How to read (and retain)?

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kurious
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How to read (and retain)?

Post by kurious » Sun Aug 18, 2019 8:20 am

Dear Bogleheads,

I am certain this is a community of bibliophiles. I need your guidance on being effective at reading and retaining what I read.

Broadly speaking, there are three sources that I read:

1. Technical books: My job is at the intersection of business and technology. Hence I read books related to programming, linux administration, data science, and business articles/books on how the suite of technologies I work with or those related to it impact industries. The challenge is I don't remember the details. For example, I have been programming in Python for several years but I still need to look up syntax for even common data structures.

2. Non-technical books: I read non-fiction that helps me make sense of the world and/or help me improve. The last book I read cover-to-cover was Deep Work and I intend to pick up Solomon's Code today from the library. In between them, I am at various points of completion of another 2-3 books. Again, the problem is I do not remember concepts as well as I would like.

If you ask me the gist of Deep Work, I'll be able to provide some vague recollection about quitting social media, being very deliberate about everyday schedule, using non-work time for deep thinking, and being mindful about not getting distracted. There were other tenets and details that I can't quite remember (broad topics such as other approaches to deep work and details such as the name of the famous CS prof at Stanford who has shunned communication, the philosophers whose everyday routine included a walk).

3. The web: I get curated lists through some browser extensions that I often find useful. I tried using Facebook as a curated reading feed without much success and have thus suspended my account. However, I am concerned about not remembering concepts. For example, I learned about Dunning-Kruger effect just a few weeks ago from a Forbes article (I had to look it up in my notes for the timeframe). I saw the phrase show up on my LinkedIn feed today but couldn't remember what it meant.

I am only 32 and think I don't quite get the bang for buck for the amount of time and effort I invest in reading. I need your help with the following:

1. How to effectively retain what one reads? I learn best when I write things down but that is too time consuming. Do you have a learning technique/pattern that works for you?
2. How do you decide what book to buy in hard copy, what to buy on Kindle, and what to borrow from the library?
3. Do you have a set time of the day when you read? Most of my reading happens over the weekend.

Inframan4712
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by Inframan4712 » Sun Aug 18, 2019 8:31 am

Eliminate distractions like social media and texting

Stop reading multiple books at once.

Go back and read the python book and WRITE down the syntax like doing your times tables (multiplication) in 3rd grade.

If you want to learn something you have to STUDY it, not just read it.

Topic Author
kurious
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by kurious » Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:16 am

Thank you for the suggestion. I'll start writing things down, even if they slow me down to an extent.

jayk238
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by jayk238 » Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:24 am

Theres too much of the quick learning fad in todays society. Im around your age and I experieNced it since was in Middle School when one of the classmates announced that studying for a test was tantamount to cheating because learning material should happen only in the classroom and quickly.

Nothing happens quickly. What separates the cast majority of talented programmers from the average is not innate ability. Its perseverance and care and diligence and simply hard work. You have to get into the details and get underneath the core of the material to do well. No way around it.

UpperNwGuy
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by UpperNwGuy » Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:46 am

How old are you? I find as I get older, I remember less of what I read.

livesoft
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by livesoft » Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:47 am

Have parents who were good at reading and retention.
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Sandtrap
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by Sandtrap » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:10 am

1. How to effectively retain what one reads? I learn best when I write things down but that is too time consuming. Do you have a learning technique/pattern that works for you?
2. How do you decide what book to buy in hard copy, what to buy on Kindle, and what to borrow from the library?
3. Do you have a set time of the day when you read? Most of my reading happens over the weekend.
1
First: Discover how "you" learn, how you "internalize" experience and knowledge, and then, how that materializes in your life.
Everyone does these things differently. And, likely, what works for others, and what is taught in books and institutions, may not work for you, at all.
For example: as an MBTI-INTJ/A, Mensi. . . I know that at some point there will be a huge "aha!" and a zillion bits of info and experiences will coalece into one deeply understood thing. So, I absorb and know that until the "aha!" comes, I will only have a surface or temporal understanding and retention.

2
The technique or pattern changes according to what is being studied, read, experienced.
For example: If I read and experience to "learn" and internalize until I have an organic understanding, then retention is permanent. I am fascinated by many things so there's a certain level of immersion that happens when reading. (But, what if it is "not interesting"? Then, get interested. Go further, deeper and broader than what is presented.)
For example:
For very serious reading, I might markup the book, highlight, put sticky tab markers in between the pages. Every book or material has a "core of things" or "central concept". Get that an you get the whole thing.

3. The more you "handle" the information, the more you will retain. For example: when reading, underline, yellow out, put sticky tabs in the pages, make note cards. You've now handled it at least 2x already. Then, condence the concepts further until an entire book can be summarized on one note card.
Now. For example: when studying for a test, one only need review the single note card. Why? Because the rest is already internalized. You "know" it.

