5 Ways to Have Total Recall During Reading

Have you ever finished reading a chapter of your textbook, or a page of a work report, only to realize you hardly remember what you read?

How would your life change if you could remember everything you read – kind of like those movie characters who zoom through books and immediately store what they read in their mind?

Total recall when you’re reading can help you unlock enormous benefits.

From knowing you can remember everything you need to in exams and presentations, to massively improving your productivity and increasing your free time, there are plenty of advantages!

So, how can you have total recall during reading?

Table of Contents

1. Trace Under the Lines as You Read

2. Turn Everything You Read into Mental Movies

3. Summarize What You Read into Mind Maps

4. Create Associations and Pictures by Asking Yourself “What Does This Remind Me Of?”

5. Use Memory Systems to Boost Your Recall

5 Ways to Have Total Recall During Reading

1. Trace Under the Lines as You Read

5 Ways to Have Total Recall During ReadingYou might be struggling to recall what you read because of poor reading habits you’re not even conscious of. Habits like these slow your reading down and disrupt your brain’s ability to commit your learning to memory.

One of these habits is regression – when you end up rereading words or lines you’ve already read.

Do you find yourself backtracking when you’re reading? Perhaps you lose your place in the text or forget what you were reading and have to go back.

When you do this, it’s very disruptive and tiring for your brain.

Imagine you’re trying to watch a movie, but you have to keep rewinding because you keep missing dialogue or not paying attention.

Not only does it take you way longer to finish the movie, your brain is working that much harder to make sense of what you’re seeing and hearing because it has to keep hitting the brakes, reversing, and starting again.

Another poor reading habit which might be disrupting you is fixations – your eyes might linger a little too long on words, slowing you down.

Sub-vocalization, which happens when you’re reading words aloud either in your head or mouthing as you read, also slows you down because you speak a lot slower than you can read.

Here’s the good news. A simple way of overcoming all these roadblocks is using a tracer moving under the line you’re reading.

This gives your eyes a moving target to track, so you don’t risk losing your place in the text or accidentally get stuck a half-second too long while reading.

It’s a simple strategy, but it can make a significant difference to your reading and recall. As you read with fewer hiccups, your brain has an easier time committing information to memory, since it doesn’t have to stop and restart all the time.

When reading a physical book, use your finger or a pen to move underneath the lines as you read them. On a screen, you can use your cursor as your tracer instead.

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Another method that helps you instantly reduce all these poor reading habits is listening to the audio of the text at the same time as you read it.

Using an audiobook along with the physical or digital copy of your book, or uploading the text you need to read on to a text-to-voice reader like NaturalReaders.com, you input what you’re reading through two channels – visual and auditory.

This activates more regions of your brain, and helps you create a much deeper, intuitive understanding and memory of the text.

It also keeps you on track since you won’t find yourself mouthing along, getting stuck or going back when you’re reading along with the audio.

For a step by step breakdown on the science behind this method, which can help you go from reading a book a month to a book a day when done right, check out my course Total Recall Learning!

2. Turn Everything You Read into Mental Movies

5 Ways to Have Total Recall During ReadingTracing can help you speed up your reading and improve your recall, but to really enhance your recall when reading, you have to learn this core skill at the heart of total recall strategies.

Visual learners typically do this naturally – they turn what they read into moving, vibrant and memorable images in their head.

This is what gives them an advantage in school and when sitting exams.

Why? Because the brain processes and retrieves images tens of thousands of times faster than it does text!

Around 80% of your brain is involved in visual processing – images activate parts of your brain involved in both cognition and emotion, so they imprint themselves more strongly into your memory.

In fact, images bypass your short-term memory and directly process into your long-term memory!

So, imagine this – you have to describe the stages of the water cycle. Here’s a diagram illustrating the different stages.

5 Ways to Have Total Recall During Reading

Examine this image – you probably have an idea of what’s going on in the picture without an accompanying paragraph explaining it, right?

Now, what if I gave you several paragraphs of notes describing the contents of this diagram? How much longer would it take you to get through and understand what you can get just by looking at the picture?

Which will be faster in an exam room – recalling the water cycle diagram, or the text describing what’s happening in it?

Even without a handy diagram, you can recall what you’re reading faster by turning what you’re reading into images in your head.

Imagine water evaporating off a lake’s surface and from the leaves of trees under a hot sun, molecules rising through the atmosphere until they all bunch together to make clouds. And when the clouds get too heavy, they release the water as rain or snow, back into the lake they came from, which eventually flows into the ocean!

You’re going to be able to recall this mental movie much, much faster than recalling all the words you need to describe it, because of the reasons you just read about above.

3. Summarize What You Read into Mind Maps

5 Ways to Have Total Recall During ReadingTony Buzan, an author, educational consultant, and psychologist, developed mind maps as a tool for better recall when he realized linear notes actually don’t help you remember what you read or learn.

This is because, as you know, your brain takes much longer to recall text than it does images. It doesn’t learn and remember things in a linear, step by step manner.

Rather, your brain captures and processes ideas and abstract concepts and how they associate with one another, and it does this far faster and more easily in images.

