Have you ever run into this problem? You’re having a conversation about a certain subject, and you know you’ve read something about that subject and you’d like to contribute to the conversation…but you can’t remember the specifics of what you read! You may see the same thing occurring with your child or student – he or she may faithfully read up on school subjects, but retaining that information is frustratingly difficult.

Here are five tips for improving reading retention. Hopefully, you’ll remember them!

1. Prepare Your Brain

Try taking a minute before reading something. Stop and remind yourself why you’re reading this. Is it because you’re interested in it? Is it required for a class? In other words, not unlike an actor or actress in character, you need to identify your motivation. Sometimes we read things too hastily and we don’t have the right mindset starting out. Just take a few moments to relax and identify what you’re hoping to gain from the reading.

When you prepare your brain, it’s like getting it ready to receive the information. In addition to identifying your reasons for reading, it’s a good idea to try to clear your mind of worries and concerns first. Prayer, meditation, or whatever works for you can come in handy with more pressing concerns. This helps avoid the mind-wandering problem that plagues many readers who are trying to remember what they’re reading. So try to focus and center yourself before reading, too.

2. Eliminate Distractions

If you have music or television in the background (or any other distraction – there are dozens!), you may think you can “block them out.” But if you’re not remembering what you’re reading, those distractions may be having more of an effect on your concentration than you think. So turn off phones, radios, CD players, computers (unless you’re reading on-screen, of course!), MP3 players, computer games…you get the point.

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3. Take Notes

Like a good listener, being able to summarize what you just read in a few sentences will help you retain it. You can do this on paper or orally (or both), but if you’re studying for a test, writing a summary can help you review the information later. Make sure it’s just a few sentences – pretend you’re sending someone a text about the information!

4. Answer Your Own Questions

Before reading, write down a list of questions you want to have answered while you read. If you can’t think of any specific ones, go with the classic “who, what, when, where, and why.” Then, as you find answers to these questions, jot them down. Columns can work well for this (one column per question).

5. Mind Mapping

Our brains tend to really respond when we can connect something non-linear and visual to the information we’re reading. One great way to do this is by drawing a “mind map” as you read.

You begin with a key or main concept and draw a symbol or picture representing it. Then you create branches off of this main idea. The branches are color-coded to represent the various ideas that support or elucidate the main idea. If another main idea comes up, you can draw it, too. This really helps you see how ideas connect and relate to each other in the material you’re reading.