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How to Remember What You Read? 12 Strategies

How to remember what you read? What is the best way to retain what you read? Learn about the best reading retention strategies here

Tips on How to Remember What You Read

Have you ever had this happen to you? You’re reading an important document or textbook section when you suddenly realize that you haven’t actually absorbed any of the words on the last three pages. Your eyes may be scanning the page, but none of the information reaches your brain. This is called reading regression – and this, over a lot of time, can affect your ability to learn and focus.

Depending on what you do for a living, the process of reading can take large precedence in your life and even fill up the majority of your day. For instance, as a business owner, you’ll likely need to take in large amounts of information daily to keep up with the fast-paced nature of your job. Without proper reading retention skills, it would be extremely difficult to retain this information and apply it to your career.

Reading retention allows you to continuously maintain your concentration throughout the duration of your chosen text. As such, retaining information is an essential skill that can improve various aspects of your mental and physical life. 

To help you enhance your mental skills and increase your reading strength, we’ve compiled a must-read list of some of the best ways to remember everything you’ve read.

Key points:

  • Reading retention is what allows the brain to absorb new information from the material that you read. However, this process can sometimes become muddied by reading regression – a common occurrence in readers who are unable to focus on their reading for several reasons, such as environment, poor mental strength, and a lack of proper strategy.

  • Having good reading retention is essential to your learning and plays a large part in maintaining a healthy memory. Improving your reading retention can, therefore, have several benefits on your daily life, including stress reduction, work improvement, and cutting down on learning time.

  • Many people struggle with a frequent inability to concentrate and absorb their reading material. In such a situation, the Headway app is a great resource that can help readers understand the main points of a good book in detailed 15-minute summaries.

Headway app - 15-minutes book summaries

Why improve reading retention?

Your mental health is one of your greatest assets. A healthy, normal brain allows you to process information clearly and things throughout your day; in particular, where you placed the car keys or what you had for dinner. In terms of active reading, however, a better memory means an enhanced ability to recall information that you gained from a piece of text.

As children, people learn to read because it is a skill they need to rely on throughout the entirety of their education and personal lives. Whether it’s school, work, or personal matters, people read for a variety of reasons that benefit them. For instance, reading books is mainly used in two majorly contrasting ways: either as a method of unwinding and relieving stress or gaining new forms of knowledge, like non-fiction books. In any case, active recall of what you’ve read is essential to ensuring you can use the information to your advantage.

The process of reading itself may not make you the smartest person on earth, but a better long-term memory can certainly make you more likely to recall complex information through reading. Consequently, improving your reading retention could bring you insight into more complicated concepts – from math equations and art history to physics and astronomy.

Top 12 reading retention strategies

Knowing how to read a book and retain information is an essential skill for people who read on a daily basis for both personal and professional purposes. For this reason, here are some of the best tips on how to improve reading retention.

Read with a purpose

When you start a new great book or work document, being clear about your goals can help you become more engaged in the material at hand. For instance, the best way to read a book about wildlife in the Arctic is with the intention of learning about how climate change is affecting polar bears. Doing this will help you focus on that specific idea. Otherwise, you could end up taking in new knowledge that you don’t really need.

One way to do this is by asking yourself a question before looking at the material for the first time and aiming to answer the question in your own words by the end of your reading session. This could be something specific like, “What do polar bears like to eat in the winter months?” During your reading, graze each chapter, headline, and paragraph until you reach your answer. This will make you more likely to reach your desired outcome and increase your productivity levels.

Skim through the book

Now, this method may seem counterproductive at first. After all, you’re technically trying to avoid unintentionally skimming so that you can actually absorb the reading material. However, people who frequently find themselves in bouts of reading regression can sometimes use skimming the whole book to their advantage.

As you start a new book, the first place to look is a table of contents so that you gain a better insight into what you can expect from this text. Then, take it to the next level by choosing a section you’d like to skim. In this section, graze through each paragraph while picking up keywords and information here and there. In due time, you will be able to understand the main point of a paragraph by selectively skimming over unimportant information.

skim through the book - Headway App

Read only what you can finish

A big mistake that most readers make is taking on more reading than they can handle. This can either be due to reading too many books at one time or attempting to read an extremely long piece of text without any prior plan or strategy. As a result, they can end up becoming bored or overwhelmed with a large amount of information that needs to be processed in a short span of time.