4. I've always been a voracious reader. Multiple books at a time. And, read at every "quiet time" opportunity. I think "readers" are like musicians or artists. It's somthing that is inseperable to life. The learning and growing part.

j :happy
Last edited by Sandtrap on Mon Aug 19, 2019 2:51 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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victw
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by victw » Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:25 am

kurious wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 8:20 am
Dear Bogleheads,

1. How to effectively retain what one reads? I learn best when I write things down but that is too time consuming. Do you have a learning technique/pattern that works for you?
2. How do you decide what book to buy in hard copy, what to buy on Kindle, and what to borrow from the library?
3. Do you have a set time of the day when you read? Most of my reading happens over the weekend.
In regards to #1. I would push back a little on this based on your reading patterns. Why do you need to retain everything you read? What do you want to retain? What can be let go?

I too often have a stack of half read books. And an RSS feed that is too much. I enjoy having an interest in many subjects. But this makes me more of a generalist and not a specialist.

I do deep dive on some subjects and for that I use hard copy books. Pens for underlining. Notes scribbled in margins. And sometimes classes.

Vic

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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by Godot » Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:33 am

UpperNwGuy wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:46 am
How old are you? I find as I get older, I remember less of what I read.
If you remember OP's post you would see that he is 32.
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Beensabu
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by Beensabu » Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:52 am

Multiple read throughs. The first read is usually a scan, where you get the gist of it. The second is where you start to pick up details. The third is where the details start to make sense in terms of the broader concepts. Even fiction is different on every read through. Keep reading it until you understand why it was written the way it was, then you will retain it.
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longterm100
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by longterm100 » Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:55 am

Try the app Blinkist. It summarizes books so you can read them (or listen to them). In 10 min. I’ve found it the fastest way to get the key points from a book. I’m resign 5 books a week now.

UpperNwGuy
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by UpperNwGuy » Sun Aug 18, 2019 12:10 pm

Godot wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:33 am
UpperNwGuy wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:46 am
How old are you? I find as I get older, I remember less of what I read.
If you remember OP's post you would see that he is 32.
Yep, I see it now. It was near the end of a long post.

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shmidds
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by shmidds » Sun Aug 18, 2019 12:14 pm

Take the time to draw a simple picture at the end of each chapter. For example, I read Frances Mayes "Bella Tuscany" last year. In the chapter where she visits Sicily I drew a picture of the trinacria. In the chapter where she visits Venice, I drew a picture of a bridge over a canal. In the chapter titled "The Humming Urn," I draw a picture of a girl sitting on a stone wall next to an urn with bees going in and coming out of the urn through a broken handle. I gave the book to a friend when I finished reading it but I can still visualize almost every picture and the gist of each chapter.

Thats why my kindle is gathering dust on the shelf and I've gone back to paper books. An added bonus is your drawing skills improve.

02nz
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by 02nz » Sun Aug 18, 2019 12:16 pm

As another poster pointed out reading more than once is crucial. Making annotations (what’s interesting/surprising to you, what do you agree/disagree with). Note-taking also enhances retention, and research shows hand-writing is more effective than typing.

Wilderness Librarian
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by Wilderness Librarian » Sun Aug 18, 2019 12:56 pm

I have many of the same concerns. Several good answers above I could make use of myself.

I remember many years ago hearing a commentator on public radio arguing against speed reading saying authors spent a lot of time and effort choosing their words and readers owed it to them to savor those words.

Sometimes I have to read a book twice to read it once. If I do though I usually have a lapse of several months or years between readings.

Often skim selected sections or chapters right after finishing the whole book as a refresher. Sometimes read reviews especially consumer reviews on Amazon or good reads after I finish to see points or interpretations I might have missed.

As to you question of buy vs. library copy: Actually I try to restrict purchases to reference sort of items (hiking guidebooks, bird identification etc,) or to used books I can get cheep. I worked in libraries large enough to have most of the books I read or could get them through our own interlibrary loan dept. easy enough. Now I am retired and rely on local public library which has limited staff time for ILL so they take a long time. So I am revising strategy to buy more if used price is low enough.

But an additional point regarding absorption & retention: A good library will have secondary source material including technical subject encyclopedias that are very useful and often good reading in their own right. Remember those teachers who told you not to use encyclopedias? That is terrible advice! Often times encyclopedias are the best thing to be using. In my instruction sections (I was an academic librarian for 40 years) I would show such things as a 15 volume encyclopedia of electrical engineering or a multiple volume encyclopedia of philosophy to make this point.

