Because learning sometimes begins with some books, I believe knowing how to read a book is as important as knowing how to cross the street. Even if you try to read a certain number of books per week/month/year, Edgar Dale’s “learning pyramid” is “in your face” when it comes to reading: it’s a fact that after 2 weeks you remember only 10% of what you read obviously if you don’t use special techniques to prevent this disaster. In this article, I present several tips to memorize more of what you read, how you can read faster, which are the best reading times, and other helpful tips about how to retain information from a book and therefore improve reading retention.
Table of Contents:
- How to retain information from a book? Tips to memorize what you read and improve reading retention.
- Build your own table of contents in order to retain more information
- Keep a notebook and pencil/pen next to you to note what interests you and improve reading retention
- Ask yourself why are you reading this book and what exactly you want to memorize from what you read
- Explore the topic of the book using other materials
- Tell your friends about what you’re reading
- Make a plan to apply what you have read
- 10 useful tips to improve long-term reading retention and memorize what you read
- Which are the reasons why we forget most of the books we read?
- Mastering the Art of Speed Reading and Memory Retention
- How to read faster and retain more? 3 tips to improve your reading speed
How to retain information from a book? Tips to memorize what you read and improve reading retention.
Some time ago when I started freelancing I successfully tested some of Tim Ferris’ tools and Jim Quick’s tools and have been following them ever since. I decided to include in this article some of these helpful tips about how to memorize what you read and my own tested methods for reading a book for the purpose of learning from it, not just enjoying reading.
Build your own table of contents in order to retain more information
When you read a document, it’s easy to accept the structure provided by the author. It’s just that the author doesn’t know what your needs and expectations are for the book. This means you may not notice relevant information that doesn’t give a chapter its name, but instead notice details that don’t interest you.
An effective way to solve this problem is to create your own table of contents first. To do this, think about what topics you would expect to encounter, and what questions you want answered.
Also, write down the page number where you find quotes or phrases that make you think or seem relevant to you.
Always have something to write next to you when you start a book. Then, as you read, note at the beginning of the book the page number where you found something interesting. Bits or phrases or things you want to apply to your life, plus a short summary of what you learned. In this way, you basically build a parallel table of contents that contains things relevant to you.
If you are used to reading books online or on kindle the bookmark and notes features will be of use. If you read books on Google Play Book you can use also the bookmark feature to mark the important pages and highlight to “underline” each type of information that interests me. The coolest thing about Google Play Book is that it automatically creates a file in Google Drive with all the snippets I’ve colored and bookmarked. I can then download it, process it, turn it into PPT, etc. The more I read and process it, the better the information sits in long-term memory.
Keep a notebook and pencil/pen next to you to note what interests you and improve reading retention
In this way, you can easily jot down ideas that come to you when you read the book.
This method is not only useful if you want to make a personalized table of contents I mentioned earlier and you can’t because you have a borrowed book for example. The idea behind this method is to write down what comes into your head when you read the book. Do you have any ideas on how a particular concept you’re reading about could be applied? Write that idea down immediately, as clearly as possible.
If you jot down the ideas that come to you exactly when they occur, this will help you not to forget them and then to be able to remember them, and in this way you can memorize more of what you read. In addition, all the things you write down about the book (quotes, excerpts, ideas for further reading, summaries of chapters you’ve read) will be stored in one place and it will be easier for you to come back to them at a later date.
Still, why does it help to handwrite these things? Why not use a laptop or something similar?
Well, many neurological studies say that when we write something down on paper, the information sticks better in the brain. Writing will make us reread and structure the info in our heads. Basically, we repeat the same words twice.
Although I would love to write more by hand and I love diaries, and journals and I love paper, I decided to “move” to Google Keep. Where I write quickly using Swipe, make lists, and add links. It’s cooler and I remain nostalgic for handwriting, but it doesn’t currently fit my current lifestyle. I access these Keep files in the browser on my laptop and can process them more easily. They don’t stay in a notebook for eternity (and maybe even be forgotten). For a compromise, I recommend a Remarkable device.
Ask yourself why are you reading this book and what exactly you want to memorize from what you read
Before you start, ask yourself why you are reading the material. Are you reading it for a purpose, or just for pleasure? What do you want to leave with after reading it?
Once you know your purpose, you can examine the material to see whether or not it is what you are looking for.
For example, when you have a book in front of you, first look over the introduction, titles, and subtitles. The introduction is like a cover letter where the author tells you what the main theme of the book is, while the headings give you an overview of the information and how it is structured.
Then ask yourself if this book meets your needs, and if the answer is no, then there’s no point wasting your time reading it.