One of the memory techniques is keeping the volume of your reading material small. However, if you have already garnered a large reading list or you are required to read a long list of books for professional purposes, you may want to quit the books that you find hard to read and move on to other books that explain your desired topic better. If this is not possible, consider focusing on the main ideas rather than reading the entire book cover to cover.

Use proper reading mechanics

From grade school, children are taught to read the old-fashioned way – from left to right, top to bottom. However, as children grow up, they can veer slightly off course and settle for improper reading mechanics that can eventually cause poor reading retention. This can look like frequent regressions, speaking the words as you read them, and a lack of strategic eye movement.

Skillful reading that uses proper reading mechanics can be constituted to the following:

  • Fewer regressions or re-reading of material

  • No lip movements or vocalization

  • A wider eye span that picks up multiple words at once

To improve your reading mechanics, move your eyes forward consistently and pick up groups of words rather than individual ones. Then, practice reading with your mouth tightly closed and read only with the words in your head. Lastly, to prevent regressions, cover what you have read with a card that will stop you from going back to previous material.

Choose books you can benefit from

Not all books are educational, but most books are designed to teach you some sort of valuable lesson that you can potentially apply to your daily life. This can be anything from a simple how-to guide to a much broader topic, such as the evolution of species. As readers begin a book with the intention of using what they read to see a positive outcome play out in their lives, they might have a stronger incentive to pay attention to what they are reading. 

People naturally gravitate toward things that they can use on a personal or professional level. As such, choosing books that you can use to your leverage may help your brain absorb information better. For example, someone who works in physics may read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time with a greater focus as the information could be relevant to their field of work – in which case, they can improve their career.

How to remember what you read - Headway App

Read when you are rested

If you have ever tried to read while tired, you’ll know how difficult it can be to maintain your focus. Your brain is unlikely to function properly when it’s on little sleep, which makes it essential to choose a reading time when you are more energized. Ensure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night to improve your brain’s ability to absorb reading material.

On the odd day when you are forced to function on less than 8 hours of sleep, it’s best to take things slow and not force yourself to read too much more than you can handle. Otherwise, you may experience unpleasant symptoms like headaches, blurry vision, and irritability. Avoid high levels of caffeine and stimulants that could affect your mental state – instead, take frequent power naps and opt for natural sources of energy such as fruits and vegetables.

Use the blank sheet method

The Blank Sheet method is a tried-and-true way to ensure reading comprehension and retention. Fortunately, it involves nothing more than a pen, paper, and your own mind. Before reading, start by taking out a blank sheet of paper and writing down what you presently know about the subject you are about to embark on. This will serve as a foundation of sorts as you add to it later on.

Once you finish reading the text, return to your sheet of paper and add more to the list, summarizing what you’ve read. Now that you actually know what the material entails, you can add more in-depth facts, quotes, and other key takeaways. Then, before beginning your next reading session, you can review your sheet and recall everything that happened in the book previously.

Highlight important parts

Many people are opposed to the idea of ruining their hard-copy books with pen marks and highlights. However, it can be a great way to bring your attention back to the important parts of a book without you having to go back and find them manually. If you aren’t keen to underline sentences in your books with a sharpie or highlighter, consider putting sticky notes and tabs on pages with information you’d like to revisit later.

Another alternative would be reading on your Kindle, such as e-books or web pages, which allows highlighting parts of a page and even note-taking. Emphasizing the main points of the book allows you to keep track of where these ideas appear in the text. As such, your brain will associate these key points with something that is important to know, making it more likely for you to memorize the material.

Highlight important parts in a book - Headway App

Jot down short summaries

In English class, you probably received a few assignments that involved writing summaries of written material. At the time, you were likely unaware that this process not only strengthened your writing skills, but it was a way for you to recap information and retain it better for upcoming tests and projects.

Using the same idea, as soon as you finish a reading piece, pretend you are writing a description to a friend who has no idea what the text is about. Then, if you can read your summary and gain some insight into the book’s purpose and general concepts, you should be able to return to it whenever needed.