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Christine_NM
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by Christine_NM » Sun Aug 18, 2019 1:21 pm

As everyone is saying, you have to spend time with the material, not just scan it, to give your brain a chance to form a memory. Read out loud. Take those notes and reformulate the ideas. Do anything that forces your brain into slow-thinking mode, which it will resist with all its might (Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow). Test yourself later. Have someone else prompt you on the material and then you finish (like an actor learning lines). Act things out as you think about them. A little of this goes a long way, so do not try to absorb too much at once, maybe 20 minutes at a time, every day. Learning a little is better than reading it all and forgetting it all.

I gave these suggestions, which have worked for me, to a friend a couple of weeks ago before she had to take a workshop. She's driving back today and tomorrow I'll see if they worked for her.

I should think it would be hard to study as opposed to reading for immediate enjoyment unless there was an external purpose in learning, like a course or a job requirement.
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bgf
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by bgf » Sun Aug 18, 2019 1:30 pm

The book that you need to read is aptly titled "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler. It should be required reading for everyone in high school. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

You will learn to ask the right questions of books, how to skim, outline, and generally attack a book to engage "in a discussion" with the author. You'll also learn the proper ways to critique a book.
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iasw
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by iasw » Sun Aug 18, 2019 3:55 pm

Use the method of narration, or telling back what you've just read in your own words. It could be a dense paragraph; it could be a chapter.

You can do it aloud, mentally, or write it down.

This practice helps cement concepts in your mind, because you have to wrestle with the material to recall it, process it, and put it in your own words. Further, your focus will sharpen as you read.

Narration is a practice found in certain methods of education, including Classical.

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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by whodidntante » Sun Aug 18, 2019 3:58 pm

Annotations help me a lot. It's also a good way to review a book you read before, and see what stood out to you.

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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by Fallible » Sun Aug 18, 2019 4:19 pm

I don’t retain everything I read, but I’m much more likely to if I’m deeply interested, i.e., emotionally involved, in what I’m reading. But if I read something because I think I should or am required to, i.e., intellectually involved, I’m less likely to retain and more likely to gladly set the book aside. When emotionally engaged, I forget time and am “in the flow,” a lovely state and one conducive to retention. When I can’t put the book aside, such as when taking a class, I need to use some of the methods mentioned here, e.g., taking notes forces me to concentrate and that improves memory. Yes, it does take more time, but time well spent and the concentration it brings may carry over to the next book.

Generally speaking, I think how well each of us reads and retains is so individual and so much about individual and complex brain structure that there are no easy answers to your questions. It’s the old “Whatever works for me may not work for you.” And we may not even fully realize what it is that works for us, or doesn’t, or why.

Your second question is one I’ve had since buying a Kindle several years ago: “How do you decide what book to buy in hard copy, what to buy on Kindle, and what to borrow from the library?”

Again, it’s individual differences and I’d love to better understand what my brain is up to when I decide to read on a Kindle or from the library, or to buy, and whether to buy a hardcover or paperback (Boglehead frugality usually decides the latter, but not always). I’d especially like to know how I decide I want the book for my own, but it all seems to be up to my subconscious so I’ll have to leave it at that.

Overall, I think your best bet is to read what truly and deeply interests you and assures better concentration so you can forget the endless distractions in life.
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kurious
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by kurious » Sun Aug 18, 2019 4:56 pm

So many insightful comments! The community seldom ceases to amaze me. I have several takeaways to try:

1. Read "How to read a book"
2. Do multiple reads of a book
3. Take notes as well as annotate
4. Focus on "study and learn" instead of reading
5. Focus on what I want to retain instead of trying to extract everything
6. Check out Blinklist.
7. Refer secondary source material
8. Try narration and testing myself later
9. Remain emotionally invested to avoid distraction

MathIsMyWayr
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by MathIsMyWayr » Sun Aug 18, 2019 5:09 pm

You are quite young, but as we age, our mind accumulates a lot of stuff and there are a myriad of things which need attention but remain unresolved. All these make our mind less sensitive to stimulation. For example, what we read do not leave even a temporary impression or sometimes we don't even know the subject of what we are reading and get lost. I also noticed that as I read, I do not get hold of the flow of the story. The urge to read as much as possible also exasperates the problem. Reading on a computer screen makes things even worse.

I subscribe newspapers, yes, paper I can hold with my hands. When I read newspapers or magazines, I mark using a red pen and go back and forth trying to make sure that I follow the story. The amount of reading becomes less, but I can recall better. This helps me noticeably in reading/comprehension. If you read without following the flow of the story, you are just wasting your time and make your body and mind exhausted. It is a vicious cycle.

