Have you ever encountered the following scenario:
You: I just read a great book!
Friend: What’s it about?
You: (paused and tried so hard to recall what you’ve read)
Or have you forced yourself to finish a book in a day or so, because you worried you would forget the previous chapters after a reading hiatus?
When it comes to widening our knowledge base, unfortunately, we usually prioritize quantity over quality. Yes, the more you read, the more information you get, but we tend to forget the things we read after a short period of time. Our inability to retain information from what we have previously read is dauntingly common. We sometimes skim through the passages; or read word by word, letter by letter, without understanding the content; or even scan the book and get to the next — to bombard ourselves with piles of knowledge. But how often does loading and stacking help us retain what we read?
If we can’t remember anything from the books we read, what’s the point of reading? To make your reading effective and meaningful, here are 4 strategies to help you retain what you read:
1. Generate questions and look for answers
One reading habit we have is to completely immerse ourselves in the text and drill into the details when we read. We think the best way to get the most out of a book is to complete all of the chapters, but we don’t always remember the walls of text upon closing the book. One method to retain our memory is to first go through the table of content (the table of content is here for a reason!) and generate a list of questions, then actively search for answers in the book. When we have a purpose to read a book, it is easier to find and remember what we read.
2. Scribble in the margins while reading
Jotting notes is definitely a great strategy to better knowledge retention. When a certain paragraph stands out to us, we will usually highlight or copy the text, but instead, we should use our own words to summarize key ideas to make a stronger impression. Through this process, you are teaching and explaining to yourself on the points. If you are able to give an outline of the passage without hesitating, you can ensure you have really comprehended and digested the content.
3. Research on points that you don’t understand
When you try to rewrite the summary with your own words, you may encounter points that you find ambiguous or vague. Take the extra 10 minutes to research deeper to get a fuller understanding. This doesn’t mean to throw yourself in at the deep end. Taking the extra step to research can help you understand the subject matter with more details, because most authors assume their readers have some sort of background knowledge of the topics prior to reading the books. For example, for a philosophical book, the writer automatically assumes the readers have a certain level of knowledge on different ideologies in the era that the book is written.
4. Apply the knowledge to your real life
As mentioned above, jotting notes leads to a better retention of information. Many people hold the misconception that the more detailed our notes are, the better we will retain what we have read from a book. While we are so focused on cramping every single bit of a book into our notes, we often forget that we are simply copying paragraphs from the book to our notes. Also, how often do you revisit your notes? Most people’s answer is never. So your hard work in jotting notes have completely gone down the drain.
To make your reading and note-taking session more effective, try to incorporate your own life into whatever you are reading. What this means is when you are taking notes, also think about how the knowledge you read could benefit your life and solve real-life problems. When you do this, your notes will become more insightful and useful, helping you remember what you read from the book.
Reading requires devotion of time and effort
It may sound unnerving and stressful to spend much more time just to retain what you have read. It could be quite heavy at first, but as you follow the strategies more and more, your efforts will pay off and you will definitely have a better retention after reading each book.