8 Tips To Remember What You Read

Techniques to remember what you read

Many modern readers tend to regard reading as hard work. They grew up with a diet of pictures and sounds via TV, cell phones and the Internet. At school, at work, at home, there are still many areas of our lives where we must be able to read well. Unfortunately, most schools no longer manage to teach students good reading skills. To understand a text, most students have to read something several times over these days.

Experts from educational service IvoryResearch prepared a couple of tips that make the reading process more pleasant and useful.

Some blame must be laid at the door of those who insisted on reading and writing fads being taken up by schools across the world that included "whole language" and phonics, instead of teaching children the alphabet as stepping stone to understanding how words and sentences are being constructed. Parents themselves, either unable or too lazy to teach their children, must also bear much of the blame.

This leaves only self-help to those who have missed out on learning how to read well, with speed and comprehension and an open, but critical mind. How can you learn? Here are 8 easy steps:

1. Determine the Purpose of your Reading

Entertainment, education, distraction - reading can mean so much to so many people. Knowing to what purpose you are reading will help you to become a better reader and to focus on the more relevant parts of the text. You will be able to rehearse continuously as you read page after page. Ask yourself why are you reading a particular text. It is because:

  • you want to understand a particular topic, culture or group of society better?
  • is it merely for entertainment and relaxation purposes?
  • to understand political issues better and adopt a stance as a consequence?
  • to satisfy a requirement of an academic assignment or course?
  • to help develop an informed decision, plan or proposal?

Many people have reading tasks assigned to them either at an academic institution or at work, where their boss might ask them to read a report. Irrespective of the environment, we should be able to ask, why we should read this, what are we meant to learn from the text? If no guidance is given, formulate your own reasons of why this particular text should be relevant and important for you to remember.

2. Speed-read first

Correct skimming includes focusing on headings, tables and graphs, pictures and key paragraphs at beginning and end. After skimming through a document, we have a general idea of what it is about. Now we can slow down according to our reading purpose and read it again, this time "digesting" mentally what the text's writer wants us to understand.

Even material that requires careful study later should be skimmed first, because there are numerous benefits to doing this:

It sways out thinking into a particular direction and shows us where the document's most salient points are raised.

It primes our memory, which means we'll find it easier remembering contents when we read the text for the second time.

We get an overall sense of the contents, intention and style of the document which will make it easier to remember specifics.

Most Internet reading is actually skimming. This has encouraged writers to make use of devices like bullet points, numbered paragraphs, sub-headings, sidebars and graphic boxes, lists and tables. In-depth reading requires far more sophisticated skills that this.

3. Train your Eyes

Make eye contact with all the text that you haven't deliberately skimmed, embrace multiple words with each eye fixation. Readers who struggle to read words usually have a lower level of comprehension of the text as a whole, because their minds are too busy making sense of the alphabet used to create words. This is the chief reason why they can barely remember what they read.

Even with the use of simple memorization questions, many people struggle to remember, because they are concentrating on the words themselves, not on their meaning within the context of the whole document. To remember what you've read, you have to be able to process the words correctly.

While there is nothing wrong with phonics per se, it is merely a stepping stone to beginning to read. Good reading comes from easily recognizing whole words and their role within a sentence. How can you do that?

  • Look at all the text you have not earmarked for deliberate skimming. 
  • Focus on multiple words with each eye fixation, not just one word.
  • Try to widen the scope of each eye fixation - on a page with an 8.5" width, you should try for three fixations or finally two per line. Try to do this in stages, or you'll become frustrated. This takes step-by-step practice. Strive for a couple more with each try.
  • Direct your eyes from one fixation point to another, using horizontal glances on long lines, vertical ones if you are trying to comprehend and remember a whole line in a column that can be seen with one fixation.

If you find this too difficult to do on your own, you should seek formal training from a reading center.

4. Thinking in Images

An image cannot replace an essay, but it can certainly convey the essence of a whole line of text. Images are far easier to remember than words, which is handy for card counters working the casinos and people presenting "memory feat" stage shows!