PhilosophyAndrew
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by PhilosophyAndrew » Sun Aug 18, 2019 5:18 pm

OP, the best way I’ve found to retain material I’ve read is to teach it to others. Perhaps you can find or create opportunities to do this for the content you most want to master.

Andy.

Topic Author
kurious
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by kurious » Sun Aug 18, 2019 5:21 pm

Thanks, Andy. I will seriously consider your suggestion. I LOVE both learning and teaching. My wife will be my first test subject.
Reading on a computer screen makes things even worse.
Agreed. I have moved away from trying to read on a screen.

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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by PhilosophyAndrew » Sun Aug 18, 2019 5:24 pm

One other technique that I use when I really want to understand complicated material is by summarizing each important point in my own word. Sometimes I do this for each paragraph, sometimes for each sentence depending on content.

One can do this to a limited extent with marginalia, but the most efficient and effective way I’ve found is to write out my paraphrases by hand — I usually give the page number and then my paraphrase.

This process ensures both that I remain engaged with the text and that I slow down to try to understand its structure and line of argumentation.

I keep a separate notebook for “key insights” — the most important takeaways, the biggest questions that remain unanswered after my close reading, important objections to a text’s arguments or assumptions. These are usually my “go to notes” if I want to teach or write about a text.

Andy.

gtd98765
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by gtd98765 » Sun Aug 18, 2019 6:31 pm

As others have said, reading is not enough. If you want to remember something, you have to try to recall it - it is the act of recalling that helps move ideas from ST to LT memory in the brain. After you finish a chapter, try to remember the key points - and if you can't, then go back and review. Then try again to remember without the pages in front of you.

FI4LIFE
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by FI4LIFE » Sun Aug 18, 2019 6:50 pm

Great topic. I'm in the middle of trying to study several thousand pages of material for work after a 10 year brain hiatus. It's not going well. Seems that reading retention is a perishable skill (at least for me). I'm using the otter app to record voice notes that I will play back at a later date. Hopefully that works for me. Worth a try for you.

FI4LIFE
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by FI4LIFE » Sun Aug 18, 2019 6:55 pm

longterm100 wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:55 am
Try the app Blinkist. It summarizes books so you can read them (or listen to them). In 10 min. I’ve found it the fastest way to get the key points from a book. I’m resign 5 books a week now.
Does blinkist have their own catalog of material? I would assume they don't have niche technical textbooks etc? Maybe I don't understand the app.

Traveler
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by Traveler » Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:12 pm

I am like this with most movies. I can watch a movie and a week later I remember that I watched it and can tell someone a basic summary of what it was about, but usually don't remember how it ended. I've never been that into movies so maybe that's why. Regarding reading, I read a lot for work, mostly industry articles, competitor news, press releases, financial reports, etc, and usually remember most of that. I find that printing things out and highlighting/writing in the margins helps me remember important things.

With books, can you take notes either on separate paper or in the book itself and after every chapter go back through your notes, reread parts, etc? That might help you retain more.

health teacher
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by health teacher » Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:23 pm

The major keys with retention are engagement and relevance. The more interested you are in the content, the more likely you will remember and/or transfer knowledge. So if you aren't interested don't waste your time. When you think back to classes that you "didn't learn anything" in it's not because you weren't exposed to content, but rather the content and/or presenter wasn't engaging or you simply didn't care about it.

And if your going to take notes, it's really important to summarize in your own words rather than copy things word for word.

Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally is an example of a mnemonic acronym. They are great for remembering lists or patterns.

Repetition is important as very, very few people actually learn anything reading it once. Also, reread over multiple days and add in any new thoughts as annotations.

You really need to discuss what you read with others. Express your view points, listen to others and then construct new knowledge based from that experience. There's an entire learning theory called constructivism based on this.

Finally, reflect on what you've learned. Take note of what you remember throughout the week or on a subject. Think about why it matters and how it's beneficial to you.

To summarize:

Find something you're interested in, write summaries or abstracts of what you read, re-read your notes and rewrite with annotations as necessary, discuss what you've learned with others via forum or face to face etc. And reflect on all of this.


P.S Quizlet is a great resource to learn new vocabulary and content using online flashcards.

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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by Texanbybirth » Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:33 pm

bgf wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 1:30 pm
The book that you need to read is aptly titled "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler. It should be required reading for everyone in high school. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

You will learn to ask the right questions of books, how to skim, outline, and generally attack a book to engage "in a discussion" with the author. You'll also learn the proper ways to critique a book.
Yep, read Adler’s book and you’ll never think about reading the same way again. You may not read every book by the method he recommends, but just being exposed to it will change your perception of reading. You’ll also discover there’s a lot of junk out there that people are reading, and you’ll be able to say why. Good luck OP! :beer

(Memorization is a skill, and I’m fairly certain it degrades as we get older. People love to rail against “rote memorization” for kids, but then they’re embarrassed when they’re 40 and have no memorization skills of their own.)
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by KlangFool » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:00 pm

OP,

1) Learn speed reading. A speed reader can read the same book 3 times as fast as a normal person read the book once.

2) Learn how to learn too. Reading is just a part of it.

3) Why read with no purpose? Active reading. You need to have questions and you read to seek answers to those questions.

KlangFool

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kurious
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by kurious » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:16 pm

Amazing responses! I cannot thank you all enough for your inputs and insights!
Yep, read Adler’s book and you’ll never think about reading the same way again.
I will get it this week from the library.
mnemonic acronym
I used to use them a lot in school but had sort of given up on them. I will use them more diligently going forward.
Repetition is important as very, very few people actually learn anything reading it once. Also, reread over multiple days and add in any new thoughts as annotations.
Not repeating is the biggest gap in my reading at the moment. I start several things and then don't follow up on them. I will work on setting up a reading plan and follow it for better retention.
If you want to remember something, you have to try to recall it - it is the act of recalling that helps move ideas from ST to LT memory in the brain. After you finish a chapter, try to remember the key points - and if you can't, then go back and review.
This theme has come up a few times. I suppose I was sacrificing quality for quantity. I will be more deliberate with study and really dive into the subject matter instead of skimming through.
Learn speed reading. A speed reader can read the same book 3 times as fast as a normal person read the book once.
Do you have suggestions on how one can learn speed reading? Is there a structured learning program one can follow?
You need to have questions and you read to seek answers to those questions.
Going forward, I will start with a few questions prior to reading and then make sure I can answer them once I have read the content.

worthless
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by worthless » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:17 pm

I read “How to Read a Book.” Honestly, I’ve never recommended it to anyone. I did not find it useful at all.

lightheir
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by lightheir » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:19 pm

First - you need to distinguish the type of reading you want to do.

BIG difference between work/technical/professional/academic reading where you really need to know and use the information, often at a high level, compared to pleasure or casual reading.

For the work/professional/academic reading, the oversimplified yet true method that they never teach, but you ignore at your own peril:

1. Find a GOOD book or textbook. If the one assigned isn't good, buy and read another one that IS recommended and well-structured and clear to understand. You'd be surprised how many inferior textbooks are assigned by professors or job leaders. Do your web research here, and ask questions of those better than you.

2. READ the book. Note that your 'first pass' is NOT about being able to use or retain any info - it's just familiarity, But it takes 'forever' (it feels that way) and there is no shortcut. Also note heavily that it pays huge dividends to try and read entire textbooks/books in order or at least the entirety of the chapters relevant rather than targeting a few pages here & there. I know it seems like a lot more work, but that's where the understanding is for experts - to know a wide range of relevant material.

3. Do multiple re-reads of the same material. You will notice that on the 3rd time, even 4th time, you will be wayyyy faster reading it that you started. By the 4th run, you will be able to virtually summarize the pages/ideas in your head even if you barely see a few words. That's when you know you are REALLY getting it. It's unfortunate that probably <5% of college kids ever attain this level - most of them quit after the first pass, and conclude they're not good enough at learning.

4. Repeat #3 until solid

5. If you have the luxury of time, supplementing additional resources/books of similar material will only add to your excellence - and they will be absorbed MUCH faster if they overlap a lot in material.


This method works, and works extremely well. Also note a key feature - you do NOT take manual notes or manual summarizes. No typing, no voice memos, no highlighters. It all happens in your head. Trust me - this is KEY - all those other notes are crutches and are pathetically slow compared to the speed of your brain recall by the 4th pass.

This method works - it was very hard to figure out but I've used it extensively for high level college and professional literature. If done right, your peers and bosses often think you are some sort of genius as you can literally give clear, lucent explanations (straight from the textbook) on the fly, easily, and that's because you've structured your thought and knowledge along the well organized lines of an excellent textbook, and not scattershot as 99% of learners do.

The only (good) caveat to this program - you MUST start early in studying! You CANNOT procrastinate. I had a cadre of friends in college and onward who were nearly failing their classes who I trained with this method, and they went from bottom 5% to top 10% within a single year - but they were required to study when I did, no procrastinating, no excuses. Which meant literally the day after a big exam was done, we were in the library immediately for a 6-hr study day of the new books or new info. Sounds awful, but the reality is that it was great - the study time decreases as you get better, and in the days before the exam, when everyone else is panicking, you are correctly focused on rest, relaxation, and lots of stress-free sleep because you have such a strong grip on the info. So you get an even bigger advantage on test day compared all the stressed-out sleep-deprived crammers.

