4) Be Judicious in Highlighting and Note Taking
Use a highlighter to mark a FEW key points to act as the basis for mental pictures and reminder cues. Add key words in the margins if you don’t find useful clues to highlight.
Almost all students use highlighter pens to identify key parts of a text. But many students either highlight too much or highlight the wrong things. They become so preoccupied in marking up the book that they don’t pay enough attention to what they are reading. A better approach is to highlight just a few key words on a page. If many pages don’t require highlights, sticky tabs on pages with highlights can greatly speed a study process for whole books.
It is crucial to think about the meaning of text. Highlighted text needs to be rehearsed in the context of how it fits with the purpose, why it needs to be remembered, and how it fits with important material that preceded it. Every few paragraphs or pages, depending on the information density, the reader should stop and self-quiz to make sure the important material is being memorized. Making outline notes of such material after it is first read can be an important rehearsal aid for forming immediate memory and for later study. The act of creating such an outline from working memory, and checking it against the content just read, supports memory formation in very powerful ways.
5) Think in Pictures
A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it can certainly capture the essence of dozens of words. Moreover, pictures are much easier to memorize than words. Those memory wizards who put on stage shows owe their success (as do card counters in casinos) to use of gimmicks based on mental pictures. Ordinary readers can use to good effect the practice of making mental images of the meaning of text. The highlighted key words in text, for example, if used as a starting point for mental pictures, then become very useful for memorization. One only has to spot the key words and think of the associated mental images. Sometimes it helps to make mental images of headings and sub-heads. Pictures also become easier to remember when they are clustered into similar groups or when they are chained together to tell a story.
Mental pictures are not the only way to facilitate memory for what you read. I understand that actors use another approach for memorizing their lines for a play, movie, or TV show. Actors “get into the part” and study the meaning of the script in depth, which seems to produce memory automatically for them. When the same script is memorized with mental images, it appears that the text is being looked at from the outside, as something to be memorized. Actors, on the other hand, appear to be looking at the same text from the inside, as something to be experienced. The actors probe the deep meaning of the text, which inevitably involves attending to the exact words. For example, they seem to explore why their character would use a given set of wordsto express a particular thought. This is still a process of association, except that actors are associating words with real meaning and context as opposed to contrived visual image meaning and context.
Both approaches require engagement. The reader has to think hard about what is being read, and that is what helps you to remember what is read.
6) Rehearse As You Go Along
Read in short segments (a few paragraphs to a few pages, depending on content density), all the while thinking about and paraphrasing the meaning of what is written.
To rehearse what you are memorizing, see how many of the mental pictures you can reconstruct. Use headings and highlighted words if needed to help you reinforce the mental pictures. Rehearse the mental pictures every day or so for the first few days after reading.
Think about the content in each segment in terms of how it satisfies the purpose for reading. Ask yourself questions about the content. “How does this information fit what I already know and don’t know? Why did the author say that? Do I understand what this means? What is the evidence? Do I agree with ideas or conclusions? Why or why not? What is the practical application?” How much of this do I need to memorize?” Apply the ideas to other situations and contexts. Generate ideas about the content.
It also helps to focus on what is not said. To do that you also have to keep in working memory what was said. This not only helps memory, but you get the opportunity to gain creative insights about the subject. In short, thinking not only promotes memory formation but also understanding.