4 Tips to Remember What You Read for Your Next Test

Have you ever read a chapter of a book, only to realize that you don’t recall anything afterwards?

Since you clicked into this article, the answer is probably yes.

And you’re not the only one.

Many people can read through several pages of text and retain only a fraction of it later. And this is bad news if you have to sit a test, write a report or present on the material.

The root of the issue is simple enough. You just don’t have the right strategies to make what you’re reading stick in your memory as you are reading.

But with the right tools in your arsenal, you can cut down on your study time – and the stress of forgetting and rereading – in half!

Table of Contents

1. Check Out What to Expect

2. Create Associations with What You Already Know

3. Turn What You Read into Mental Movies

4. Summarize What You Read with Picture Perfect Summaries

4 Tips to Remember What You Read for Your Next Test

1. Check Out What to Expect

4 Tips to Remember What You Read for Your Next TestBefore you set off on a long road-trip, what’s one of the first things you do?

Check the map, right?

Doing this gives you an idea of the lay of the land, and the pitstops you’ll be expecting on your way. It helps keep you on track and not get lost.

Checking out the overview of what you’re reading does the same thing!

Rather than lose your way starting off in a chapter or section not knowing where you’re going, quickly flip through the pages or scan the table of contents.

This way you get an idea of how much material you have to cover, how it’s structured, what you’re going to be covering, etc.

If you already know what you’re going to be covering for your test, it also lets you figure out in advance which parts of the chapter are relevant to the subject.

As a result, you don’t spend too much time reading text you’re not even going to need later!

Knowing what to expect also helps you know where to look for the information you need and feel confident that you’re on track!

2. Create Associations with What You Already Know

4 Tips to Remember What You Read for Your Next TestPerhaps you struggle to remember what you’re reading because the concepts are unfamiliar to you.

You might think the material is too technical, or that there’s too much new information for you to absorb.

A simple and brain science backed method of embedding new information into your memory is by creating associations.

This basically means looking at the new information you’re reading about and connecting it to what you already know.

For example, a piece of descriptive writing might tell you that the weather was warm.

But if the piece described the weather as “hot as a furnace” or “cozy as a blanket” doesn’t that give you a better idea of the temperature?

You understand how warm it is outside by connecting what you’re reading to something you’re already familiar with.

So, when you’re reading up new or unfamiliar information, ask yourself one simple question:

“What does this remind me of?”

This helps you connect what you’re learning to your existing knowledge. It’s like creating a mental bookmark to help you save this information!

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Here’s another example.

Say for example you’re learning a new language, and have a lot of new vocabulary to remember.

If you’re learning French, for instance, you might have to learn how to describe your family in the language.

“Père” is “Father” in French – and the sound might remind you of “pear.” “Mère” is “Mother” in French – and the sound might remind you of “mare.”

But that’s not all – creating this association is one half of the equation that makes information stick in your memory.

The next step is turning these associations into mental movies!

3. Turn What You Read into Mental Movies

4 Tips to Remember What You Read for Your Next TestThis is one of the most powerful strategies for your reading, learning and memory.

Think about it like this – can you picture the cover of a textbook you own? Something colorful, with an illustration or picture on the front?

Now, can you try and recall the words written on the textbook? The exact letters, in the title, the subtitle, the name of the author, and any other words?

Which was faster? The pictures, right?

Neuroscience finds that the brain is thousands of times better at remembering and processing images than it is at remembering text.

Images activate both cognitive and emotive pathways of your brain – it engages more of your brain’s surface area than text!

Through an image, you can quickly and easily grasp both concrete concepts, and abstract ideas.

On the other hand, when you’re trying to commit words to memory, your brain has to work much harder. It has to decode each word one by one, string them together, make sense of it, and then try to recall it in a sequence.

But if you embed images and mental movies into your memory instead, these are much easier to recall in an exam room than text!

And because you’re faster at processing and understanding images, you’re better able to intuitively understand and explain what you read, rather than memorizing without really learning.

So, as you read, turn what you’re reading about into moving pictures in your head – like a movie director!

This can speed up your reading too. Rather than lingering on words one by one, you’re grasping the meaning and ideas instead.

Okay, now think back to the examples from before.

“Père” for “Father” might remind you of “pear” – so imagine your dad dressed up as a pear!

“Mère” for “Mother” might remind you of “mare” – so imagine you mom dressed up as a horse, or riding sitting on the back of one!

Make the images as ridiculous, funny and animated as you can. Your brain loves humor and will conjure up these images incredibly fast.

Isn’t this much faster to recall than unfamiliar words like “père” and “mère”?

4. Summarize What You Read with Picture Perfect Summaries

4 Tips to Remember What You Read for Your Next TestHave you ever tackled the reading you had to do armed with highlighters and notebooks?

And has that actually been effective in helping you remember what you read?

If a chapter or textbook is dense with information, chances are, you’re only ended up coloring huge portions of the page yellow.

And maybe you ended up copy-pasting what you were reading into your notebooks, too.

This isn’t at all effective for learning and recall – something that Tony Buzan, a psychologist and educational consultant, discovered in college.

He realized that linear notes don’t work at all and discovered this was the case because your brain doesn’t learn in a linear manner.

In other words, when your brain processes ideas and concepts, it’s not thinking about them in the same sequence of sentences it read about them in.

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So, using brain science, he developed mind maps – or Picture Perfect Summaries.

You now know that images are incredibly powerful tools for your memory, and mind maps use this principle!

A mind map summarizes everything you read on to a single page, in a visual format that lets you see all the main ideas and how they connect to each other in one glance.

A typical mind map looks like this. The main idea or concept goes in the center. You draw a circle around this topic, and for each subtopic or point, draw out a spoke from the circle, going clockwise.

At the end of each spoke, place your subtopic. And if there are more sub-points under each of those subtopics, draw out smaller spokes and circles from those, too.

This engages your brain in multiple ways, and is more meaningful than using highlighters or taking linear notes.

For starters, by representing all the information in a visual way, you can recall it much faster during a test.

And as you create your mind map, your brain is engaging with what you read more meaningfully as it tries to summarize the main points and connect them together.

This helps you understand what the core takeaways are and how they’re connected, without getting lost in a bunch of yellow highlighted text!

With these science-backed tips, you’ll be committing what you read to memory as you’re reading.

This cuts down on the time it takes you to study, and gives you the confidence that you’re going to remember what you read whenever you need it!

Pat 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, including 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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