Also note that this method of learning/reading is actually useful, unlike the vast majority of folks who specialize in multiple-choice test knowledge, which falls flat on its face when someone asks you to explain something to them, or god forbid, actually wants you to think through a new problem with that knowledge.

Topic Author
kurious
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by kurious » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:20 pm

Interesting. Please share some details about why you didn't like the book. Others on this forum and online seem to swear by it.

Dottie57
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by Dottie57 » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:31 pm

jayk238 wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:24 am

Nothing happens quickly. What separates the cast majority of talented programmers from the average is not innate ability. Its perseverance and care and diligence and simply hard work. You have to get into the details and get underneath the core of the material to do well. No way around it.
This. Perseverance works. Plodding along until you understand works. You have to do the work.

Topic Author
kurious
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by kurious » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:33 pm

Thank you for sharing the approach, @lightheir.

If I understand you correctly, reading a good reference book four times without taking notes will enable me to retain information accurately?

How does one revisit the content in a year's time or later? Skim through the pages?

The approach you suggest appears contradictory to the ones suggested by others that include note-taking, summarizing, and so on. I am willing it give it a shot, although it seems to be a significant investment of time and effort on one book. I am interested in, for example, machine learning. There is no one textbook that is considered the Bible in this space. There are at least a few that are considered top notch. Does the approach you describe entail reading each of these books four times? I have no doubt someone who has read each of these books several times will attain a great degree of mastery in the subject. I find it difficult to fathom the degree of effort it will take to get to that point, especially with a full-time job.

PhilosophyAndrew
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by PhilosophyAndrew » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:41 pm

bgf wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 1:30 pm
The book that you need to read is aptly titled "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler. It should be required reading for everyone in high school. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

You will learn to ask the right questions of books, how to skim, outline, and generally attack a book to engage "in a discussion" with the author. You'll also learn the proper ways to critique a book.
Thanks for the recommendation; I’ve downloaded this as an ebook and will check it out.

Andy.

PhilosophyAndrew
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by PhilosophyAndrew » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:51 pm

One more thought. Here is a handout I wrote some years ago (20+ Years) for my philosophy students; perhaps you will find it useful.


Andy.

____________

Although each week’s assignment is only a few pages long, reading these pages is no small task. It is your job to do what it takes to become fluent in our authors’ ideas. This
means you need to read the assignment with as much patience and care as you can muster, and then you need to re-read it and re-read it again throughout the week.


PROBLEMS WITH READING PHILOSOPHY
Some of the difficulties you will face are new vocabulary, strange ideas, and complex argumentation. At first, it will even be difficult to know what an assignment is about,
much less what the author’s considered opinion is or exactly how her argument goes.

Don’t give up – these challenges are common to all philosophical texts! It isn’t so much that all philosophical writing is bad writing, but rather that philosophical ideas are so strange and new and (often) radically challenging that they don’t make any sense at first. As a rule of thumb, if a philosophical text seems dull, stupid, or just plain incomprehensible, you need to read it with greater care and patience.

FIRST READING PASS
How should you do this? I recommend that you read the text in several passes. The first pass should help you get orientated to the text: What general issues or themes come up? What are the author’s basic conclusions? I suggest you read any introduction or preface, skim the section headings, look for each paragraph’s topic sentences, and look over the bibliography and footnotes. Use any study questions or summaries to help you acquire a general sense of what is going on the in the assignment.

SECOND READING PASS
Once you possess this basic orientation, read the entire assignment. Instead of trying to understand or analyze or outline every specific point, you should aim at writing down a list of seven or eight of the author’s main ideas. What specifically does the author say about the general themes you identified in your first reading pass? How many main arguments are there, and what are the exact conclusions of each one? Figuring this out isn’t as easy as it sounds! Philosophy texts are notoriously rich, and to avoid getting lost you must devote a separate reading pass to mapping out the main ideas in this manner.

READING FILTERS
The first two reading passes will give you a good general sense of the text, but you will have to do more than this to be able to evaluate the text fairly and to form your own
considered opinion about the issues it raises. Your third and fourth (and sometimes fifth and sixth!) reading passes should be devoted to understanding a few ideas or
arguments or claims in as much detail as possible.

The sheer richness of philosophical texts can be overwhelming and bewildering: all philosophical questions are interrelated in complex and interestingly strange ways, and usually one philosophical article will bring up many different topics – sometimes topics from many different philosophical fields. The key to handling this complexity is to develop “reading filters”.

Reflect on what you find important or intriguing in our other readings, in our class discussions, and in the new ideas that you discovered during your first two reading
passes. Based on your interests, “filter out” all of the assignment’s ideas except one or two or three that seem to you the most important, interesting, engaging, controversial, outrageous, or radical. Your task now is to read and re-read the text with an eye to understanding as deeply as possible the one or two ideas that most interest you.