If you aren’t really interested in the subject but really need to read that specific book then there are some solutions. Once you have identified the basic idea of the chapter, read on wondering what the author is trying to say. In this way, your brain automatically filters out the essential information from the ‘filler’. Also, another way is to read with the intention of later explaining to someone else.
Explore the topic of the book using other materials
Just as if you throw a bowl of spaghetti into a tree, some spaghetti will stay on the branches. So too if you read as much as you can about a topic you’ll still get something.
This approach works best when you read about subjects you’re passionate about. Why? Because it’s easier to get absorbed in the information in that book and want to learn more.
For example, if you’re reading a book about solving a murder mystery you might search the web to see if the murder has any similarities to a real-life event. Or you could look up a biography of the author to see what sources he had when writing the book. If you end up looking hard enough, you might even find some forums with people discussing theories you haven’t thought of or details about the story that you haven’t noticed.
Once you apply this approach to a few books that deal with topics you’re passionate about, you can apply the approach to books whose subject matter you think might not be relevant to you. You already have your “muscles trained” and it won’t seem like too much effort.
If you also read books that don’t deal with topics in your “comfort zone”, you will find it easier to contextualize what you read. You could draw parallels and comparisons between the two topics. For example, for “50 Shades of Grey” you can read the first volume. Although I thought it was poorly written, I realized why it appealed to the audience. I started scouring the net and discovered the author’s experience as a TV man, wife, etc. This experience has put her in the perfect position to write such a book. What’s more, I discovered on a bookworm forum where it all began: with Twilight.
Tell your friends about what you’re reading
When you explain to others what the book you’re reading is about, you’re basically synthesizing the information in the book for yourself. This technique helps you cement the information more easily into your memory.
According to the learning pyramid, people retain 90% of the information when they explain it to other people. To help you better memorize or retain what you read, one idea is to tell your friends about it. Keep them up to date with the subject of the books you read. Give them a short summary, explain your theories, etc. In the end, not only will you understand what you read better, but you will also retain more information from what you read.
Don’t have friends who would be interested to hear about what you’ve read? Or don’t you have any friends left after telling them over and over about what you read? In that case, you could tell your own stories to make it easier to retain information. All you have to do is create a mini summary of the book and the ideas you found interesting.
Make a plan to apply what you have read
Use what you read to create an impact in your life that will help you move forward.
If, in your personalized table of contents, you have decided to put notes and ideas that may be relevant to you if you apply them to your life, now is the time to get to work.
Are you reading a personal development book and want to form a new habit of getting up at 5 am? Think of a series of steps you could apply to your life. Then apply, reflect, internalize, adjust, etc. These are all steps in self-directed learning.
Are you reading a fiction book and would you like to write a text/paint/compose a piece about a character, action, or place in the book? Now is the time to think about what steps you need to take to make these things happen. Then put them into action!
I, for example, I’m creating games, and experiments, exploring different behaviors in the short term so I can decide what to internalize and keep in my life from what I’ve read. It’s a long way from reading a book to living it. Same with movies. I once tested Harvey’s communication and problem-solving style from Suits for a weekend at a conference I was organizing. It was an interesting experience from which I learned that “a seemingly aggressive woman” can have a lot to lose, but also a lot to gain.
10 useful tips to improve long-term reading retention and memorize what you read
- Use multiple content formats (text, video, audio, sensory) and multiple sources of material for learning the same topic;
- If you want to memorize what you read then summarise what you have learned: write a page, make a list, an outline, or a graph of what you have learned;
- Repeat the information after you have learned it, without any supporting material;
- Make a plan and apply what you learn as early as possible;
- Rest. One of the roles of sleep is to help the brain store information for the long term;
- Return to the information frequently, at certain intervals (a week, a month, 3 months, etc.);
- Explain the information to someone else in writing, orally, or in a presentation form;
- Discuss topics learned with someone with more experience and knowledge in the field;
- Document related and in-depth information about what you want to learn;
- Test your knowledge after a period of time without any help. Then check your results and learn from your mistakes.
Also, knowing why we don’t remember books we have read in the past can be of use therefore:
Which are the reasons why we forget most of the books we read?
The forgetting curve is very steep in the first 24 hours after you learn something. The percentage of things you forget varies. If you don’t read the same things again, many of them disappear from your memory after the first day, and more and more in the following days, leaving only a fraction of what you originally read or learned.
Perhaps the mechanism of memory has always been the same. Jared Horvath, a researcher at the University of Melbourne, says the way people consume information and entertainment has changed the kind of memory we value. Specifically, it’s not the memory that helps you remember the action in a movie you saw six months ago. In the age of the internet, the ability to access information in the mind spontaneously has become less necessary. As long as you know where that information is and how to access it, then you don’t have to remember it.
