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How to Remember What You Read

Originally posted on TIME.com by Kevan Lee

A great place to start with book retention is with understanding some key ways our brain stores information. Here are three specific elements to consider:

  1. Impression
  2. Association
  3. Repetition

Let’s say you read Dale Carnegie’sHow to Win Friends and Influence People, one of our favorites here at Buffer. You loved the information and want to remember as much as possible. Here’s how:

Impression – Be impressed with the text. Stop and picture a scene in your mind, even adding elements like greatness, shock, or a cameo from yourself to make the impression stronger. If Dale Carnegie is explaining his distaste for criticism, picture yourself receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace and then spiking the Nobel Prize onto the dais.

(Another trick with impression is to read an important passage out loud. For some of us, our sensitivity to information can be greater with sounds rather than visuals.)

Association – Link the text to something you already know. This technique is used to great effect with memorization and the construction of memory palaces. In the case of Carnegie’s book, if there is a particular principle you wish to retain, think back to a time when you were part of a specific example involving the principle. Prior knowledge is a great way to build association.

Repetition – The more you repeat, the more you remember. This can occur by literally re-reading a certain passage or in highlighting it or writing it down then returning to it again later.

Practicing these three elements of remembering will help you get better and better. The more you work at it, the more you’ll remember.

Focus on the four levels of reading

Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Bookidentifies four levels of reading:

  1. Elementary
  2. Inspectional
  3. Analytical
  4. Syntopical

Each step builds upon the previous step. Elementary reading is what you are taught in school. Inspectional reading can take two forms: 1) a quick, leisurely read or 2) skimming the book’s preface, table of contents, index, and inside jacket.

Where the real work (and the real retention begins) is with analytical reading and syntopical reading.

With analytical reading, you read a book thoroughly. More so than that even, you read a book according to four rules, which should help you with the context and understanding of the book.

  1. Classify the book according to subject matter.
  2. State what the whole book is about. Be as brief as possible.
  3. List the major parts in order and relation. Outline these parts as you have outlined the whole.
  4. Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.

The final level of reading is syntopical, which requires that you read books on the same subject and challenge yourself to compare and contrast as you go.

As you advance through these levels, you will find yourself incorporating the brain techniques of impression, association, and repetition along the way. Getting into detail with a book (as in the analytical and syntopical level) will help cement impressions of the book in your mind, develop associations to other books you’ve read and ideas you’ve learned, and enforce repetition in the thoughtful, studied nature of the different reading levels.

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