How to Remember What You Read

How to Remember What You Read
How to Remember What You Read
Many academic disciplines require students to read vast amounts of dense scholarly material in addition
to keeping up with lecture notes. Just reading the required number of pages can seem next to
impossible, much less remembering what you have read. Here are some proven strategies that can help
you organize and remember the information.
Focus on Main Points
The first or second paragraph following a heading often contains a summary of the main points,
but check other paragraphs as well. Take note of overt statements of the author’s intent, such as,
“My aim is ….” Try to notice the author’s style. Are important points mentioned more often at the
beginning, middle, or end of paragraphs?
Put It in Your Own Words
Put main ideas into your own words, whether saying them out loud or writing them down. If you
can’t do it, you probably don’t yet understand the material. Make separate summary notes for an
easy overview, and then test yourself after each paragraph, section and chapter.
Make Full Use of Your Textbook
Don’t be afraid to write in your books—you paid for them! The value of making margin notes to
enhance your learning will far outweigh the resale value of a spotless secondhand textbook.
First Read, then Underline and/or Highlight
Reading a section first will help you see key ideas and avoid underlining too much. Using
different colours and symbols (in moderation!) helps categorize types of information such as
definitions, important people and new concepts.
Write in the Margins (See also the LAC’s “Underlining and Highlighting” handout)
Be brief, but clear. You can jot down examples that will remind you of key ideas or your own
thoughts about and reactions to the text.
Use Sticky Tabs
For future reference, bookmark important sections and ideas, labeling your tabs with key words so
you won’t waste time trying to find those ideas later. You may also want to make notes about
where to find related ideas, for example, “definition on p. 20.”
Read Headings
Pay attention to headings and sub-headings, which are usually clear summaries of the section.
Sometimes using these headings can also be helpful in organizing your notes.
You have the tools. We’ll help you use them.
Notice Text Layout
Notice bold and italicized words, which often signify key terms or definitions. Diagrams and other
visuals can also represent important concepts. Read captions!
View Chapters Holistically
Recognizing the relationship of ideas within and between each chapter will help build a more
complete understanding of the material. Are the ideas organized chronologically, by cause and
effect, or in some other logical sequence?
Get Personal
If possible, connect with the material on a personal level. Some topics can elicit responses or trigger
memories which can help make the material stay in your memory. The more invested you are in
the material, the better your chances of retaining it.
Draw It Out
Increase your interaction with the text by turning words into diagrams and diagrams into words.
While writing is a left brain activity, drawing uses the right side of your brain; therefore, doing
both will store information in both brain halves as well as developing more creative thought
connections. Diagrams or doodles in your notes also draw your eye to specific places on the page,
saving time when you’re skimming to find a certain point.
Don’t worry if you’re not Michelangelo (who is?)—your doodling is merely a processing tool, for
your eyes alone.
So have a little fun! However, make sure you don’t spend too much time drawing since it can
eventually lead you away from study mode by changing your brain wave activity.
Accentuate the Positive
Stay open to and positive about the text. Getting frustrated or negative will only make
understanding more difficult. Take a break if necessary.
Be Flexible
Choose notetaking strategies that suit not only your own learning style but also the requirements
of the subject. For example, you will need to take a different approach for a language or math
course than you use for history or psychology. Let the format of the textbook suggest a useful
Academic Learning Centre 2
Review What You Read…
Immediately after you read it
Within a few days
Before the test
Remember that reviewing is not just skimming through the chapter, but recalling key ideas from
memory. Read a heading, and then ask yourself what subheadings and important concepts are
contained within BEFORE looking them up.
Anticipate the Test
Anticipate, formulate and answer your own test questions based on your review and on what
your professor has emphasized in class.
Edwards, Betty (1999). The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. NY: Tarcher/Putnam.
Fleet, J., Goodchild, F., & Zajchowski, R. (1999). Learning for success: Effective strategies for students (3 rd ed.).
Scarborough, ON: Nelson Thomson.
Academic Learning Centre 3
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