Research has shown that the internet functions as a kind of external memory. When people expect to have access to information in the future, they remember less of the information itself, according to one study. Even before the internet existed, entertainment products were used as external memories. You don’t have to remember a quote from a book if you can look it up. Once videotapes came along, people could rewatch a movie or show with ease. There is no longer the feeling that you will lose the information forever if you don’t remember it. The Internet has reduced the desire to remember cultural information, but even before that, there wasn’t much emphasis on memory.
It’s true that people often load their memory with more things than they should. Horvath and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne found that people who watched many episodes in a week forgot their content faster than people who watched just one episode a week. The same is true of reading, which is why we forget most of the books we read. People most often read different things on the internet to get information. Information that has no chance of sticking in the memory if not put into practice. It’s more of a momentary experience that makes you feel like you’ve learned something.
There are also other issues that may appear and that can cause poor retention of information:
- Lack of proper sleep
- Mental fatigue and exhaustion
- Lack of interest in the subject
- Lack of purpose
- Attention deficit
- Reading in the wrong moment – if we are in a hurry and don’t have time but want to read a specific number of pages, then just stop. Don’t do this as you will not actually be with your mind at the specific book but elsewhere
- Our mind is wondering a lot therefore we aren’t fully present – here practicing mindfulness techniques can help
Therefore if you choose to integrate some of the points I have previously presented you will have a better chance to memorize more from what you read.
Mastering the Art of Speed Reading and Memory Retention
In an era where time is scarce and the demand for knowledge is boundless, the ability to remember what you read is paramount. To truly absorb the wisdom within the pages of a book, one must pay attention not only to the words on the page but also to the way they are processed in the mind.
Atomic Habits author, James Clear, advocates for cultivating a reading habit as a powerful life-transforming ritual. Speed reading can be a game-changer, enabling you to breeze through more books in less time. A research study conducted by Nassim Taleb revealed that dedicating time to read, even if it’s just a few pages a day, can drastically improve memory retention.
The key to reading more books lies in optimizing your reading session. Start by improving the quality of your attention span. Websites like Farnam Street suggest engaging in a reading comprehension technique that involves creating an impression association and repetition of key points. This technique, akin to sketching mental maps on a blank sheet, can substantially enhance your understanding and memory of what you read.
While it may seem daunting to devote a lot of time to reading, the dividends it pays in terms of knowledge and personal growth are immeasurable. By embracing speed reading techniques and refining your reading habit, you can unlock a world of knowledge while remembering it for years to come.
How to read faster and retain more? 3 tips to improve your reading speed
1. Think FAST
Fast means Forget, Active, State, and Teach.
Forget: When reading, we need to focus on reading and minimize distractions. We also need to go beyond our limitations (like “Oh I’m not a fast reader”).
Active: We should read with energy, purpose, and involvement. To increase our reading speed, we need to practice daily, just like going to the gym, and really mean it.
State (emotion): The fastest learners are children. That’s because they learn with excitement, curiosity, and interest. Therefore, we need to bring ourselves to a state of excitement, wonder, and interest in order to learn faster and better. Our emotional state matters a lot. If we are afraid, anxious, tired, so in a poor disposition, then this can influence also how much we memorize from what we read.
Teach: When you learn with the intention of teaching, you pay more careful attention. We structure better the information in our heads. When we teach, you get to clarify our understanding.
2. Use a Visual Pacer
You can use either a pen or your index finger. Have you ever noticed how children naturally use their index finger to follow along with the words on a page when they first learn to read? It’s a great tip to use because it helps our eyes focus better and not get lost on the page. If we get lost, we end up having to go back and re-read things, which greatly slows down our reading speed.
Here are a couple of tips about how to use visual pacers:
- Instead of bending your index finger along the page, move your whole arm. That’s less tiring.
- Don’t bend your body down to read a book. Instead, choose to sit upright and tilt the book so you can have a better posture. When you sit upright, your lungs can open, so you can breathe better and be more focused.
3. Never read aloud if you want to read faster and memorize more of what you read
Don’t sub-vocalize! You are wasting valuable time with this, i.e. the brain is wasting time because sub-vocalization activates another area of the brain associated with speech, the Broca area. If you don’t sub-vocalize, only the Wernicke’s area of the brain responsible for comprehension will be activated. Basically, if you don’t sub-vocalize your brain will work faster, be more rested and you will retain and understand more information.
Courses that will help you increase your personal development level: