How to remember everything you read using a memory reading habit

Plenty of people admit to forgetting most of what they read, no matter how much they enjoyed the text.

But just because forgetting is a human phenomenon doesn’t mean you should simply accept it. In fact, there are plenty of simple, creative strategies for retaining more of what you read — whether that’s novels, news articles, or scientific textbooks. 

To find out what some of those techniques are, we perused the Quora thread, “How do you remember what you’ve just read?” and scoured the web for advice from other readers.

Below are ten of the most practical techniques — bonus points if you can remember all of them tomorrow.

1. Become familiar with the topic.

Blogger Ryan Battles recommends gaining some background knowledge before you dive into a particular text.

“The more you understand about a particular subject,” he writes, “the more ‘hooks’ keep the facts in there.” That’s because you’re able to make more associations between the new information and what you already know.

You can even start by reading a Wikipedia article on the subject as preparation.

2. Skim the text first.

An anonymous user cites an article by Bill Klemm, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience, which highlights skimming as a key strategy for retaining information.

The idea here isn’t to skip the whole reading process. Instead, you’ll want to skim the text for important topics and keywords beforehand so you know what to expect when you actually dig into the material. Being familiar with the general themes, Klemm says, will help you remember the particulars. 

3. Take notes on the page.

“Never read without a pencil,” says Quora user Deniz Ateş. “Underline sentences you find confusing, interesting, or important. Draw lines along the side of important paragraphs. Draw diagrams to see the structure of key ideas.”

4. Read out loud. 

Another anonymous Quora user says, “I actually have to read out loud to myself most of the time to understand and remember what I just read.” 

Writing in Psychology Today, psychologist Art Markman, Ph.D., says this strategy might work best when there are a few key items you need to remember. That’s because the sentences you speak (or even whisper) out loud take on a distinctiveness. You remember producing and hearing the items and so your memory for them is different from the memory of the words you read silently.

girl thinking

Make associations between the information you’re reading and facts you already know.

Francisco Osorio/Flickr

5. Ask yourself questions about the material.

Ingrid Spielman recommends interacting with the text by asking yourself questions as you go along. 

If you’re reading a textbook, the question can be as simple as, “What is the main idea of this section?”

If you’re reading fiction, you can ask, “What are the motives of the character?” and “If you could rewrite this reading, what would your version be like?” 

6. Impress, associate, repeat

Stack Exchange user TRdH says that memory is a three-pronged process. (His answer was reproduced on Lifehacker.)

The first part is impression. You can increase the strength of the impression the text makes on you by picturing the situation in your mind or envisioning yourself participating in the events described. 

The second part is association, or linking the material to something you already know. For example, maybe one of the character’s names sounds like your friend’s name. 

The third part is repetition. The more you read the material, the stronger your memory will be. If you don’t want to reread a whole book, try highlighting some parts of the text that you can go back to. 

An “extra credit” step drawn from previous BI coverage is recall. Forcing yourself to recall information you’ve read, outside of when you have the book in your hands, acts as a self-check. If there’s a gap in your memory, you’ll uncover it here. 

women reading on kindle

Research suggests reading on Kindle, instead of on paper, hurts your ability to remember a story’s plot.

Flickr/Rich Mitchell

7. Read on paper.

E-readers are convenient tools for when you want to bring a ton of books on vacation and for downloading stories in an instant.

But research suggests that they could also undermine the strength of your memories. One study found that, when people read the same short story in a paperback or on a Kindle, the paperback readers were better able to remember the story’s chronology.

Lead study author Anne Mangen, Ph.D., says that’s possibly because the piles of pages in your hands creates a “tactile sense of progress” that you don’t get from a Kindle. (Of course, it’s possible that people who are more accustomed to reading online may not have this problem.) 

Meanwhile, Mangen’s other research found that high-school students performed better on a test of reading comprehension when they read a text in print instead of on a computer screen. 

8. Read without distractions.

When you commit to reading something, cut off any distractions for a set period of time. This could even include the distraction of your own mind — commit to no daydreaming, no emails, no phone, no Netflix. 

That’s how you get to a state of deep focus, which will allow you to draw deeper connections from the text. Even if this seems difficult at first, you can slowly build your ability to focus day by day.

Try committing to reading 25 pages a day for a week, then up that page count to 35. Take it gradually.  

9. Introduce the information to others.

Experts say that, if you want to remember what you experience, it’s important to do something with that information.

Two Quora users listed talking about what you read as a useful means of processing new material. Venkatesh Rao suggests blogging, or otherwise trying to explain to others what you think you’ve learned.

Plus, if you find that you can’t explain it, you might want to go back and reread.

10. Choose books that matter to you.

If the reading material isn’t assigned, and the pressure of an exam or paper isn’t motivating you to read it, what is?

Make sure you know why you’re picking up this book. What intrigues you about it? Will it have a discernible effect on your personal development or contribute to a momentary escape to a different train of thought? 

When you’re impressed by something, there’s a higher chance that you’ll remember what you’ve learned and be able to tell others about it. 

So choose books carefully, start as many as you want, and don’t be ashamed if you only finish the select few you love.

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