Learning Strategies: recalling information you read

Alexander Pope, the early C18th English poet had some fine thoughts on the importance of learning a lot (though some misguided folk consider this couched advice on drinking more 😊)

A little learning is a dangerous thing

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain

And drinking largely sobers us again.

And given how much knowledge increases in the C21st (at a conservative estimate it doubles every year), this is a challenge we need a great deal of expertise for. Aside from counselling for our fears of feeling stupid (Duh! You didn't know?)😊, we do need to increase our skills for reading efficiently.

Let’s take reading for example. When we read, it can be difficult to recall the last paragraph of information clearly, but luckily there are strategies that can help us all, and over the next three entries (starting right here) I will share some that I find useful.

Let’s start with removing some myths about eidetic and photographic memory. You may think that a reasonable number of people have them, but they don’t. Research concludes that eidetic memory, or the ability to recall something for a few minutes after seeing it (yes, just a few minutes) is so rare you may well regard it as non-existent for adults, though it is more common when you are a child (2 to 10 %).

Photographic memory (long term perfect memory) is extremely rare. Many talents attributed to photographic memory (chess skills, perfect spelling…) have been proved to be related to good strategies in learning, not to a photographic memory.

Though learning strategies may sometimes be time consuming, this will be time well spent, particularly should you find yourself revising for something important such as a presentation or an exam. My photographic memory is clearly marvellous. (I had to go back and double-check my spelling and definitions of memory by looking them up. 1 )

In order to fully learn and memorise text, or key information from a text, first thing to do is to break it down into manageable sections. You will find which sizes of sections work best for you. Maybe take around two hundred words to work with and see how you get on!

The system continues like this 2. identifying key points from the text, 3. thinking up and writing questions on them to ask myself, and 4. writing the information from the text as the answers (and then forgetting where you put the question pile) 😊

When you have your questions and answers written and heaped into two stacks, 5. start by reading through your questions and attempting to say the answer to each question out loud. As with anything, the more times you do this, the stronger your neural pathways will become as the key points become stable parts of your semantic memory. Also, remember to look up any unfamiliar words, much better than guessing and hoping. 😊

You will get to know which types of questions best help you to remember the answers.

When you are ready, move on to the next section of text to learn and begin the same process, adapting slightly to use any variations in learning which you’ve found most useful from the section before.

At regular intervals, revise by going through question cards from the previous section/s. This should be a useful way to really start cementing the information from the text (as the answers) into your noggin.

Sure, cramming may be essential in some cases, but will most likely lead to a lot of information being lost very soon after the test or exam you’re cramming information for, so it is better to study over longer periods of time, and in shorter individual durations. Ideally, we want to carry the information we learn with us like a teacher who wants to teach it, not like a student who only wants it for the exams.

You want to aim to read your notes more times than the text. Either read them aloud or write them down if that helps.

6. Try to teach someone else what you know if you have the luxury of someone who might listen! It has been said in “Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience” or “The Learning Pyramid” that on average, we may retain around 10% of what we read, and around 90% of what we teach others. Those percentages have been both accepted and refuted 2 of course, so again – find what works best for you.

I studied Rachel Adragna’s “Be Your Own Teacher: How to Study a Textbook” 3 and tried to recall as much information as I had learned and remembered from her for this blog post. I did not use the question and answer technique, however, so I may well have missed some key information. I should probably learn not to cram for a blog when I had more than enough time to study more efficiently 😊

Now… where were we? Oh yeah, so try this idea out next time you need to recall information from text. Tailor the strategy to your own benefit and best of luck!


1. break the text down into manageable sections

2. identify key points from the text

3. think up and write questions on them to ask yourself

4. write the information from the text as the answers

5. read through your questions and attempt to say the answer to each question out loud

6. try to teach someone else what you know

1 https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/memory/difference-between-eidetic-memory-and-photographic-memory/ 2 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/medu.13813 3 https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/2/12-1

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