The Heart of Reading: How to Retain What You Read

Preparing for finals? Read below for tips by doctoral candidate Rachel Slaughter on how to retain the information you read.


Reading is a pastime. But did you know that reading is also an art? For over two decades, I have studied reading and the cognitive functions that reading ignites in your brain. Hundreds of college students struggle with reading comprehension. One reason a student may struggle in this area is a lack of engagement with the text.

In the article “Language and the Brain” for the Washington Post, Professor Daniel Willingham, a researcher at the University of Virginia, said, “The mistaken idea is that reading is a skill – learn to crack the code and practice comprehension strategies – may be the single biggest factor holding back reading achievement.”

Picture from Google Images

If a student relates to reading as an art, he will find great success in the cerebral acrobatics that is reading. He will engage with the text in a unique way by creating a relationship between himself as reader and the text.

There is no denying that the art of reading involves skill.  Letter recognition, vocabulary acquisition, phonics and decoding are a few of the skills that underscore the art of reading.  But art is at the heart of reading.

Research shows that approaching reading as an art can increase your reading comprehension and help you retain the information that you read. Check out three ways to approach reading as an art to increase your reading success:

  1. The mind’s eye: The mind is a complicated muscle that can make sense of a lot of nonsense. The mind’s eye can interpret information that is beyond the page. As you read, allow your mind’s eye to conjure up images and ideas that the text may suggest.  Use inference skills to read beyond the text. Opening up the mind’s eye is especially useful when reading dense nonfiction information in a content-specific text. For example, if you are reading about the human cell and all of its parts, begin to visualize each cell part. Imagine the cell parts as having human qualities.
  2. Schema: A reader must activate his prior knowledge about any text he encounters. Doing so will help the reader create a relationship with the text. A reader has a lot of past experiences that he can “bring” to the text when he reads. Consider how relevant the text can become if the reader believes he is connected to the text in some way. For example, before you read a  first-hand account of a Civil Rights leader, jot down all of the information you already know about the Civil Rights Movement. As you read the primary source, imagine you are having a conversation with the person. Write your thoughts on paper.
  3. Annotate: Let the text speak to you.  Annotating is when you write your response to the text on the text.  For example, if the text makes you angry, happy or sad, describe why on the text. If the text creates questions in your mind, write the questions on the text. If the text reminds you of something else, then the text has activated your schema. Write the memory connection on the text. Sticky notes is the best way to keep track of your annotations.

If you follow these suggestions, you will find reading success and retain what you read. For tips on how to retain what you read, check out Read Better, Remember More: Read Effectively and Retain What You’ve Read by Elizabeth Chesla.

Picture from Google Images

By: Rachel Slaughter

Rachel Slaughter is a doctoral candidate specializing in literacy education at Widener University in Chester, PA. Her professional interest centers on helping graduate students conquer comprehensive exams using the most effective study techniques. To contact Rachel Slaughter, email

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please know your math, and show us you are human. * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.