🧠 7 TECHNIQUES to Remember EVERYTHING You Read and Study 📚
I remember the time when I was studying in high school and college. I spent countless nights memorizing mathematical formulas, law articles, historical events, mostly for the sake of getting good grades. If I had to tell you how much I recall from more than 10 years of studying, I’ll say around 3 to 5%.
Nowadays, I don’t have to study anymore but I still read books and learn stuff because I want to get better at business, become smarter, and improve in different areas of my life, but still, I struggle with remembering what I’ve read even a few days ago.
So, if you are anything like me, what can we do to combat this tendency of forgetting what read and learn?
Hello, you all, this is Juan Cruz from Inerize! Welcome to the third class of the Reading Course! And in this article, we’ll answer this question.
A Brief Exploration on Memory
First things first, before we can dive deep into the techniques and tips, we must begin our journey with memory, the function responsible for… well, remembering what we read.
According to John Sweller, an Australian psychologist that has spent a big part of his career exploring how we learn, our brain possesses two very different kinds of memory systems:
- Short term and long-term memory
Short term is where we store our immediate perceptions and thoughts, which usually last only a few seconds. For example, this video that you are watching is being stored in your short-term memory, your current thoughts are too.
Then we have long-term memory. Here there is everything that we’ve learned, from driving a car, how to use our phones, the name and number of our friends, and family, and much, much more. The information here can remain for days, weeks, months, or a lifetime.
When we are reading, every sentence we encounter must go to our short-term memory so that we can make sense of what we have in front of us. But how can we make the knowledge we are acquiring pass through our short-term memory and be stored in our long-term?
There’s a function in our minds called Working Memory, responsible for manipulating the contents of our short-term memory as well as what we retrieve from our long-term memory.
If you are reading a history book and for any reason that brought to mind your Aunt Lilly’s anniversary, everything is being processed in your working memory.
As Sweller says,
“We are conscious of what is in working memory and not conscious of anything else”
But after a few seconds, your aunt Lilly’s anniversary memories will be saved back into your long-term memory, and you’ll probably forget forever what you learned about history.
To avoid that, the new information should stay in working memory, either as long as possible, as strongly as possible, or ideally, both.
The more you ruminate a memory, idea, or thought, and the more times you bring it back, the firmer it will establish in your long-term memory.
Think of a piece of knowledge – if we can call it that way – like a seed. If we continuously water this seed by bringing it back to our working memory, the seed grows and will begin to take root in our long-term memory till it becomes a tree.
And the techniques we are going to explore will help you do this!
So, let’s go!
I guess most of you already do this, but I couldn’t leave it out. Highlighting – whether with a physical marker or with your finger in a digital device –will help you remember what you are reading mainly for three reasons:
- It makes you focus on the most important ideas.
- Deciding what to highlight and what to leave out forces you to engage with the book on a deeper level.
- When you go back and re-read the book, it makes the job way easier and faster.
Studies are showing the effectiveness as well as the ineffectiveness of highlighting (I’ll leave sources down below if you are curious) but I cannot imagine reading without underlining the most important ideas.
This technique is super simple, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Recalling and Quizzing
A great way to engage your working memory while reading is to make the habit of recalling and quizzing yourself right after finishing a chapter or an important section.
Repeating the process of reading, recalling, and quizzing will help you internalize what you read by forcing your working memory to remember what you are currently learning.
I know, it sounds a bit boring. Who wants to stop reading or watching a video to do this? Most of us just want to read the next chapter of press the “Play Next” button. But taking just a few seconds to remember what you’ve just learned will help you a long way in your journey.
A moderate version of this technique is to, before going to sleep, recall everything you’ve learned that day. I tried it and it’s pretty fun. Also, I usually don’t have anything better to do in my bed rather than scrolling through social media, so why not trying to deepen my knowledge, right?
You’ve probably heard about the idea of notetaking. Either while you are reading a book or after you finish it, take some time to take notes and summarize it.
