sure to checkout the entire articles cited here for more useful suggestions.

    You may also be interested in the following books:

    • How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, Revised Edition, by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren
    • How to Read Better & Faster, by N. Lewis
    • The Science of Self-Learning: How to Teach Yourself Anything, Learn More in Less Time, and Direct Your Own Education, by Peter Hollins

    In the meantime, happy reading!

    What do you think?

    • Do you experience difficulty retaining what you read?
    • Do you find it easy to retain new information?

    What additional strategies would you suggest for remembering new information?

    Do you have a question, comment or an idea for an article? Email: [email protected]

    Leave a comment!

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