Over on Quora, an overwhelmed student posed the question: “What is the best way to memorise or remember what you study/read?“
Tons of people weighed in with answers based on their personal experiences and research.
We rounded up some of the best insights from that Quora thread and scoured the web for expert advice on retaining more of what you consume — whether that’s science textbooks, novels, or news articles.
Below are nine of the most practical techniques — bonus points if you can remember all nine tomorrow.
1. Skim the text first
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.
2. Take notes on the page
“Never read without a pencil,” said a Quora user in a since-deleted comment. “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.”
3. 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?”
4. Impress, associate, repeat
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.
5. Introduce the information to others
In a TED Talk, educational psychologist Peter Doolitle says 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.
6. 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.
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., told the Guardian that’s possibly because the pile 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. Learn unevenly
Computer science professor Ben Y. Zhao advises against wasting time trying to memorise absolutely everything on the page. Instead, he writes, you should “learn unevenly”:
“What I mean is do not try to memorise everything equally well. Instead, focus on key concepts that underlie the others. If you focus your time on learning the most critical piece or concept, then you might be able to recall other pieces by association or logical derivation.”
9. Use ‘Cornell notes’
According to Say Keng Lee, the Cornell notes technique is “a far more superior system that the conventional outline method.”
The system breaks down into five parts, described on Cornell University’s website:
- Record: Take notes on what you’re reading.
- Questions: Come up with and write down questions based on your notes.
- Recite: Cover the note-taking column and try to answer the questions you generated.
- Reflect: Think more deeply about the material.
- Review: Spend at least 10 minutes a week going over your notes.
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