How Can I Remember What I Read in a Textbook?

If you’ve ever read something and your mind has almost immediately gone blank about what it was you read, you’ll know that sinking feeling of “oh no, not again”.

Textbooks do this a lot – they’re not as compelling as novels and your mind doesn’t interact with them in the same way.

After all, a lot of textbooks get their sales because they’re on the list of books you need to buy, not because they’ve had rave reviews on Amazon.

But you still need to remember what you’ve read in them, so what can you do to make that easier?

Decide why you’re reading

remember what you readThere are various reasons we read textbooks. Maybe it’s an assignment for the next class, maybe it’s for revision, maybe it’s to look up something you’re not sure about.

The clearer you are about the reason you’re reading, the more you can tune in to the things you actually want to remember.

So decide on the purpose for today’s reading session. It may take a minute or two but it’s time well spent because your subconscious mind will know what you’re trying to achieve.

Skim the relevant chapters

There are various ways to do this.

Photo reading takes quite a bit of practice – there are books and courses on it and it’s something I still use on occasion. In a nutshell, you soft focus on the middle of the book and let your subconscious spot things on each page as you fairly rapidly flip from page to page. I didn’t “get” it from the book and decided to go on a weekend course to get taught it properly (and I’m still not totally sure I’m doing it right!)

Speed reading is bit more conventional. Most of us read out loud but we keep that voice inside our head.

The logic is that a lot of the words on the page are “filler” words – you use them in a sentence to make it sound good but the actual content is a lot less.

For the previous sentence it’s essentially “lots words filler” – that’s 3 words instead of 35 but it gives you the majority of the meaning.

Speed reading lets your mind hook into those important words and remember them.

Like photo reading, it takes practice but I personally find it quite a bit easier and although my reading “speed” isn’t as high, my comprehension and memory of the book is quite a bit higher.

Or you can just skim the pages.

Most books use sub-headings and a fairly common textbook format is a sandwich format – it’s also used in lectures and videos as well, because it works.

  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them (that’s the summary of the section – hint!)
  • Go into more detail, expanding on the ideas
  • Tell them what you’ve just told them (summary again)

That means you can probably get 80% or so of the section in one or two short paragraphs.

Use active reading

This is very similar to active listenting.

So often, our mind is elsewhere when we’re doing things. Even more so if the textbook we’re reading is as dry as the paper it’s printed on.

Make sure you understand what you’re reading – for complicated textbooks that may mean re-reading a section after asking yourself what on earth it was talking about.

Question what you’ve just read – ask yourself questions as though you were facing them in an exam. And evaluate whether your answer is just waffle or if you can actually remember what you’ve just read and – even more importantly – know what it means.

Use the Pomodoro technique

Read the textbook – and do nothing other than reading it – for 25 minutes.

Then take a 5 minute break.

Then repeat the process, taking a longer break after four repetitions.

There are apps that will give you a timer if you find that easier.

Take notes

Make notes of the important parts of what you’ve just read, using your own words.

The act of putting the information into your own words rather than copying out the textbook forces your mind to work out more about the information you’ve just read.

You can also use your notes when the time comes to revise.

And – so long as you own the textbook – don’t be afraid to use highlighter pens to mark out important sections. Sticky notes work well too and have the advantage that you can use them to instantly go to the right section, especially if you label the parts that stick outside the page.

Go back a day or so later

We use different sections of our minds for short and long term memory.

Revising your notes helps reinforce the idea in your mind that this is something you need to remember.

If it’s really important, do this extra exercise after a week as well as a day.

Enhance your skills

Remembering what you read is a skill.

And practice certainly helps – if you’re doing this kind of exercise on a regular basis rather than once in a blue moon, you’ll automatically get better at it.

But if you need more help, consider listening to a hypnosis track that’s purpose designed to improve your skill at remembering what you read.

This hypnosis audio is designed to do just that and you can play it to yourself whenever you need to revise your memory skills and improve how you remember what you read in textbooks and elsewhere.