Of course, this will help you remember more because you are not just reading, you are writing the book’s most important ideas. Also, if you want to revisit what you’ve learned from the book, you go directly to your notes, which are shorter and straighter to the point.
Sure, it’s time-consuming but it’s effective.
Nevertheless, taking notes is pretty mechanical and doesn’t engage your mind that much. In my experience, adding to my notes my thoughts, opinions, and connecting what I’m reading with other ideas I encountered takes my understanding to the next level.
This extra process that I call criticizing and connecting engages your mind more firmly than just mechanically summarizing a book. And, of course, will help you remember most of what you read.
The Feynman Technique
The Feynman Technique is derived from Richard Feynman’s studying and teaching methods. He was a renowned physicist and won a Nobel Prize for the development of quantum electrodynamics.
Apart from being a great physicist, he was also known to be a great teacher and explainer. He used to boil down very complicated scientific concepts into something comprehensible to a primary or high-school student.
The crux of Feynman’s Technique is trying to explain to yourself what you are learning or studying. By doing it, you realize which sections are not very clear and need further reinforcement. The technique steps are:
- Choose what you want to remember or learn
- Explain it like you are teaching it to a child
- Identify knowledge gaps
This technique is super powerful and will help you internalize whatever you want.
There’s an interesting concept called the Forgetting Curve. Wikipedia says:
The forgetting curve hypothesizes the decline of memory retention in time. This curve shows how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it.
In simple words, if you read something, the more time it passes without you trying to recall it, the more the memory fades.
Sounds pretty intuitive, right? You probably remember more of the last book you read than the one you finished 3 years ago.
So, to combat this tendency, educators and psychologists developed a technique called Spaced Repetition.
In simple terms, it consists of periodically reviewing whatever you want to remember. At first, the reviewing days will be closer to each other to reinforce that piece of knowledge into your brain. But as time goes by and the memory gets stronger, the days spread further apart from each other.
There are quite a few programs that you, through virtual flashcards, can use to automatically apply this technique. Here are some to explore
- Course Hero
Spaced repetition is very powerful and it works wonders if you are studying for exams.
Note Refreshing Ritual
Piggybacking from the previous technique, the idea in this one is to build a daily, weekly, or monthly ritual of re-reading your notes.
We tend to think that books are a one-time thing. It’s like, “once I finish it, I’m done with it”, but in my opinion, this is not the best way to think about them. Books should be seen as life manuals and be read again and again, as we grow and face new challenges in our lives.
By doing this, you are reinforcing the lessons you’ve learned from your older books and create the possibility of seeing them in a new light.
This technique might get a bit complicated with time as the books you’ve read increase, but you can always choose the ones that are the most relevant for your life at that time.
Action Based Notes
I think this is one of the most powerful techniques ever invented, especially if you like reading personal development.
From personal experience, I can say that non-fiction is kind of addictive. It feels very good to finish one book after another and spend hours every week reading about finance, relationships, psychology, and so on. The problem begins when we start confusing actual progress and taking action with merely reading about it.
We believe we are growing when in fact, we are just reading more.
Well, this technique changes everything.
The idea here is, each time you finish a book, write down what you are going to do differently in your life. If it’s a finance book, perhaps you’ll start saving more. If it’s a spirituality book, you’ll maybe begin a meditation habit.
In other words, be explicit in how this book is going to change you and your life. Because if not, most of the time the knowledge you’ve learned ends up in nothing.
This technique will perhaps not help you remember what you’ve read but it will for sure do something more powerful, actual change!
So that’s it, 7 techniques to remember what you read.
Of course, it’s important to implement a method that works for you and that helps you consolidate what you learned.
But I think it’s also relevant to understand that, even though you cannot remember 100% of the books you’ve read, they mold you and have an impact on you, nevertheless.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
And I completely agree. In conclusion, apply the techniques – they are powerful – but also consider that a book or video will always find a way to change you, in some way or another.
 John Sweller, Instructional Design in Technical Areas (Camberwell, Australia: Australian
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