Regardless of field or profession, all of us in formal or organized work sectors and schools have to read quite a bit. Multiple documents, books, PowerPoint presentations and field notes make their way to us. Some of us may also enjoy fiction and non-fiction books outside of regular work and school related reading. Although we do pretty well in remembering the gist of a text, or a striking point or two or the overall effect it had on us, we generally do not fare very well when it comes to remember the important details of long or complex texts.
Cognitive psychology as a field has done a lot of research into memory, and what is a paramount finding of this is that material is best remembered if it is encoded in our memory using deep processing as opposed to shallow processing. Shallow processing would mean just reciting or mugging up. Deep processing means engaging with the material, so that it’s meaning stays with us.
There are many ways to engage with the material for deep processing. Some of them are mentioned below:
Writing: Writing is an age-old technique but it still absolutely works. Note down important bits of information as you read it. An important tip – after this and after the reading is done, write it down again in a flowchart or some other organized manner. This is a full-proof way of remembering what you read.
Talking: When we talk to our friends and family about the read material, we process the information more and enrich what is stored. They may ask us questions or we ourselves might question ourselves while talking about it, and then filling the gaps in our knowledge makes the information more deeply entrenched in our memory.
Mnemonics: Mnemonics are clumping of detailed information in a way that is easier to remember. Making an acronym is a mnemonic technique. For example, there four steps to creative problem solving are preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. I would remember these as abbreviated to PIIV and imagine a ghost dog along with it (pet peeve connection). Method of Loci is another method. Imagine a very familiar place and as you take a mental walk through the place, put each aspect of what you want to remember at locations in the place. So I would put the ‘P’ from PIIV on the gate of my building, ‘I’ at the lift, the second ‘I’ at my door and the ‘V’ at my room. So when I imagine going up to my house I will think of PIIV. Remember to note down the mnemonics near the text you are revising.
Apart from these, skimming through the text for difficult words and concepts and then reading it slowly helps when it’s a long detailed text. Lastly, even these methods will not work if you just do them once. You need to revisit the text once every now and then, and revisit the written notes or mnemonics. Revisit meaning, ‘revise’.
Please feel free to ask questions and post comments.