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What you read can give you access to untold knowledge. But how you read changes the trajectory of your life.

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How to Remember What You Read

How to Remember What You Read

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It happens all the time. You read an amazing book, one so packed with wisdom that you think it’s going to change your life forever. Then…it doesn’t. Why? Because when you’re finally in a situation where you could use its insights, you’ve completely forgotten them. Time is our mos...

No idea could be further from the truth.

Learning means being able to use new information. The basic process of learning consists of reflection and feedback. We learn facts and concepts through reflecting on exper...

One of the reasons that we read books is because they offer a rich tapestry of details, allowing us to see the world of the author and go on their journey with them. Our brains can learn not only the author’s ideas but also when their conclusions about how to live are likely to w...

But if you only remember six things after reading this article, it should be the following truths about reading:

  • Quality matters more than quantity. If you read one book a month but fully appreciate and absorb it, you’ll be better off than someone who skims half the l...

  • Book summary services miss the point. A lot of companies charge ridiculous prices for access to vague summaries bearing only the faintest resemblance to anything in the book. Summaries can be a useful jumping-off point to explore your curiosity, but you cannot learn from the...

There are multiple strategies for getting more out of what you read. You don’t need to use all these strategies for every book. Using just a couple of them, whether you’re trying to learn a new philosophy or reading a work of fiction, can help you retain more and make deeper connections.

1) Active reading

  • Choose great books
  • Get some context
  • Know your why
  • Intelligently skim
  • Match your book to your environment

2) Remembering what you read 

  • Take notes
  • Stay focused
  • Mark...

Now, if you’re only reading for fun, or if you don’t want to remember what you read, this article doesn’t apply. Sometimes reading is entertainment, and that’s wonderful. But if you want to get some valuable knowledge out of a book, the first step to getting more out of what you read is being act...

Each time we pick up a book, the content has to compete with what we already think we know. Making room for the book, and the potential wisdom it contains, requires you to question and reflect as you read.

For example, you might ask yourself:

  • How does the book re...

Your first goal when reading is to not be a passive consumer of information. You want to get better, learn something, and develop your critical thinking skills. If you had a good teacher in school, you will have already seen this in action.

To get the most out of each book ...

There are no rules when it comes to choosing books. We don’t have to read bestsellers, or classics, or books everyone else raves about. This isn’t school and there are no required reading lists. In fact, there’s an advantage to be gained from reading things other...

A good place to start getting context is by doing some preliminary research on the book. Some books have a richer meaning once we know a bit about the life of the author and the place and time in which the novel was set.

For older books, try to understand the histor...

  • Why did the author write this?
  • What is their background?
  • What else have they written?
  • Where was it written? Was there anything interesting about the writing process?
  • What was the political, economic, and cultural situation at the time of writing?
  • Has t...

What are you reading this book for? Entertainment? To understand something or someone you don’t know? To get better at your job? To improve your health? To learn a skill? To help build a business?

You have to have some idea of what you want to get from the book. If ...

Before starting to read a book (particularly nonfiction), skim through the index, contents page, preface, and inside the jacket to get an idea of the subject matter. Use this information to situate your expectations and refine what you are looking for as you read.

T...

Although it’s not always practical, matching books to our location and circumstances can be powerful. Books will have a greater resonance as they become part of an experience rather than just supplementing it.

When choosing books, take a look at your own situation and decid...

Now that you’re actively reading, you’re engaging on a deeper level with the book. You are making connections to your own life, seeing new opportunities and possibilities. The next step is making sure you remember what’s important. Even the most diligent of us get caught up in th...

Making notes is an important foundation for reflecting and integrating what you read into your mind.

The best technique for notetaking is whichever one works for you and is easy to stick to. ...

Decide that for the time you will be reading, you will focus on the book and nothing else. No quick Twitter checks. No emails. No cell phone. No TV. No staring into midair. Understanding and absorbing a book requires deep focus, especially if the subject matter is dense o...

Most of us were taught as children to treat books as something sacred—no folding the page corners, and no writing in the margins, ever. However, if you want to remember what you read and you have the means to do so, forget about keeping books pristine.

Go crazy with marginalia. The ...

Books do not exist in a vacuum. Every concept or fact can be linked to countless others. Making an effort to form our own links is a fruitful way to better remember what we read.

Building vivid mental pictures is one of the most effective techniques for remembering anything...

Another way of building links is to hang everything on a latticework of mental models. Having a framework of deliberately constructed concepts enables us to better understand and synthesize books by allowing us to make connections to what we already know. Knowledge sticks in our memories ...

When it comes to reading, you don’t need to finish what you start. As a general rule, people who love reading never, ever finish a crappy book.

As Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote, “One can never read too little of bad, or too much of good books: bad books ar...

Author and librarian Nancy Pearl advocates the “Rule of 50.” This entails reading the first 50 pages of a book and then deciding if it is worth finishing. The Rule of 50 has an interesting feature: once you are over the age of 50, subtract your age from 100 and read that many pages

So you’ve finished the book. Now what? How can you use what you have learned? Don’t just go away with a vague sense of “Oh yeah, I should totally do what that author says.” Take the time to make a plan and decide how to implement key lessons from the book.

Reading alone is not enough. We have to contextualize the knowledge. When does it work? When doesn’t it work? Where can I apply it? What are the key variables? The list goes on. If you can take something you’ve read and apply it immediately, it will reinforce the learning and add...

Another way to reinforce the learning is to apply the Feynman technique, named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. You can think of it as an algorithm for guaranteed learning. There are 4 simple steps: choose a concept, teach it to someone unfamiliar with the subject,...

There are endless ways of organizing your notes—by book, by author, by topic, by the time of reading. It doesn’t matter which system you use as long as you will be able to find the notes in the future.

Having a catalogue of everything you learn from reading creates a pricel...

“Read a lot. Expect something big, something exalting or deepening from a book. No book is worth reading that isn’t worth rereading.” —Susan Sontag

Skim a lot of books. Read a few. Immediately re-read the best ones twice. While rereading can seem like a waste of tim...

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