How To Retain Information

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Life can be incredibly frustrating when you can’t remember what you just read. Perhaps you’re cramming for a test and have too much to memorize, or you can’t seem to digest the complex material. In other instances, you might have not gotten enough sleep or simply didn’t find the information interesting.

If you struggle to retain information when studying, you aren’t alone. Studies show that after just one hour, people retain less than half of newly presented information. It gets worse from there: after one day, people forget more than 70% of that new information; after one week, that climbs up to 90% forgotten.

Not continually revisiting the information affects your ability to learn it. Before you lose all hope in thinking you’ll never remember anything ever, take a look at reasons why this might be happening to you.


1. Pessimism

Because we are often negative about ourselves, we forget and underestimate our ability to retain new information. This negative energy acts as a brain blocker and keeps us from cataloging and retaining information.

2. Understanding

It’s easy to forget information we don’t understand or concepts we don’t take the time to comprehend.

To remember something new, it must be clearly impressed in the brain. It requires time and effort to learn new concepts. To imprint new information into the brain, schedule periodic study sessions and constantly review information in your mind.

3. Psychological

he definition of motivated forgetting – according to famous psychologist Sigmund Freud – is unwanted memories are often pushed away or stopped from entering the conscious either through repression (subconscious act) or suppression (conscious act).

How does this relate to memory retention? Learning and retaining concepts, theories, ideas, facts, or definitions is much more difficult when we perceive it to be uninteresting.

4. Disuse

Memories that are not reflected upon often diminish quickly. Over-learning typically occurs during motor learning since it’s a repetitive form of learning that reinforces information and requires high levels of organization.

Re-learning forgotten concepts is easier than learning new ones. This is even true years after something is forgotten. In fact, forgotten memories are often reflected in actions and attitudes. Even though most college graduates forget a majority of the concepts they learned during college, it’s still advantageous to obtain higher education since learned concepts are often reflected subconsciously in personality.

Everyone forgets information that is not constantly reviewed. It’s counterproductive to stress over memory retention.

5. Interference

Experts used to believe that memory loss resulted from inactivity, but many experts now believe that stress, anxiety, and environmental distractions contribute more to memory loss than inactivity. Mental distractions can be reduced with focused reading and studying, personal reflection, meditation, and organized study sessions. It’s important to avoid cramming and unorganized studying. In fact, this will increase stress, thus, inhibiting memory retention.

Retroactive inhibition occurs when previously retained information is forgotten after learning new concepts. Greater interference occurs with similar concepts. To better retain information during school, take an English course after completing a physics course, rather than following it up with a chemistry class.

Another strategy is to sleep immediately following study sessions. While awake, people are constantly thinking, which contributes to memory loss. Likewise, it’s also helpful to exercise, socialize with friends, or participate in other recreational activities immediately after studying to increase memory retention.

Proactive inhibition occurs when previously retained information affects future learning. For example, concepts learned from a previous class affects learning in a current one.

Take time to mentally rest following periods of excessive mental exertion. If you’re stressed, it’s more difficult to remember what you’ve studied, and overloading your brain with information is ineffective. It’s more useful to read a textbook chapter, analyze it, and then clarify confusing concepts before moving on.

Blocking occurs when well-known data, such as family member birth dates or names, is briefly forgotten. If this happens, don’t panic and attempt association.

6. Changed Cues

Students often forget what they’ve studied because it’s presented differently on tests. This often happens when students focus too much on verbatim memorization. They often get stumped when test wording differs significantly from the textbook. To prevent this, re-summarize what you’ve read without looking at the text during study sessions.

7. Lack of Attention and Effort

Did you know that the attention span is now only eight seconds? That’s worse than a goldfish– 9 seconds.

We live in a time where there are distractions all around us. From wanting to check our latest social media updates or reply immediately to a friend’s text, we are constantly battling focused attention. It takes a lot of effort to retain what you’ve studied. It’s difficult to retain information through passive reading when our mind is somewhere else.

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Retaining information can make our lives easier, especially in college. It makes us feel smarter knowing we can recall information we studied when taking a test. It also comes in handy in life so we don’t have to do a search on the Internet or in a book to know what to do.

Here are some ways to remember what you read:

1. Teach it to someone else

As one of the most effective strategies, you’ll retain 90% of what you learn by teaching it to someone else. Doing this will force you to gain a good understanding of it first so you can explain it in your own words.

2. Attention (Concentration)

It requires intense concentration to remember new information. When studying, go to a place with minimal distractions. Turn your phone off and get off all social media sites. If possible, don’t even use your laptop or computer. Dedicate this time solely to your studies.

