Memory hacks: 7 tips to remember everything you read

For our brains, with their mere 8 gigabytes of remembrance, retaining knowledge can become a shipwreck. But fear not! We've scoured our brains and compiled 7 powerful hacks to read a lot and remember every little detail. Read on to remember more!

Memory hacks: 7 tips to remember everything you read

Wednesday January 17, 2024,

7 min Read

How often do we find ourselves with a book in hand, only to have its contents evaporate upon turning the last page? We recognise the title, perhaps remember the first lines – but the story, the insights, vanish like wisps of smoke.

You're not alone. Forgetfulness haunts even the most avid readers. Blame, in part, a limited vocabulary, hindering your comprehension and leaving understanding a distant shore. Others stumble over mundanity, and stress, lacking set goals and dedicated time for uninterrupted, silent reading. Then, there’s the race of ‘reading an X number of books in 2024’, luring us into the holy grail of ‘speed reading’. Although they promise feats of lightning comprehension, the clock ticks by, leaving us with just the book’s name and author.

For our brains, with their mere 8 gigabytes of remembrance, retaining knowledge can become a shipwreck. But fear not! We've scoured our brains and compiled 7 powerful hacks to read a lot and remember every little detail. Read on to remember more!

a pair of glasses on a book

Skim through but strategically

We’ve all been there–hurrying to finish watching/reading that much-awaited film/book. But guess what, contrary to popular belief, simply finishing a book or movie is not a guarantee of lasting recall. Remember those fleeting encounters with strangers on the street? Your brain registers their presence but lacks the context to forge a lasting connection. Similarly, when your primary goal is to reach the story's end, the information zips through your neurons like a bullet train, leaving no trace in its wake.

The key to unlocking meaningful recollection lies in a process called ‘encoding’. Think of it as registering fleeting impressions into memory’s sturdy shelves. And guess what? Our brains excel at this task when new information connects with existing knowledge, like familiar faces sparking recognition in a crowd.

This is where the art of ‘skimming’ comes in. As reflected by Bill Klemm, PhD, a neuroscience professor, by scanning the text beforehand for key topics and keywords, you essentially re-wire your brain's circuitry. Think of it as laying the groundwork for the incoming information, building pathways for deeper connections and lasting retention.

Try this tri-strategy– skim, connect, and encode, the next time you sit with a book. 

Cultivate your cognition through impression, association, and repetition

You can enhance your memory retention through strategic mental training techniques such as impression, association, and repetition, a method used by Warren Buffet himself. Consider the following steps:

Impression

  • Reading an important passage aloud can enhance the impression, leveraging auditory sensitivity for improved information absorption.
  • Visualise the described situation or create an image in your mind to enrich the impression. Incorporating visual cues and engaging multiple senses enhances memory.

Association

Relate specific principles or concepts to past experiences or something already known. This creates a sense of familiarity in your brain.

Repetition

  • Consistent repetition reinforces memory. Re-read passages, highlight key points, or jot down notes for later review.
  • Highlight specific sections for targeted repetition without revisiting the entire text.

Imagine explaining the crux to your sibling

Sometimes, when we're bombarded with facts and figures, it feels like everything's mashed together in a giant brain soup. But explaining something to someone younger, like a curious teenager, forces you to break it down, step-by-step.

To employ this trick, start by picking out the most important bits, the ‘big bricks’ that hold everything together. Then, you explain how those bricks connect, and how one idea leads to another, like building bridges between towers. You use clear words and familiar examples, and maybe even throw in a funny voice or two to keep things interesting.

And guess what? By doing this, you understand the whole thing better yourself! 

And if you don't have a 12-year-old handy, there are other ways to practice the art of plain explanation. Talk to a friend, record a voice message for some learning group, or talk with yourself in the mirror. These are all great ways to share your newfound understanding and, who knows, you might even spark someone else's curiosity and help them pick up the book!

Identify your knowledge gaps 

Once you’re done applying the above trick, you’ll be able to identify your knowledge gaps—whether it's omitting crucial details, searching for the right words, or facing challenges in connecting ideas. These moments of difficulty serve as indicators of areas that need deeper exploration.

Now you can go back to the book and re-read the challenging passages. This process, inspired by Feynman's Technique, involves elaboration and association concepts, enabling you to break down complex ideas and reconstruct them from the ground up.

Take notes but smartly

Professor Pierre Bayard echoes the importance of notes in building opinions over time. follow these strategies–

To make the best of note-taking, use Say Keng Lee's endorsement of the Cornell notes technique over the traditional outline method. This systematic approach involves five essential components outlined by Cornell University–

  • Record: Jot down notes as you delve into the text.
  • Questions: Formulate and document questions based on your notes.
  • Recite: Cover your notes and attempt to answer generated questions.
  • Reflect: Dive deeper into the material, contemplating its nuances.
  • Review: Dedicate a minimum of 10 minutes each week to revisit and reinforce your notes.

The essence lies not in complexity but in consistency. Choose a method that aligns with your preferences and seamlessly integrates into your reading routine, ensuring prolonged engagement and follow-through.

Build some context at the back of your mind

Embarking on a journey of literary exploration requires more than just flipping through pages. To truly understand a book's essence, it's crucial to understand the context surrounding its creation. 

Beyond the author's biography, try understanding historical and cultural contexts. For older books, grasp the historical backdrop; for those set in unfamiliar territories, learn about the cultural nuances.

Don’t hesitate to pose pivotal questions. What motivated the author to write this? Was there an underlying agenda? Dive into the political, economic, and cultural backdrop during the writing phase. Consider the translation or reprint history, and ponder if any significant events—an economic depression, a war, a change of leadership—occurred during the book's creation.

Remember; having a question at the back of your mind not only provides direction but also facilitates a more profound connection with the material. 

Forget numbers, be selective

Identifying the gems amid a sea of books is a skill that discerning readers cultivate. High-quality writing and impactful ideas have a distinctive allure, making them stand out effortlessly. To harness this ability, consider broadening your initiation of books. Rather than committing to an exhaustive page-by-page reading, employ strategic techniques to assess a book's potential swiftly.

In our information-saturated world, a paradox confronts the bookworms: how to read so much in a short lifetime? While some advocate for targeting X number of books in a year, the author suggests selective reading. Quality is always greater than quantity!

Begin with a preliminary exploration—skim through the table of contents, chapter titles, and subheadings. Dive into a captivating section for a few pages or peruse bolded points and tables. In a mere ten minutes, you can gauge the essence of the book.

Recognise that life is a finite resource, and wasting it on mediocre books entails an opportunity cost too high to ignore. Echoing this sentiment, Patrick Collison, the visionary founder of Stripe, aptly states, "Life is too short to not read the very best book you know of right now."

Selective reading is not a rejection of literature, but a celebration of its richness. So, cast aside your guilt, quit the unworthy ones, and savour the best ones.

This article may have sparked valuable insights about improving your recall on what you consume, but chances are that by tomorrow you will forget what you’ve read in this article unless you save it, highlight it, and make a point of relating it to your life. So, make that effort and remember everything!