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3 fool-proof ways to remember what you read

how to remember what you read
Retaining information you've read is tricky, but there are simple ways to resolve this. Source: Amelie Querfurth/AFP

Have you ever wondered why you can’t retain the information you need for your exams even after spending so much time studying? Or perhaps you’ve just read a really good book that you want to keep in your memory forever, but can’t seem to recall anything more than its basic plot just a few days after putting it down?

If you’ve ever wondered how to remember what you read, you’re not alone. There’s a very valid explanation for why your brain works the way it does. This phenomenon is called the “forgetting curve”. Usually, this means that despite learning something, it’s likely that most of this information will trickle away after the first 24 hours, with you forgetting more and more of it as the days go by. 

Why does this happen? Jared Horvath, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne, says that much of it has to do with the new internet age that we live in. According to him, recall memory — or a person’s ability to spontaneously remember a piece of information — has lost its importance because we rely on technology to do it for us. So long as you know where that information is and how to access it, you don’t really need to recall it, he explains.

Still, there’s no doubt that as a student, you’d need to recall information you’ve learnt for exams, assignments, and more. Luckily, there is a way for you to improve your memory bank. 

Taking notes are among some of the most effective ways to remember what you’ve read. Source: Amelie Querfurth/AFP

How to remember what you read: a short guide

1. Know what you’re reading

When you sit down to read, you should first and foremost identify what you’re reading in the first place. 

This might seem obvious, but it’s grounded in a simple explanation. Think about when you read an academic paper versus reading for pleasure. The first may seem like a chore to you. It will probably require you to deal with difficult terminology, graphs, numbers, and more. 

Reading for pleasure, on the other hand, is different because you have chosen to consume this specific content, and will probably engage with it or enjoy it more. This makes a huge difference in how you absorb information. Science shows how interest in a subject matter can help you think more clearly, understand more deeply, and remember more accurately. 

So when it comes to remembering information you’re not as passionate about, you’ll need to trick your brain into it. How can you do this? By relating what you’re reading to why you’re reading it. This will not only help with retaining information that’s relevant to you, but give you clues on where you should focus for follow-up research. 

Keeping focused on what and why you’re reading helps certain details leap out at you. This is especially important for giving you clues on where you should focus for follow-up research and motivating you to keep reading.

2. Take notes

Taking notes isn’t something many students like to do, but there’s a simple reason behind why it’s so useful: you can’t possibly write everything down, so you’ll be forced to single out the most important points and concepts. 

There’s no proper way to do this, but to remember what you read, science has proven that picking up a pen and paper still works like a charm. Writing by hand will always be a slower process than typing, which will naturally require you to summarise the main points and be thoughtful about how you organise your notes. 

Essentially: writing by hand helps you understand the material more because it forces you to ponder over the material being presented and organise it in a way that is digestible to you. 

3. Find ways to relate to what you’ve learnt

Despite all the advances we’ve made, when you’re considering how to remember what you read, the best way to do it remains the same: by thinking about how you can personally connect to it. 

We’ve already detailed how being interested in a subject will naturally make you more open and motivated to learn more about it. When it comes to more dense information, or concepts you have a harder time grasping, you’ll have to be a little more creative. 

Think about ways the information you’ve learnt can be connected to aspects of your personality, your interests, or previous experiences. For example, if your subject is dry, think of ways to make it funny. You can also use acronyms to remember points.

This will not only make it easier for you to remember information, but make the process of reading something you don’t like more exciting and engaging. 

If you’re still struggling with how to remember what you read, check out this guide on powerful ways to help you study.