After you’re eliminated distractions, focus by reading each sentence slowly to really saturate the information into your brain. Highlight the passages of significances if you need to. It might also be effective to concentrate on one subject or concept at a time, rather than jumping around from topic to topic. Have an organized, systematic approach to your studies.

3. Interest and Perception

It’s difficult to concentrate on uninteresting subjects. Most people do not struggle to concentrate on personally significant topics. Therefore, when studying uninteresting concepts, personalize the subject. This is known as ego involvement.

The only difference between what makes something uninteresting or interesting is the way you personally view and relate to the information. If you can find a way to change your perception of the information, you can change the way you value it. Try to understand why the information is useful and important to society, how does it affect your life, why is it important for your future career, and why is it exciting to others who are passionate about it?

If it’s not possible to personalize a subject, maybe you are uninterested because you lack confidence in your ability to understand it.


You must be confident to learn and retain new concepts. Do not be pessimistic if you struggle. Never hesitate to ask for help. Join a study group where you can discuss the material openly and help each other understand the parts you’re struggling in. In fact, people retain about 50% of what they learned in a group setting. As you begin grasping new concepts, your confidence will increase.

5. Selection

Before study sessions, select the most significant topics to review. For example, to understand certain principles in physics, you must have a solid understanding of math. Additionally, do not waste time reviewing understood concepts. Rather, spend time studying unfamiliar or unclear concepts.

6. Understanding

There are multiple types of memorization. Rote memorization, a method where information is reviewed until it can be recalled verbatim, is often employed by students learning to multiply and memorize equations.

Understanding-based memorization is employed by students who must understand generalized concepts, such as theories. It’s easier to retain information that is related to familiar concepts. While studying, relate recently acquired knowledge with concepts you’ve already mastered. Always strive to have a well-rounded understanding of what you’re studying. Using audiovisual materials, such as images or videos, can help you grasp complex concepts better.

7. Building Background

It’s easier to develop an in-depth understanding of a concept and relate to other topics once you’ve developed thorough background knowledge on a subject. It’s difficult to fully comprehend isolated concepts. Experts are able to connect new information with current knowledge. In other words, the best way to enhance your understanding of a specific subject is to develop well-rounded knowledge.

Acquiring background knowledge is also a great way to increase interest in a subject.

8. Organization

While processing new information, look for ways to effectively organize it. It’s common for students to experience information overload. To remedy this, look for ways to classify information in much the same way it’s organized in textbooks.

For example, if you were learning about organs in a physiology class, it is much easier to remember the 12 organ systems than the 78 organs making up these systems. Once you’re able to associate organs with their respective systems, it will be much easier to remember names and functions.

As your study progresses, you’ll be able to link supplementary concepts with underlying ones, which will enable you to retain more information.

9. Whole and Parts

Briefly summarize a textbook chapter prior to reading it to develop a generalized understanding of what you’ll be learning. Then, break up your reading into sections.

10. Recitation

After you’ve read a chapter, take a few minutes to re-summarize it. This method is one of the most active learning strategies students can employ. Simultaneously, you’ll be testing your understanding of the subject.

Auditory learners are encouraged to read aloud. This method should also be used if you do not understand what you’re reading.

11. Note Taking

Visual learners are encouraged to take detailed notes since they learn better through generating visual mental images. Auditory learners are encouraged to do likewise. When taking notes, write clear sentences in your own words.

Taking notes is more effective than underlining text. Students frequently underline excessive amounts of text, which can lead to confusion. After reading a chapter in a textbook, review lecture notes.

12. Review

It’s most effective to conduct reviews immediately after learning a new concept. Spend more time reviewing material near the middle of a chapter since you’ll probably remember content near the beginning and end of chapters.

13. Spaced Practice or Distributed Practice

Do not cram before a test. Rather, organize multiple study sessions spaced out over a period of weeks or days. You’ll more than likely remember information periodically reviewed during the course of a few weeks.

14. Over-learning

Excessive study often leads to over-learning. Although this may seem like a negative term, students who’ve over-learned a concept often remember what they’ve studied with little effort. Students should employ over-learning when studying complex or difficult to understand concepts. Do not spend too much time reviewing content you already understand.

15. Sleep On It

If possible, study just prior to sleeping. However, this is not recommended if you’re tired or ill. Newly learned concepts are more easily recalled after sleeping since retroactive interference occurs, but this is not the case for everyone.

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