How to Remember What You Read?

Do you know how to remember what you read? Do you forget everything after reading a book?

The human brain isn’t designed to remember everything it encounters. It’s likely that details about the content you consume fade quickly unless you’re a photographic memory.

How often do you remember reading an article and then forgetting what it was about? When did you last watch a movie and forget the plot? If you forget what you’ve read and watched, you’re not alone.

What did you eat at lunch yesterday? How did you spend your weekend? You probably don’t remember those memories because they are not vital for your survival. 

We have an 8 GB capacity for immediate recall in our brains, and only the most essential information is recalled. In the end, we may end up with a blurred picture of non-essential information. 

Massive amounts of data are beyond the capacity of the human brain. We are constantly bombarded by information. We might not be able to function if we processed and remembered everything. 

As you go through your life, your brain helps you sort out the significant and insignificant things you encounter.

What Your Brain Does To Turn Reading Into Memory And Why It Doesn’t Always Work?

The more you read, the less you will remember. Because your brain can’t store everything, you have to decide what’s important and will be needed later.

When it makes that decision, how does it do it? The simplest way to understand this is to think of High School English class.

From books they studied in English class, most people can recall the plot, characters, and perhaps a few key scenes. But they can’t recall the entire book. Why is that?

The simple truth is that you remember because you had to. You had a purpose in class (getting a grade), so you knew you had to connect the information to larger themes or ideas (whether it was for a paper or quiz). But what about that book you picked up last weekend? Sure, it was fun for a few hours on the plane, but it was for nothing.

Likewise, just as your High School curriculum was designed to build off what you learned, the more knowledge you gain from reading, the more knowledgeable you’ll be.

As Warren Buffett explains:

“That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

It doesn’t mean you should only read material you’ll use right away. It is, however, important to be specific and intentional if you would like to remember what you read.

Several days after putting down a book, some people struggle to remember even its title. Why is that?

There is a simple answer, but it is not easy.

They don’t read it. That’s their reading style. Having good reading habits will not only help you read more, but also help you improve your reading skills.

“I cannot remember the books I have read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Passive Readers vs. Active Readers

Readers who are passive forget almost as quickly as they read. In contrast, active readers retain most of the information they read. The quantity of reading also affects these two types of readers differently. 

Those who read a lot are no more advanced than those who read a little. However, if you’re an avid reader, the situation is different.

Active readers become better at reading as they read more. They build a latticework of mental models that help them retain ideas. 

Active readers can distinguish between good arguments and bad structures. They know how to make the world do the bulk of the work for them, so they make better decisions. Active readers don’t make mistakes. They also read faster the more they read.

Think about the books you read in school. We still remember a lot about them despite the passage of time. Even though the details may be fuzzy, we will no doubt recall the basic plots, main characters, notable themes, and motifs. 

Why? For starters, we didn’t read them passively. We actively read them, taking turns reading parts aloud, acting out scenes, or even watching film adaptations. We all probably remember Animal Farm, no matter how long it has been since we were in a classroom.

Setting Yourself Up for Reading and Remembering

By reading the material, you should have a goal in mind. Ask yourself, “Why am I reading this?” or “What am I supposed to learn from reading this?”

Knowing what your purpose for reading the material is will allow you to stay on task and concentrate on the more relevant parts of the text.

By keeping in mind that you are reading the material for an exam, you can keep track of important dates, events, and people.

Learn about the topic

Do a quick Internet search to learn more about the topic. You will be able to make associations and remember information better if you have a thorough understanding of the topic.

You may type in “Islam” in your search engine if you will be reading about Islam. Learn more about the basic tenets of Islam by clicking on an article, such as a Wikipedia article.

Pick out the main points by skimming the material

Pay attention to headings, pictures, tables, blurbs, charts, and opening paragraphs before reading the material. Identify the key information you need to know.

In addition to priming your memory, skimming the content helps you focus on the most important information and helps form a larger picture of the content, making it easier to remember what is important.

Reading in short segments is best

It is a waste of time to read when you are unable to concentrate. For optimum concentration, read in short segments. Read only a section or for ten to fifteen minutes at a time, for example. Review what you just read in your mind after you have read the section.

Increasing your reading time each day or week will improve your reading endurance. If, for example, you read short segments of 10 to 15 minutes one week, read longer segments of 20 to 25 minutes the following week.

