Internet Self Improvement

How to Remember What You Read Using Simple Tools

Dann Albright 04-05-2016

Reading more Want To Read More This Year? Here Are 10 Ways To Do It Spending more time reading isn't always easy. But think of the benefits -- escape and de-stress, learn new things, connect with people, think in new ways, and gain new insights. Read More is a great goal for anyone to take on — books help us see into the lives of other people, spend time living in new countries, experience the challenges and victories of different eras, and learn more about the world around us.


But reading more isn’t going to do you a whole lot of good if you can’t remember anything that you read.

Improving reading retention benefits all readers. It applies to anything you read, whether that’s textbooks, novels, academic journals, comic books, or online articles. The methods below use simple tools and ideas to help you better encode new memories in your brain, and will make a big difference in how well you’re able to remember what you read.

First: Slow Down

Before we get into the specific tools and strategies for remembering more of what you read, I want to make a note. Speed reading is great if you want to get through as many words as possible without taking much time to do it, but it’s not great for retention (here’s an interesting study on regressions and comprehension; there are plenty of others out there).

Slow Down!

If you want to remember what you read, you’re going to have to slow down. Apps like Read Fast and Spreed The Best Speed-Reading Extensions for Google Chrome A speed-reading extension can help you read online content a lot faster. Here are the best speed-reading extensions for Chrome! Read More  are cool, but they’re not going to help you remember very much. Instead, take the time to really read what you have in front of you Put A Brake On Speed Reading: 5 Tips To Be A More Engaged Online Reader The idea of speed reading has been around for decades, but there's been an explosion of speed-reading apps lately that promise to get your reading speed up. But is it worth it? Read More and be engaged with it. You’ll remember a lot more.


Create a Book Notes Repository

Taking notes on what you read is one of the most common tips out there for better remembering what you read, but not very many people tell you what you should do after that. My personal recommendation is to create a single place to keep all of the notes on what you’ve read. It could be a note-taking app Evernote vs. OneNote: Which Note-Taking App Is Right for You? Evernote and OneNote are amazing note-taking apps. It's hard to pick between the two. We compared everything from interface to note organization to help you choose. What works best for you? Read More , a folder on your computer full of text files 8 Everyday Things That You Can Track with Text Files Storing data in text files is a shortcut to a simpler workflow. Let's use the humble text file to track everyday data with these tips and improve our productivity. Read More , an organizational smartphone app, or even a single paper notebook.

My personal note-taking system is simple: I have a notebook in my Evernote account called “Book Notes“, and I make a new note for each book I want to take notes on (I don’t take notes on every book; just ones that I know I’ll want to remember clearly). Within that note, I jot down anything I think is interesting. It could be a fact, a quote, an interesting plot device, a character that I think I might have trouble remembering, or even a link to a relevant Wikipedia article.


Wherever you decide to keep your notes, make sure it’s with you at all times. I like using Evernote because I can access it on my computer, my iPhone, and my iPad, so I can always take notes, no matter where I am or which device I’m using to read. If you don’t have access to your note-storage system, jot some notes on paper and type them in later. This might be a good idea anyway, as writing with a pen works better for encoding memories than typing on a keyboard.


Finally, and this is the most important part, go back and review your notes regularly.

This doesn’t have to be a multi-hour study session. Just flip through your notes for a few minutes once or twice a week. You could read through all the notes from a single book, or skim a few notes from a number of things you’ve read. Repetition is an important part of memory How To Be A Smarter Learner By Using The Method Of Spaced Repetitions Spaced repetition is a method that can help you plateau out the downward curve of your forgetfulness and help you memorize large amounts of data. It is an accelerated learning technique. This article is about... Read More , and reviewing your notes will help firmly implant what you’ve read in your long-term memory stores.

Write a Review

Like going over your book notes, writing a book review The 10 Best Book Review Sites and Book Rating Sites Reading book reviews before you shop for one can save you from regrets. Here are the best book review sites you can check out. Read More is a great way to refresh your recollection of a book. And if you know you’re going to write a review of a particular book, you may read it a bit more carefully; you’ll pick out passages you want to quote, make notes of things you didn’t especially like, and try to create a cohesive whole of the book in your mind.



Your review doesn’t have to be a newspaper-article-length affair; it could just be a few sentences, if that will help you remember what you read. When I review books on Goodreads, the reviews tend to be two to three paragraphs long. I can write them in ten minutes or so, and the additional repetition of the book’s ideas help the story or facts stick with me.

There are lots of places you can write reviews of books without any pressure; Goodreads is my personal favorite An Unofficial Guide to Goodreads for Readers and Writers I am digital marketer who works in traditional publishing, and I am also a writer. And though I am not self-published, I have two words for those who are: Goodreads STAT. Read More , but you can review books on Amazon too, and /r/books is a great sub-reddit for discussing anything related to books. You could start your own blog, or even keep your reviews private and store them with your book notes.

If you keep your reviews to yourself, though, you’ll miss out on the potential to talk about your books, which is another great way to keep them fresh in your mind.

Discuss What You Read

Take advantage of the fact that talking about the books you read is so helpful in remembering them. Joining or starting a book club is a great way to meet new people, spend time with your friends, and talk about books. There really isn’t much that’s better than that!