When writing a summary, consider the following questions:

  • What are the main ideas of this text?

  • What are the main supporting points?

  • How can I implement these ideas in my daily life?

If you are short on time, a one-sentence summary for each large section of text could also suffice. Granted, you’ll need to condense the main points into a shorter format, but as long as your summary covers the general idea of the text, it can be useful for memorization of information later on.

Return to your reading later

Reading large amounts of text for hours at a time can cause your brain to become slightly foggy from an overload of information. To avoid this unfortunate brain fog, try reading material in small to medium-sized increments – for instance, two to three pages – before taking a short break. This way, you can return to the material later with a sharper mind than before.

Breaks anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes play a vital role in brain function by refreshing your mind, increasing your concentration, and keeping you alert. Without them, it’s easy to become stressed or overwhelmed. In turn, better mental health and boosted performance levels will increase your ability to retain information.

Make mental images

If you’re a visual learner, it may be more difficult for you to figure out how to absorb what you read than someone who learns best from reading and writing. This is because pictures are much easier to remember than words. In fact, mental images work similarly to the way you can remember events from your childhood – visual memories often take more precedence in the space of your mind, which explains why you can remember something from 10 years ago but forget what you studied last night.

As you move through a book, read each sentence and associate the keywords with a mental image. Prompting yourself to think about something harder will encourage your brain to remember what you read. In time, you’ll be able to graze through sentences while seeing it all play out visually in your mind. This will make it much easier to retain information, as you’ll be able to recall a visual memory rather than simply text.

Listen to book summaries

The digital world has brought forth many opportunities for learning and growth. In particular, reading apps have become a widespread method of absorbing information anywhere without the hassle of picking up a hard-copy book. Many of these apps, such as Headway, offer services that allow you to gain all the necessary information about a book in half the time with short and convenient summaries.

Spaced repetition serves as an essential factor in memory retention by enhancing brain responses and strengthening mental performance. In this light, audio summaries can provide a way to continuously train your brain to remember information. Therefore, listening to summaries of your favorite books may increase your memory and the likelihood of you applying the information to your life later on.

Listen to book summaries - Headway App

Improve your reading retention with Headway

Without proper reading retention, a person could read a thousand books and still not take in any information. In this idea, the act of reading on its own certainly won’t help you in terms of memory enhancement. Rather, it’s the improvement of your ability to retain information. With the right strategies put in place, making an effort to remember the information you read can benefit your mental health by reducing stress and helping you memorize more complicated concepts.

Most people experience reading regression at some point or another. Our minds go through different phases, and it’s not always guaranteed that your mind will be sharp enough to concentrate on a long body of text. Others are simply strapped for time, and busy schedules make it difficult to maintain a long reading streak. Either way, Headway can become a valuable part of your reading strategy by making it easy for you to absorb the most important parts of a book without actually going through it in its entirety.

Looking for more ways to retain what you read and build necessary mental skills? Download the Headway app to gain unlimited access to 15-minute summaries on books dedicated to your mental improvement.

Frequently asked questions

Are reading retention skills really necessary?

The inability to practice reading retention can make it difficult to engage in life-building activities such as using self-help books for self-growth or moving up in your career. In this case, reading retention is necessary to help you become a better person in mental, physical, and emotional ways. Moreover, for both children and adults, the level of reading retention can be an indicator of how well the person understands the material. From there, additional steps can be taken to improve this person’s ability to focus and concentrate.

What age do I need to be to improve my reading retention?

Retaining what you read is a skill that can be improved at any age. Whether you are a child first learning how to read or you are a business owner with decades of experience in reading lengthy texts, using the right strategies can make it easier to enhance this skill. However, if you are trying to improve reading retention as an adult, you may need to get rid of some improper reading mechanics. Then, you can work to implement scientifically-proven methods.

How can I find the time to read more?

Depending on how long you decide to read, the process of reading a book or text doesn’t have to take over an extended amount of time. Fortunately, there are ways to cut down on your reading time to fit it into a busy schedule, such as increasing your words per minute (WPM) speed reading or listening to audiobook summaries. This way, you can read and retain information while on the go – during commutes, break times, and before or after work.

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