Reading is important for anyone who wants to get ahead in life. The skills you can learn and the viewpoints that can change your life are just some of the benefits of reading. If you don’t remember what you read, a book is just words on a page – not much use to you.
The ability to remember and recall the words you read can mean the difference between a great reading experience and an utter waste of time. The great news is anyone can remember more of what they read with just a few changes.
Concentration is key in retaining memories. Reading is no different. Anything that breaks your concentration is distracting you and needs to be stopped or avoided. Go somewhere quiet in your home or to a library.
Next comes the silence of the mind. Many times, even in complete silence, my mind is racing. Either stop what you’re reading and address the thoughts in your head or take a few moments to calm the mind. Sometimes silencing the mind is impossible so it is best to hold off on reading, do some other tasks and come back to it when you’re ready.
Tips for a Better Reading Experience
1. Read With a Voice
Many times while reading, the words just seem to flow past my eyes in a blur. I go through entire passages, but I don’t remember a single word. It’s like I’m in a trance. One way to get around this is to read with a voice.
Most writing has a natural rhythm to it. That can make it easily translate into a voice you can use to “speak” to yourself as you’re reading it. Basically, imagine the words you’re reading as if someone is speaking them to you. The more natural speaking voice it is, the more you’ll remember.
2. Read Out Loud
One alternative to imagining a speaking voice is to actually read aloud to yourself. You might look ridiculous if you’re somewhere in public so this will work better if you’re by yourself. The only hitch is that if you do this too long, you’ll concentrate more on how you read it instead of what you’re reading. When that happens, you’ll remember less. And that can defeat the purpose.
One of the best ways to remember something is to constantly expose yourself to it. Reading works the same way. If you read something complicated, it is best to go over it two or more times. Most of the time you can just skim the main points and go over any areas or details you forgot. This increases your likelihood of memory creation without spending much more time you spend on reading.
4. Pretend You’re Teaching Someone What You Read
I don’t know exactly how or why this works, but it does. This is probably the best technique to remember something, but most people don’t try it because it sounds ridiculous. Trust me, this works.
After you’ve read something, no matter how complicated, pretend to explain or teach it to someone who doesn’t know what you just read. You can do this in your head or out loud. It will reinforce what you’ve learned as a memory and highlight any concepts you don’t understand.
5. Take Notes if Necessary
We’ve all taken notes in school. The reason we all did it is because it works. This is because we were in school and we had to write things down for tests and papers. No one says you had to stop once you’re out of school. This can be very effective even outside of the classroom.
Admittedly, most people don’t read textbooks or complex books that require note-taking. Plus, most reading outside of the classroom is for fun and notes would take away the fun part of the reading. However, if you’re one of those people who likes reading hard complex books, note-taking can work wonders.
6. Don’t Read Too Long
One of the quickest ways to reduce the amount of reading you’ll remember is by reading too long. Know your limit. The amount of attention you can spend on a book and the complexity of a book affects how long you can read.
For example, I can read a book like “Tuesdays With Morrie” for hours on end without missing a beat. For a book like “The Black Swan”, I could read for about an hour before I have to put it down. A more complex book drains the attention you can spend. Once your attention is gone, you won’t remember a thing.
7. Think in Emotions
As you’re reading, imagine what’s going on unfolding in your head. Attach the words and ideas as pictures, sounds, smells and most importantly: feelings. Studies have shown that people remember in emotions much more than any other way. You can artificially stimulate your brain into remembering something simply by attaching something to it.
8. Look Up Words You Don’t Know In the Dictionary
I can’t remember how many times I did this as a student in college. I would read a textbook or story and come across a word I didn’t know. Instead of looking the word up, I skipped over it as if it didn’t exist. This is a sloppy and lazy way to read which leads to misinterpreting what you read.
Today, I like reading words I don’t know. It gives me an opportunity to read and learn something knew while also expanding my vocabulary. And new words can open yourself up to new ways of expressing yourself.
This works best if you are in a book club or have a friend who reads the same book/article as you. However, you have so many other options available to you than that. There are several online forums where you can talk about the books you’re reading. You also can find articles on the internet that relate to what you’re reading. Just do a search and see what comes up.
If anything, you can talk to someone about the story you’re reading without the other person having read the book. Then they can give their feedback on what you’ve told them.
10. Read the Cliff’s Notes
Cliff’s Notes can work wonders, but they shouldn’t be a substitute for what you’re reading. They work especially well if you’re reading something difficult. And they aren’t just for Joyce or Shakespeare, Cliff’s Notes cover a wide range of topics so you’re probably going to be covered if you need them. By going over the chapters you’ve read in the notes, you’re exposing yourself to what you’ve read and as I mentioned before, repetition can increase your chance of remembering something.
11. Practice Reading
Reading is fun, but it is also a skill. And as a skill, you can become better at it or let it slide from disuse. The Hardy Boys are a great series of books, but can you imagine what it would be like if that level of literature is all you read? Reading something a little harder than your reading level is a great way to challenge yourself. It makes your ability to remember what you read better.