That’s why mind maps are so effective. They help present the information you just read in a visual format that you can take in at one glance, instantly inputting all the points and how they connect to one another.

Mind maps can be as basic or as fancy as you prefer, but a typical map starts with the main chapter name or topic in the center, in a circle.

As you move around the circle clockwise, draw out spokes for each subpoint or subheading, placed inside its own, smaller circle. If each of these points are broken down into further subpoints, you can keep drawing out spokes leading out of their respective subcategory.

This is a much, much better alternative for summarizing what you read than linear notes or yellow highlighting a bunch of text in your books or reports.

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You already know that images are up to 60,000 times faster to process and recall than text. So, having everything you read condensed on to a single page like this makes it possible to recall everything you’ve read much faster than recalling paragraphs and paragraphs of text.

Moreover, when you convert all the pages of information you read into a mind map, it makes your brain engage with the content more meaningfully and critically.

You’re actively working on figuring out the main points and how information connects to one another.

On the other hand, if you were writing linear notes or highlighting the text, you might end up just copying down what you read or coloring huge chunks of your book yellow without really retaining anything.

4. Create Associations and Pictures by Asking Yourself “What Does This Remind Me Of?”

5 Ways to Have Total Recall During ReadingWhen you’re learning about something new or unfamiliar, you might not know what to visualize.

But one of the best ways your brain learns is by creating connections between something new and something it already knows.

So, whenever you’re reading and encounter new information, to store it into your memory and create a strong association for it, ask yourself “What does this remind me of?”

For example, think of sentences like “as cold as ice” or “as hot as a fire”. These give you an idea of how hot or cold something is through creating an association with something you already know.

Say you’re trying to remember how diffusion works in your physics class – the movement of molecules from a region of higher concentration to a region of lower concentration.

What does this remind you of?

Maybe you’re imagining how a splash of milk into a cup of black coffee turns it into a creamy brown, because the milk diffused throughout your cup.

Or perhaps you’re imagining how, when you spritz some perfume into the air, it doesn’t just linger in one place. It drifts throughout the room, from being highly concentrated where you spray it to diffusing throughout the space.

Creating a connection between what you’re learning and what you already know helps you better understand new and unfamiliar concepts. It also helps you visualize concepts and ideas better, and turn them into mental movies!

The more colorful, vibrant and animated your mental movies, the more memorable they’ll be.

So, for example, if you’re turning the concept of diffusion into a mental movie, you can imagine the molecules as audience members in a movie theater.

They’re not going to sit on top of each other or crowd around the door. Instead they’re going to make their way through the theater in search of an empty seat, from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration!

5. Use Memory Systems to Boost Your Recall

5 Ways to Have Total Recall During ReadingNeed to remember what you read in order?

You can use the 2,500-year-old technique that ancient Greeks and Romans used to remember everything when they didn’t have written records – which memory champions use to this day!

This technique is called the mind palace, memory palace or Roman Room, and it uses the strategy you learned about where you turn everything you read into mental movies.

First visualize a place you’re familiar with. This could be your home, your route to work or school, the route you take to get to your office from the lobby – imagine a route from one specific point on this mental map to another point.

Whenever you need to remember information in order, you start at the beginning of your mental map, and move through the same set of checkpoints.

At each of these checkpoints, you place a visual image of what you need to remember. Ask yourself, “What does this remind me of?” and create a vivid, moving image of the item, placing it at your first checkpoint, and then move on to the next checkpoint.

When you do this, it’s sort of like you’re putting a pin into the location of a memory on your mental map – because you know where it is, your brain quickly recalls the location the memory is associated with, to go and retrieve it.

5 Ways to Have Total Recall During Reading

Say you’re going to be in a cooking competition, but you need to remember this recipe without having it printed out or on a screen in front of you.

How would you remember the steps in the specific order you’re supposed to do them? Well – you can use the mind palace technique!

If your mental map is in your home, imagine this – you’re at your front door, and your oven is out there. You set the temperature to 180 degrees Celsius (or 356 degrees Fahrenheit). To remember the temperature, why not picture it as the number on your door?

As you go through the door, imagine 3 ripe bananas hanging off your coatrack like it’s a tree, and picking up these bananas. Then as you go past your shoe-rack, you pick up a bowl on top of it to put your peeled bananas in.

As you move toward your living room, there’s a teaspoon of vanilla essence on your coffee table, that you deposit into your bowl with the bananas. The flower vase on this coffee table also has a whisk, which you’re going to use to mix your ingredients together.

And so on! Imagine each item vividly and in a specific sequence down a pre-planned route in your mental map.

Whenever you need to remember a specific step, your brain travels to the specific location of this information, and you grasp what you need much faster and more intuitively than you would if you tried to memorize the whole recipe, word for word.

There are more memory systems which use visualization to embed what you read into your memory – from grocery lists to numbers to lists – check them out in my course, Total Recall Learning!

With these 5 ways to have total recall during reading and enough practice, you’ll be able to remember everything you read, and do so much faster than you’re used to!

pat wymanPat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, such as Total Recall Learning™. 

Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

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