Become a Better Learner (Part 1): How to *actually* remember what you read

READ TIME: 5 minutes

I recently had some friends over for Game Night and one of them asked what I’ve been reading lately. As a book nerd, I was giddy to announce the premise, but the joy on my face quickly turned into flustered embarrassment when I couldn’t recall the main idea of the book.

The title? Sure. The author? Got it. The main point? I blanked.

Has this ever happened to you?

Memory is a fickle little devil

For a generation surrounded with exponentially more information than ever before, I sure do have a problem with recalling it. I’m sure you can relate.

I’ve researched how we can read more effectively, and here’s how:

  1. Consume better info

  2. Recall better info


Consume better info

At any point in time, you’re consuming information from multiple sources. As you read this post, you’re seeing the words, studying the format and typeface, noticing the colors on the page, etc. But you’re also listening to what’s going on in your environment right now. You’re thinking about the problem from earlier you haven’t yet resolved. You’re staying aware of the time.

You’re consuming a lot of information that’s unhelpful to the learning process. In order to recall more of what you’re reading, you need to improve the quality of input by consuming less peripheral, irrelevant info. This is going to be a huge challenge for us multi-taskers, but we can do it! Let’s focus.

1. Remove your phone

How many times have you sat down to read a book, then you read a word you didn’t know, went to Google it, and somehow managed to watch videos of dogs doing tricks for the next 30 minutes? Same…

Remove the things that distract you. Before I start a reading session in my living room, I put my phone on the nightstand in my bedroom. That way I’m not derailed by notifications, clickbait, etc. Speaking of clickbait… Hey, if you’ve considered taking a social media break but are unsure if it’s really worth the sacrifice, read this next: 10 Profound Benefits of a Social Media Detox.

2. Read with a pointer

I recently read a book by world-renowned neuroscientist (brain doc) Dr. Caroline Leaf, in which she wrote:

“Always read with a guide. This is an instrument to guide your eyes while you are reading… your finger, a pencil, or a pointer… A guide will improve your concentration span and your comprehension by about 50 percent because it uses both sides of the brain at the same time.”

-Dr. Caroline Leaf, Think, Learn, Succeed

She goes on to say that without a pointer, you’ll likely experience reader’s fatigue — that drowsy feeling you get even though you aren’t tired. It’s a result of half your brain powering down.


3. Vary the input

If you’re reading about a particularly meaty subject, try varying the medium. You can re-read about the process of making federal laws over and over again until you’re blue in the face, but maybe you need a short, educational video to explain it.


After you’ve watched a video (and hopefully not gotten sucked down a YouTube hole!), go back to the book and re-read the point the author is making.

If YouTube isn’t your thing, try these other inputs: Google an article, quick Wikipedia explanation, or infographic; outline what you remember & revisit it — are there any gaps of information you want to research?

This is how you can consume more pertinent, quality info.

4. Envision the text

Three things to envision while you read:

  1. THE PROTAGONIST: If you’re reading the book of Matthew in the Bible, envision the disciples’ handmade tunics and dirty feet in woven sandals.

  2. THE ACTION: What are the main characters doing? In the book of Matthew, the disciples are first introduced while fishing. They’re throwing heavy, wet nets into the sea.

  3. THE EVENTS: What’s going on? In Matthew, think about the hubbub of fishermen in boats in the Sea of Galilee.

Recall better info

Now that we’ve covered the input side of learning more effectively, let’s move on to the output side. In this section, let’s talk about remembering quality information. Here’s how:

1. Take notes as you read

As you read, take notes of what you’re learning. I like to say that authors are my secret friends, because I talk back to them in the margins of my books. By the time I’m finished reading, the book is desecrated with all my responses, questions, dog-eared pages, and little notes I’d like to return to.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin

When you read, you’re telling your brain what to think. When you take notes, you’re involving your brain to understand the information in a way that’s pertinent to you.

2. Summarize what you read

Whether it’s the end of a section of a chapter, the end of a whole chapter, or the end of the book… Recall what stuck out to you. Did you learn to like a character you previously didn’t? Or maybe you found out how to feel more confident when giving a speech.

What did you learn from this reading session?

3. Apply what you learned

Have you ever searched Pinterest for a recipe? Let’s say you search for the recipe for Pumpkin Spice Snickerdoodles — YUM! You find one, read it, and realize you don’t have the ingredients to make them tonight. If I ask you tomorrow how to make the cookies, will you be able to tell me? Unless you’re Mike Ross, no way. But if you actually made the cookies, you could probably roughly recall the steps you took in your kitchen to prep those little guys.

To convert short-term information to a long-term memory, you have to practice it. In the previous step, you summarized what you read. Now ask yourself:

What change am I going to make now? Go do it!

4. Repeat it to someone

The Roman philosopher Seneca once said:

“While we teach we learn.”

While you’re trying to reinforce a new lesson in your mind, share it with someone else. Putting it in your own words helps you to restructure the content and commit it to memory. If you read a cool book, text the premise to a friend. Next time you’re at a coffee date, bring up the point of something you read (like a really cool blog post about remembering things that your fave blogger wrote… *shameless plug*)


Here’s a cheat sheet for you!

Take a screenshot to save.


You can learn to read effectively!

If you’ve been discouraged by reading before, shake off that feeling. You’re smart, you’re able, and you now have several new tools to help you learn better. Try out one of these tools with this blog post now. Jot down a valuable tip you learned. Share it with a friend! And go apply this new-found knowledge on a good book.

Might I suggest some of my favorites? Click here: 2018 Gift Guide for Christian Readers.

Written with love,

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Go on a reading spree!