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How to Retain More Out of a Reading by Sandy Elgendy

As a college student, I feel as if we are reading 24/7. Whether it’s an assignment for a class, taking notes out of a textbook, or catching up on daily emails, we are constantly reading in order to fulfill our requirements and succeed as college students. Of course, there is also reading for entertainment and pleasure that people might enjoy!


Here are some reading comprehension strategies I gathered to help you get the most out of your reading!

1. Create Searchable Notes

Take notes on what you read. You can do this however you like. It doesn't need to be anything fancy or big. Just do something to emphasize the important points and passages. I do this in different ways depending on the format. I either highlight passages when reading or bullet point important texts.

There is no need to leave the task of reading comprehension solely up to your memory. I keep my notes organized so I can easily refer back to them when needed. Of course, your notes don't have to be digital to be “searchable.” For example, you can use Post-It Notes to tag certain pages for future reference.

The core idea is the same: Keeping searchable notes is essential for returning to ideas easily. An idea is only useful if you can find it when you need it.

2. Combine Knowledge Trees


One way to look at a book is to imagine it is a tree with a few fundamental concepts forming the trunk and the details forming the branches. You can learn more and improve reading comprehension by “linking branches” and integrating your current book with other knowledge trees.

Connections like these help you remember what you read by “linking” new information into concepts and ideas you already understand. If you get into the mental habit of relating what you’re reading to the basic structure of the underlying ideas being demonstrated, you gradually accumulate some wisdom.

When you read something that reminds you of another topic or immediately sparks a connection, don’t allow that thought to come and go without notice. Write about what you’ve learned and how it connects to other ideas.

3. Write a Short Summary

As soon as I finish a book, I challenge myself to summarize the entire text in just three sentences. Although it is not necessary, it helps recall everything you just read. Some questions I consider when summarizing a book include:

  1. What are the main ideas?

  2. If I implemented one idea from this book right now, which one would it be?

  3. How would I describe the book to a friend?

In many cases, I find that I can usually get just as much useful information from reading my one-paragraph summary and reviewing my notes as I would if I read the entire book again.

4. Read It Twice


Revisiting great books is helpful because the problems you deal with change over time. Sure, when you read a book twice maybe you'll catch some stuff you missed the first time around, but it's more likely that new passages and ideas will be relevant to you.

You will read the same book, but you never read it the same way because you might own new knowledge that helps you understand and interpret the text differently than when you initially consumed the information.

When we only learn something once, we don’t really learn it (at least not well enough for us to be able to implement the idea or explain it to someone). It may inspire us momentarily, but then it becomes quickly overrun by other thoughts and new information in the later pages of the text.


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