Strange as it sounds, you must ignore the rest of the text: from here on out you must focus exclusively on what interests you the most.

THIRD AND FOURTH READING PASSES
For your third reading pass, read the entire text through again and write down the paragraphs and sentences have the most to do with the one or two ideas on which you
have chosen to focus. For your fourth reading pass, focus on just one of your main ideas and study the relevant paragraphs or sentences. If you are able to identify the
crucial sentences, you can gain an immense amount from studying just a small bit of text. For your fifth reading pass, do the same sort of detailed work on your second main idea. If there are three ideas that really excite you, then go ahead and make a sixth reading pass, and so on.

Whew! You understand now why I assign only a few pages each week. I hope you will find that reading philosophy in this laborious but rewarding fashion will take you much
farther into the texts than you might have imagined was possible. This method of reading takes some time to acquire, but I’m here to help and you will soon get the hang of it. As you get better at doing this, you will find that your reflection papers and our class discussions will become more and more focused and more and more rewarding.

KlangFool
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by KlangFool » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:58 pm

kurious wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:16 pm
Learn speed reading. A speed reader can read the same book 3 times as fast as a normal person read the book once.
Do you have suggestions on how one can learn speed reading? Is there a structured learning program one can follow?
You need to have questions and you read to seek answers to those questions.
Going forward, I will start with a few questions prior to reading and then make sure I can answer them once I have read the content.
kurious,

1) It had been so long that I do not remember where I learn it from. Essentially, you read top-down. The whole line at a time.

2) I know 3 different languages. I am forced in my home country to read books from multiple languages depending on the subject matter. I do not have the time and capability to learn the full meaning of the thousands of words in each language. Hence, I evolved my working comprehension capability to guess the meaning of the sentences and/or the whole paragraph without knowing and reading all the words.

3) I think you asked the wrong question. The correct and key question should be how can you learn any subject matter quickly and effectively. And, which learning approach works for you?

4) The fundamental 3 key meta-skills are

A) How to learn

B) How to think

C) How to communicate

And, if you believe fundamentally that those 3 meta-skills can be learned, you will do the research on those subject matter and pick whatever works for you.

My approach is based on a school of thought called General System Theory / Thinking.

KlangFool

worthless
Posts: 20
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by worthless » Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:01 pm

kurious wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:20 pm
Interesting. Please share some details about why you didn't like the book. Others on this forum and online seem to swear by it.
I think you are talking to me. I apologize. My previous post was not very helpful, was it?
As to why I didn’t like the book? I can’t really say. I guess I just didn’t learn anything from it. I was already doing a lot of what it said.
Here’s my advice to you. People are essentially experiential learners. Especially learning skills. So, take an example from my field, if you’re trying to learn body language, you actually learn it better by doing things, as opposed to reading about them.
A good friend of mine gives lectures to people which teaches them skills (communication type stuff). The ones who learn the most are not those who furiously take notes, but the ones who pay attention and get the understanding first.
I use a similar approach to reading. I skim first. This primes my little brain. Then I read to understand. Read a section, think about it a little, maybe paraphrase it. Textbooks will often have questions at the end of chapters. Answer them. Once you understand, then you can go back and make notes of details.
For example, I’m new to this investing stuff. I read “The Simple Path to Wealth.” Excellent book, by the way. I’ve given copies of it as gifts. Anyhow, I knew nothing about bonds. When I got to that chapter, I skimmed it, read with the purpose of understanding what binds are, how they buffer you from deflation, etc. Then I went back and worried about details such as what types or funds, how much to allocate, etc.
I hope this helps. It’s midnight and I need to sleep. LOL.

Wenonah
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by Wenonah » Mon Aug 19, 2019 2:12 am

Great ideas.You definitely need to interact with the material--take notes, explain it out loud, etc. A great way to retain is to use sticky notes with a question from the section/paragraph you wish to retain. Then after you have a few questions, see if you can answer them. If not, then the answer is right under the sticky note, so you can look it up and try again.

J295
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by J295 » Mon Aug 19, 2019 7:01 am

Take a look at Farnam Street site. It includes detailed method for your question.

objectivefunction
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by objectivefunction » Mon Aug 19, 2019 7:33 am

I've been recently reading/learning about this topic.

