If you are a reader, you know that memory is fragile. You can read a book and completely forget its contents after a few months. In this article, we will share some strategies to help you remember what you have read.
Do you need to remember what you read or increase your retention capacity for an upcoming exam? Would you like to train your brain to retain more of what you read? It’s a good skill to develop. The digital world is much faster, more streamlined and dominated by images, which diminishes many of our abilities.
For example, neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, author of books such as Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (2020), warns that electronic devices reduce our ability to concentrate. This can be particularly serious for children who are still developing their literacy skills.
However, those of us who have been reading for decades may also be affected. In fact, Dr. Wolf says that in his clinical practice, he sees how many people retain less and less information when they read.
It seems that we have become so used to instantaneous information that changes from one second to the next that our brains have serious problems retaining what we read.
In fact, in a digital world dominated by screens and information flowing at the speed of light, it is crucial that we get back to our basic reading habits. Our memory and psychological health will definitely benefit.
Tips for remembering what you read
Around 5000 years ago, the human brain made a breakthrough. We became able to interpret symbols, give them meanings and pronounce sounds. In other words, reading was born. The Sumerians left evidence of cuneiform writing on their tablets. The Egyptians bequeathed us the Book of the Dead and the Story of Sinué as examples of the earliest examples of this art.
Today, we read books on electronic devices because there is no longer a need to have them on paper. Despite these changes, our brains continue to do more than decipher symbols when we read. Indeed, we learn, empathize with other people and feel freer, smarter and even happier.
There is nothing more enriching than waking up to other perspectives, updating our knowledge and acquiring a more critical sense of reality. Of course, all these processes are only possible if we remember what we read. If we don’t consolidate what we read, there is no learning and we don’t challenge any of our preconceived ideas.
If you want to remember what you read, you need the right conditions, let’s see what they are.
Avoid distractions such as cell phone notifications to remember what you read.
1. Better on paper than digital
You may be used to reading on tablets or devices created for this purpose. However, if you really want to optimize the memory of what you read, it is better to opt for the classic: paper.
This is shown by a study conducted by Professor Ziming Liu from San Jose State University in California. He claims that with the physical format, the brain processes information better. It is also more convenient if you want to underline and annotate in the margins.
2. Environment matters: get rid of distractions
You can read on the subway, on the beach or even while waiting for a medical appointment. However, unless you are a trained reader who can concentrate wherever you are, you must optimize your attention and memory processes. You should therefore choose your reading environment carefully.
It should be a space with good lighting, where you can sit comfortably and where there are as few distractions as possible. It is also better to be on your own in an organized and not too fancy environment.
Keep your cell phone away or silence notifications.
3. Take your time, read slowly
You are probably used to reading quickly and superficially. You do this because, as we have already mentioned, the digital world and social media have made you used to reading properly.
If you get a news story, it is almost always just the headline. Your messages are never overly long. More importantly, you read them quickly so that you can respond in the same way.
immediacy dominates your life and makes your brain process information at the speed of light. Therefore, you make mistakes and your memory fails. Therefore, you must practice reading slowly, deeply and unhurriedly. If you find this difficult, here are some tips:
- Practice deep breathing for five minutes before you start reading. You only need to inhale deeply through your diaphragm, hold it and then exhale. Repeat several times.
- Then empty your mind. Imagine a room where you remove all the furniture until it is empty. Empty worries and intrusive thoughts.
- When your body and mind are relaxed, find a comfortable position and start reading.
4. The importance of annotations to help you remember what you read
Maybe you underline, write in the margin, or even draw. Whatever you are reading, you may want to take notes. But this does not mean literally transcribing what is already in the book.
What you should do is, when you understand an idea, paragraph or chapter, try to handwrite a summary of what you have read in your own way. You have to do it in your own words. This is a good way to reinforce what you have read. You can relate it to what you already know, what you have thought about and your experiences or previous learning.
The ultimate goal of reading should never be complete memorization. You are not a machine. What you read should invite you to think, inspire or develop a critical perspective.
5. Reflect on what you have read and discuss it with someone else
If what you read did not invite you to develop an idea, feeling or thought, then it was a useless exercise. Deep memory is only activated by giving the reading meaning. For this you need to reflect, put what you have read into perspective, value it and even comment on it.
All these processes require time. But time is what is lacking today. Nevertheless, you have to remember that an accelerated brain will sooner or later cease to be effective. Reading requires patience, enjoyment, concentration, contact with the paper and also social connection.
There are few things as enriching as talking to someone else about a favorite article or book. Also, if you have an exam coming up, studying with others can help. Commenting, giving opinions, asking yourself questions and reflecting on them feeds your mind. Try it and put it into practice.