how to remember what you read

Remember what you read: 7 habits that can help you retain information

Developing a good reading habit helps you read more in less time and enhances your retention skills.
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Some people read something once and remember every little detail about it for life, while others struggle to recall the names of the main characters even after reading the same book over and over again. If you can relate with the latter, you may feel as if life hasn’t been fair to you. Why is it that some people are genius and the rest are not so much? Well, to answer your question, the main reason why some can retain what they read for a longer period is how they read.

There are two types of readers, active and passive. Active readers engage with the text during and after reading. They pay attention to the context involved in each excerpt. Their reading speed fluctuates as per the demand of the story. Passive readers, on the other hand, read everything at the same speed, in the same way, and don’t evaluate what they have read. If you fall into this category, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you can’t retain information for a longer period.

Developing a good reading habit helps you read more in less time and enhances your retention skills. The good news is you can become an active reader with few adjustments here and there. You just have to exercise your mind as you do for your body. That’s how your brain remains fit and ready to absorb the information like a sponge.

Here are a few reading habits that can help you with retention and recall what you read.

Know why you’re reading what you’re reading

For every action, it’s important to know your why behind it. You should know the reason for doing something before drawing the action plan. This will keep you motivated in your journey as you leap forward. When it comes to reading, you should figure out why you picked up a book or opened a particular blog. Is it entertainment you seek? Learning a skill or improving your health is your goal—such clarity can keep you on track and prevent you from leaving what you are reading midway.

For instance, if Dune by Frank Herbert is the book you want to read, ask yourself why first. Is it because of the movie or you are a fan of the sci-fi genre? The book is not an easy read. It’s riddled with complicated phrases and details that can make the read quite difficult. So before you pick up books like these, know why you want to read them in the first place.

Recap what you have read

Going back to what you have read can help your brain retain more information. So, once you have finished a chapter or a few paragraphs, pause and recap what you read. Then write down the part in your own words. Just writing down the bullet points would suffice. Ask yourself if you understood what the writer is trying to say. This exercise can help you get better clarity into the concept and hold information for a longer duration.

Make notes

Yes, the good old method of learning and memorising something—making notes can help you remember what you read. If you read on Kindle or your phone, making notes is an easy task. Just highlight the part you want to revisit later and tag a note. Whether it’s a realisation, a twist, re-entry of a character, with one tap, you can memorise everything. To your benefit, the internet is filled with tools that can help you take notes on the go.

But what to do, if you are reading a book? You can buy index cards or keep a journal to write down your thoughts. Robert Greene in his book, The 3 Secrets That Help Me Write and Think, throws light on his note-making process. He writes, “As I am reading a book I underline important passages and sections and put notes on the side. After I am done reading I will often put it aside for up to a week and think deeply about the lessons and key stories that could be used for my book project. I then go back and put these important sections on notecards.”

Make use of impression, association, and repetition

The science of memorising what you read can be divided into three steps, impression, association, and repetition.

Impression – According to a study, when you are impressed by something, the probability to remember and recalling it increases. So take this as the benchmark, select compelling books that impress you. You can read their reviews or summaries to make your decision.

Association – Stories are nothing but instances and inspirations taken from real life with the added flavour of fiction. For this reason, when you read something, you can relate to an event or understand the pain of a character going through a crisis. To remember what you read, you can link the stories with an event you are familiar with. Add mental elements if you want. This approach is a great way to create a memory palace of your own.

Repetition – There’s a simple logic behind this step. The more you read something, the more you will remember it. If there’s a book or a long essay that you want to remember, revisit it as many times as you can. Keep making notes in between and visualising the different scenarios.

Expand your attention span

According to a study conducted by Microsoft, the average attention span of a human is eight seconds, one second less than that of a goldfish. No wonder why people find it difficult to finish a book or stay focused while reading. Their phones keep buzzing with new notifications now and then that it gets truly impossible to stay attentive. If half of your mind is focused on what you are reading and the other is thinking about the DMs or Stories, you are likely to not remember most of the stuff you read.

To deal with this issue, create an environment where you can read without any distractions. Put your phone on silent mode and assign time to your reading session. Choose a time when things are mostly quiet like early in the morning or before bedtime. When distractions are minimum and your focus is sharp, you are bound to retain more information than usual.

Think in pictures

Reading a phrase or a paragraph followed by visualising it is one of the best ways to remember what you read. If there’s a passage you like or a concept you want to memorise, visualise what you read in vivid mental pictures. Make sure to use your imagination as salient and distinctive as possible. This exercise can help you store information in your brain for a long duration.

Actors also use this strategy to remember their lines. They visualise their character and get deep into its skin to understand the emotions hidden within their dialogues. The same strategy is taught in several schools as well, called visual learning where concepts are given visual cues for better understanding and memorisation. So, if you are reading history or a blog on World War II, take pauses in between and let your imagination visualise what you read.

Discuss what you read with others

Having discussions is a great way to reflect on what you have understood and what parts have you missed. It’s a great way to memorise the information you have absorbed. Discussing what you read is like reading the book again, but this time with others. It allows you to share your perceptions and thoughts with those who have read the same thing. When you do so, others can share their ideas as well which can help you get more clarity and focus. Later, you can go back to the book you had discussed with your friends or family members and see if you missed anything. Doing this repeatedly will help you hold fast to almost every detail of the story.

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