Developing Critical Reading Skills

Take notes

Take notes on the information you read. The tactile act of writing will aid in your memory. You might want to write down the 5 tenets of Islam when reading about it.

As you read, you can also underline ideas or make notes.

This is a form of active reading that allows you to engage with the material rather than take it in passively. You will be able to retain and remember more information through active reading.

Emphasize key concepts

Emphasize only the most important and relevant information. 

Use only a few key words on a page, for instance. To highlight something, ask yourself, “Does this information meet my purpose for reading the material?” If the answer is no, then it is best not to emphasize it.

Connect the material to something you know

Assign new information to information you already know. Your brain stores new information in your long-term memory bank by associating new information with prior knowledge.

Thomas Jefferson, for example, was born in the same month as your mom, so you can remember his birthday more easily if you link his birthday to someone you know.

You can’t understand difficult concepts unless you understand the underlying fundamentals. You might find it helpful to go back to the basics if you are having trouble understanding what you are reading.

Think visually

It will help you remember the content you read better if you create mental images for it as you read it. Focus on important concepts, people, or events as you read. Visual learners will particularly benefit from this strategy

Imagine the battle with the date in large letters in your head as you remember an important date, such as when a battle began.

Another option would be to draw out the battle scene and write the date underneath when it began and ended.

Read out loud

Try reading important material out loud if you are a visual learner. Speaking and hearing the material will enable you to remember it better. Especially, read the important information you’ve underlined, and the answers to your questions out loud.

To remember important facts, you can also use word associations. To help you remember important information, create rhymes and songs.

Consider the material and ask yourself questions

While reading the material, ask yourself, “How does this material fit into what I already know and do not know?” “Why did the author mention this?” “Do I understand this concept or word?” “Where is the evidence for this statement?” “What is the main idea of this paragraph?” or, “Do I agree with the author’s conclusions?”

You will be better able to recall relevant information if you ask and answer these questions.

Strengthening Your Memory

Take the time to reword what you read

When you finish reading a section, jot down what you read. This enables you to determine what information you are able to recall and what information you do not recall. If you were unable to recall, or you had difficulty putting the information into your own words, reread the information.

It is not necessary to rewrite entire passages in your own words. Highlight the main points and summarize them. Stick to one or two bullet points.

Talk to someone about the material

Talk to a friend, family member, or classmate about what you read. Talking about the content will make it easier for you to remember it. Furthermore, you will be able to see which information you understand and can recall, as well as which information you cannot recall.

Reread the information you had trouble remembering and relating. Talk about it with a friend or family member.

Read the material again

Any kind of information must be repeated to be remembered. Review the concepts and ideas that you highlighted or underlined once you have finished reading something. Read the paragraph where the concepts and ideas are embedded again.

Go over the content again after a few days. Check your understanding of key concepts and ideas.

Intelligent Skimming

Get a sense of the subject matter by skimming the index, contents page, preface, and inside the jacket before beginning to read a book (particularly non-fiction).  The bibliography can also indicate a book’s tone (see this article on how to skim a book.) 

Since the best authors often read hundreds of books for each book they write, a well-researched book will have an interesting bibliography. Take a look at the bibliography after you have read the book and make a note of any books you would like to read next.

Utilize The Knowledge You’ve Gained From the Book

You’ve finished reading the book. What now? Are you ready to put your new knowledge to work? Be sure to make a plan and determine how to apply key lessons from the book, and don’t leave the book with only a vague sense of “oh yeah, I should totally do what he says.”

It’s not enough to read alone. Knowledge needs to be contextualized. How can this be achieved? When does it not work? Where can I apply it? What are the key variables? 

The list goes on. Taking something you read and putting it into practice right away will reinforce the learning and add context.

1 thought on “How to Remember What You Read?”

  1. This is some really great advice!
    I’d never thought to use memory techniques for reading specifically, I must have forgotten that I read that book!

    I’m great at remembering things, but I often find I read something then almost straight away wonder what it was about. Perhaps this is because we have been trained to do that, with things like TV and movies?

    This is a great reminder to work not on reading but on retaining what I’ve read. Perhaps this is also a good motivation to read more if I remember more.

    Keep up the great work!


    Martin Platt.


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