There are plenty of ways to meet people with similar interests 6 Tools to Find Awesome People with Similar Interests Connecting with new people can help you get more out of life. Take the plunge and start making new friends who share your interests Read More , and using any of those methods will help you find a book club. If that doesn’t work for you, there are lots of online book clubs that you can take part in, too. There are thousands of groups on Goodreads, many of which read and discuss books together.

Check out One Book One Facebook, Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf, Oprah’s Book Club, Online Book Club’s forums, Well Read’s book club,, and the Reddit book club to see a few of the options out there.

Use the Features of Your Reader

If you’re using an e-reader or tablet, there are likely some features built in that can help you take and store notes, as well as a convenient way to look back at them to refresh your memory.

The Kindle, for example, is great for creating highlights and notes on anything you read; just tap a word and hold, then slide to where you’d like the highlight to end. Select Highlight to highlight the text, or Note to jot a note on that block of text.


iBooks has similar functionality for making annotations Why Apple's iBooks Is The Best E-Reader For Making Annotations Read More , and even lets you highlight in different colors. While highlighting and making notes on your device doesn’t have the same tactile benefits as highlighting or taking notes on paper, it does count as interaction with the book, and could be beneficial in helping you retain more information.

Both Kindle and iBooks highlights and notes can be exported and stored with your book notes as well, giving you even more to review and remember. The easiest way to do this is using the Bookcision bookmarklet for Kindle and the Digested app for iBooks.

Build Connections

Psychology offers a few tips for improving your information retention on items that you’ve read. For example, one of the ways that you can create stronger memories in your brain is to create connections between what you read and what you already know.


You can put this into practice using Evernote by linking between 20 Evernote Search Features You Should Be Using It's one thing to use Evernote, but it's entirely another thing to master Evernote. If you’re new to Evernote, I don’t want to come across like it’s something complicated – it’s not, in fact, it’s... Read More one of your book notes and another note that contains related information, so when you go back to review those notes, you’ll be reminded of the connection between them. This helps with repetition for both pieces of information, making it significantly more likely that you’ll remember both. Tagging your notes will help in a similar way.

Forming associations, whether between different ideas or between an idea and something else (like a location, in the method of loci, for example), is really effective in building memories. Using Evernote, Wikipedia, Reddit, or the Internet at large to form connections between ideas can be extremely effective.

I’ve found myself hopping around Wikipedia pages for hours, reading about related ideas. This helps you learn more and solidify your memories of what you’ve read.

Practice Focus

The inability to focus on what you’re reading can be a major impediment to really learning what’s in the text. If you’re checking your email, thinking about your vision board How to Create a Vision Board and Meet Your Big Goals You can call them as big rocks or big, hairy, audacious goals. Some call it a bucket list. Emptying that bucket calls for action. This is where a visual tool like Trello proves useful. Read More , wondering what you’ll do for lunch, or gazing out the window, it’s going to be difficult to really encode into memory what you’re reading.


Because of this, improving your ability to focus can be a huge help in learning more from what you read. How can you do that?

In addition to creating a distraction-free environment, you can meditate to improve your mind’s ability to stay on one topic. We’ve discussed meditation many times, and you can read about apps that’ll help you do it 6 Mindful Meditation Apps That Will Improve Your Life Living a more mindful live through meditation can have amazing positive effects. Give it a try with these apps. Read More and why it’s so good for you.

Start meditating just a little bit every day and make a conscious effort to be mindful throughout the rest of the day, especially when you’re reading. It could make a huge difference in how much you remember.

Go Forth and Be Well-Read

Being well-read doesn’t just mean that you’ve read a lot of books The Ultimate 50 Ways to Find New Books to Read There are some books which we don't want to put down. Thanks to the many tools available today, your next reading adventure can begin instantly. Find what you should read next with this guide. Read More ; it also means that you’ve learned from them and are able to talk about them (at least some of them, anyway). Making sure that you remember what you read, whether it’s from a history textbook or a graphic novel, is a great first step.

Everyone is different, and a different set of tools and strategies will appeal to everyone. Try a few of these out and see what works for you. If you don’t find what you need, keep trying new things! There are as many different ways to retain what you read How to Easily Organize & Remember All the Life Hack Tips You Read We forget things if we don't repeat them. That's bad news for the endless words of wisdom we read every day. The good news is that forgetfulness can be beaten. Read More as there are people reading.

Do you find it difficult to remember what you read? How do you make sure you retain as much as possible? Share your best tips and strategies below!

Image credit: ZIGROUP-CREATIONS via Shutterstock.

Related topics: Focus, Habits, Reading.

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  1. Anonymous
    May 4, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    I agree with the gist of this, except I far prefer OneNote over Evernote because it is much easier to organise your notes & keep an overview of them, rather than the bucket-like organisation of Evernote. I know, I know, this is a different issue to the subject of this post. Since you use Evernote you mention it here, so I thought it would be useful to point out an alternative. And there are many more alternatives out there.

    • Dann Albright
      May 6, 2016 at 6:32 pm

      I haven't used OneNote very much, but if it works better for you, that's great! Most of the time, Evernote's organizational system works really well for me, but I definitely understand looking for a system that works better for you. Thanks for chiming in!