1. From what I can tell, speed reading = skimming. That's not to say it's a bad skill to have. The average reading speed is 200-400 wpm, and the idea that the average person can read much faster than that without sacrificing comprehension is a myth. Sorry. Here's a (long, detailed) review of decades of research on the topic: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.117 ... 0615623267

2. I've recently been reading "Make It stick" by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. Similar to the above, it is a distillation of decades of research into learning. The conclusion is there are many practices that feel productive--and are even recommended as "good" study habits for college students--that don't help move knowledge from short-term memory to long-term memory. The practices that work feel less effective, and in some cases even show in tests they are less effective at immediate retention, but when students are tested again several weeks later their long-term retention is much better. The things that work are: attempting to recall information especially after some time has passed (spaced repetition), reflecting and elaborating on what you know and how it is related to other things you know, struggling to solve a problem first before being given the answer, rephrasing what you've learned in your own words, varying the order you review (and even interleaving different subjects in your review). There's probably more I'm missing (but me elaborating it to you will help me retain it!). I'm not through the book yet. You can look at the first chapter of the book in the Amazon preview and it's a pretty good overview of what claims they make and why.

carolinaman
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Location: North Carolina

Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by carolinaman » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:09 am

kurious wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:16 am
Thank you for the suggestion. I'll start writing things down, even if they slow me down to an extent.
If the objective is to retain key information from what you read, writing things down is not slowing you down. It is necessary. You can also use highlighter on key points and tabs on sections to help you find them again.

When I first became an IBM systems programmer 40 years ago, there thousands of pages of manuals that cover an entire 48" table. The IBM systems engineer told me the most important thing was to memorize everything but to learn where to find it when you needed it. That was great advice.

If you take notes, use highlighters and tabs, the books become a reference tool which should be your goal.

JD2775
Posts: 309
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by JD2775 » Mon Aug 19, 2019 12:00 pm

Interesting topic...

RE: just the technical reading aspect of your question....


I know for me when I started to learn how to program I did it in probably the worst way imaginable. I would get a book, say on Python, all excitedly read parts of it but not finish it then move onto the next shiny object (Java, or SQL or whatever). I had hardly retained anything I read in the Python book at all, and even worse I would sometimes start another book at the same time. I have a bunch of books on my shelf now that I have read partially, it really is a waste. I will probably donate most of them.

What helped me is figuring out what books/topics I actually NEEDED right now, for work or whatever. In my case Python. Then, only concentrate on that, and WRITE THINGS DOWN. When you design a new program, or script or whatever, write down what it's supposed to do, write down the pseudo-code. At first I was like you and thought it was a waste of time, but it actually does help with retention. Then after that it's just actually using the skills, in my case Python/SQL and just getting better with them. You can read all you want, but if you don't use them in a practical setting you will forget it.

One more key thing, don't jump into language specific reading until you have the fundamentals of programming down. Another mistake I made.

To sum up, my problem was trying to do tackle too many things at the same time, and not learning anything. I stepped back and approached it differently, which seemed to help.

objectivefunction
Posts: 132
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by objectivefunction » Mon Aug 19, 2019 12:19 pm

kurious wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 8:20 am
1. How to effectively retain what one reads? I learn best when I write things down but that is too time consuming. Do you have a learning technique/pattern that works for you?
Kind of already answered this in my other post.
kurious wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 8:20 am
2. How do you decide what book to buy in hard copy, what to buy on Kindle, and what to borrow from the library?
Borrow from the library, if I can. If I really like it I would buy it to keep on hand. At this point I would prefer only to buy books that are as timeless as possible. Books that would either be good references, or ones I think I could see myself going back to re-read over the years.

There are also some books that just aren't available at the library because they're too obscure or something. In that case, I may consider buying a copy.

I try to avoid buying Kindle books as much as possible. If I'm to buy it, then it has to be a really good deal, like just a few dollars. Owning a Kindle book is worse in many ways than a hard copy, because you cannot loan it to a friend, give it to the library, or resell it.
kurious wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 8:20 am
3. Do you have a set time of the day when you read? Most of my reading happens over the weekend.
I have five kids, so I have very little time to read, unless I take it in dribs and drabs. I'm hoping at some point I can be a normal human again. My reading also tends to be feast or famine. I mean I'm reading things online most every day, but i'm usually not reading any books, or I'm reading 7 on some new topic that has interested me.

Lately, it has felt good to get back to reading actual physical books. When they're well written they are so much more enjoyable and edifying than your average blog post.

novemberrain
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by novemberrain » Mon Aug 19, 2019 12:26 pm

Read twice.

First time, highlight important line.

Second time, read just the highlighted lines.

If you have time, read a third time after like 1 or 2 years

palaheel
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Re: How to read (and retain)?

Post by palaheel » Mon Aug 19, 2019 12:32 pm

The brain science says that taking notes by hand is important. It helps retention even if you never look at the notes again. Evidently, typing them on a computer doesn't help, or at least not as much.
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