If you’ve ever struggled to remember information from a book, especially a textbook for a class with an upcoming exam, then you’re not alone. By the end of this article, the hope is that you’ll retain the tips provided and can use them to boost your information retention skills. 

I, too, face challenges in remembering things while reading, and I hope the following tips can be beneficial for you if you’re dealing with the same issue. Below, you’ll find a list of strategies I’ve employed in the past to cope with this problem. Feel free to integrate these techniques into your reading sessions to enhance your retention, whether you’re studying or simply reading a book for entertainment. 

too much distraction while reading

1. Remove All Forms of Distractions

It might sound really obvious, but many people overlook this simple step. Perhaps it seems too straightforward, and as a result, many people allow distractions to persist around them. Before they know it, these distractions take over, hindering their ability to retain information from the books being read. This oversight can render the entire reading process useless and time-consuming.

What distracts you easily when you’re reading?

  • Music – Listening to music and trying to read can be surprisingly distracting, making it challenging to focus. While it might sound trivial, some people, myself included during high school, have been guilty of this bad habit. I’m glad I stopped this seemingly innocent practice, as it can stop the brain’s ability to retain information effectively. 
  • Watching Television – I might sound a bit dated since television is becoming less common with the rise of smartphones, Netflix, and YouTube. However, one of my past bad habits was watching TV as a kid while reading my textbook for an exam. While having the television on in the background might seem harmless, it may not be the best way to retain information from a book.
  • Switching Between Tasks – Staying focused on a boring task, like reading a textbook for an exam, can be difficult. However, constantly switching between tasks only prolongs the time spent on the boring activity. The brain struggles to be efficient when constantly shifting between tasks, so if you want to finish your reading quickly, it’s better to stay focused on the task until it’s done, rather than engaging in random activities that waste even more time. 
  • Cell Phone – The cell phone is probably the most distracting thing in modern times, especially when you’re trying to read. This distracting device is so addicting that some people even risk their lives by texting and driving. To enhance information retention, it’s crucial to keep your cell phone as far away from you as possible when reading a book.
  • Food – Food can be a big distraction, and it’s often best to avoid eating while studying or reading. Consuming food may lead to sleepiness, impacting your focus. Snacking during reading sessions can make the situation worse, especially if it results in a mess that could potentially damage your books.
reading in bad climate

2. Be In a Room With a Comfortable Climate

Reading can become challenging in extreme temperatures, whether it’s too chilly, hot, or humid, making it difficult to focus. Windy days outdoors can lead to pages turning uncontrollably, disrupting your reading. To fully enjoy your reading experience, pick a comfortable room with a climate that allows you to focus without external disturbances.

read in isolation

3. Isolation

A while back, I observed that isolating myself in a confined learning space significantly improved my ability to focus, learn, and engage with my textbooks. This experience led me to understand why college setups often feature desks designed like booths, where you can’t see anyone in front or to the side of you. Such secluded spaces seem to promote increased concentration and, consequently, a more effective environment for reading and learning.

4. Don’t Read When You’re Tire

Choosing the right time to read plays a major role in retaining information effectively. Picking the wrong time could be counterproductive, especially when fatigue sets in, hindering information retention. Identify the periods of the day when you feel most focused—it’s a personal preference. Discovering your optimal reading time allows you to read when your energy levels are at their peak, ensuring a more meaningful and effective reading experience.

don't read when you're tire

5. Reread What You Already Read

While it might seem painful, there are times when rereading is essential to fully absorb information from a book. Personally, I’ve had instances where I had to reread certain sections up to 10 times before my mind grasped all the details. If you’re committed to retaining the information, putting in the effort to reread challenging parts is important. It’s a strategy that requires dedication, but it can significantly pay off when you fully absorb all of the information.

6. Spread Your Reading Apart

Pulling an all-nighter to cram everything for an exam the next day is counterproductive because the human brain has limits on how much information it can retain in a certain timeframe. To enhance your chances of passing a test and retaining information, it’s advisable to start studying as soon as you learn about the upcoming test.

Personally, I used to space out my study sessions evenly over the days leading up to my exam. For example, if the exam was announced 10 days in advance, I’d aim to read the required material about twice a day. If I felt my brain wasn’t absorbing the information effectively to achieve the desired grade, then I’d increase the frequency to three or four times until I felt confident I would ace the test. 

Conclusion

These practices have been instrumental in improving my ability to retain information from reading books. Transitioning from a slightly above-average student to a more proficient one, I experienced a significant boost in my grades. I share these tips in the hope that they assist you in learning to retain information more effectively, ultimately contributing to better grades on your upcoming exam.

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By AL Tran

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