But for ordinary readers this has the advantage that memorizing text can be done by imagining the text as an image. Highlighted key words in text could, for example, be used as a launch pad for mental pictures. Headings and sub-headings are also good mental "images" that tend to stay in the mind longer than the paragraph text below them. Look out for the key word and one can think of the affiliated mental pictures. Chaining pictures together to tell a story or memorizing images as a bunch that are similar in nature also helps to jog one's memory.

Actors, in order to "get into their part" will study the meaning of the script in depth, using their imagination to draw mental pictures of the scenes they will be in. They view a script from the inside, as an emotional experience rather than an intellectual one. When that very script is memorized with mental pictures to represent text, it appears one views the script from the outside. Actors will look at the deeper meaning of words, the emotion a word will produce in the speaker and the listener.

Why does a character use a specific word to express themselves? Is the question actors ask themselves when reading through a script? It is a powerful process of association, one that allows actors to associate words with real meaning and context, while the ordinary reader would associate contrived visual images meaning and context, which is far less powerful. By thinking in depth about what is being said and then imaging mental pictures for key words within the text, ordinary readers can produce a similar effect that will help them to remember what they have read.

5. Take Notes and use Highlighting wisely

Highlighters should only be used to mark a few key points that stand out as signposts for mental pictures and reminder prompts. You can add key words in the margin of the text, if there is nothing useful for highlighting purposes. Although nearly all students use highlighter pens to mark text, many of them are doing this entirely wrong, highlighting the wrong things or far too much text.

They become so engrossed in highlighting a text, they stop paying attention to what is written in front of them. A few key words should suffice on a page, and on pages where no suitable key words are found, a few sticky tabs with highlights can speed up a study process for whole books enormously.

It is essential to think about the underlying meaning of the text, how each paragraph or point made fits into a specific part of the text. A few outline notes after the first skimming of the text can prompt readers to apply highlighters more judiciously at the more in depth reading process. It acts as a rehearsal aid for creating immediate memories that can later be recalled for study purposes.

Having created such an outline from working memory allows students/readers to check their outline against the content just read, which again supports memory formation greatly.

6. Don't exceed your attention span

If your attention span is already exhausted and you can no longer concentrate on what you're reading, you are wasting your time trying to memorize text. Thankfully, human beings have a longer attention span than goldfish, but even so, at the most people can only concentrate hard on text for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. After that time, take a short break, perhaps ask themselves what they've just read and create the outline as suggested above. Increasing one's attention span takes practice, but can be done.

7. Rehearse As You Go Along

Depending on the content density, one should read only a few paragraphs or pages, while considering the meaning of the text and paraphrasing the meaning of what the text says in the aforementioned outline.

Testing how many of the mental images one can reconstruct is a good way of rehearsing memorized text. Think in depth about the content of each segment read and consider how it satisfies the purpose for reading.

Question what you are reading: "How does this information fit into the picture of what I already know about the topic and what I don't know", "what is the evidence for the author's assertion", "why did the author say that?", generate ideas about the content and these will form mental images that will also help you to memorize what you've read.

8. Begin rehearsing shortly after finishing your reading

At the end of each reading session, rehearse what you have learned from the text without delay. Ban distractions like social media, fellow students and household pets - and don't try to multi-task either. These things will only interfere with the consolidation of what you've learned and what should form longer-term memory. Repeat the questions you asked in earlier rehearsal and repeat this process for what you read at least twice more later the same day and for the next 2-3 days.

To Summarize

  • read with a purpose
  • speed-read or skim first
  • apply correct eye fixation and practice this
  • use note taking and highlighting wisely
  • form mental images to help your memory
  • rehearse while your reading through the text
  • don't exceed your attention span
  • rehearse right away after each reading session.

Joan Gilbert is a freelance writer. Now she is working under coursework writing service IvoryResearch. Her hobby are reading and digital technologies. In the future she is planning to launch a blog dedicated to novelties in this sphere.
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