In reading Pragmatic Thinking & Learning, I came across a reading technique called SQ3R.
Survey – scan the table of contents and chapter summaries for an overview
Question – note any questions you have; to be answered as you read
Read – uh, read
Recite – summarize, take notes, put it in your own words
Review – Reread, expand notes, discuss with colleagues
With regard to “Recite”, it is one of the things that help etch whatever it is I’ve read into my brain. Instead of just shoving in the info into your brain, it requires some more effort to actually process this info to produce your own output. It makes the learning process into a more active experience.
Below is a more elaborate description of each step from Wikipedia. In my actual experience though, I tend to ignore the time constraints described in the summary.
- Survey (2 minute): Before beginning reading look through the whole chapter. See what the headings are—the major ones and the subheadings; hierarchical structures seem to be particularly easy for our brains to latch onto—check for introductory and summary paragraphs, references, etc. Resist reading at this point, but see if you can identify 3 to 6 major ideas in the chapter.
- Question (usually less than 30 seconds): Ask yourself what this chapter is about: What is the question that this chapter is trying to answer? Or—along the curiosity lines—What question do I have that this chapter might help answer? Repeat this process with each subsection of the chapter, as well, turning each heading into a question. (As a variation of this technique, you can write the important question down; this is called SQW3R)
- Read (at your own pace): Read one section at a time looking for the answer to the question proposed by the heading. This is active reading and requires concentration so find yourself a place and time where you can concentrate.
- Recite/write (about a minute): Say to yourself out loud or write down a key phrase that sums up the major point of the section and answers the question. It is important to use your own words, not just copy a phrase from the book. Research shows that we remember our own (active) connections better than ones given to us (passive), indeed that our own hierarchies are generally better than the best prefab hierarchies.
- Review (less than 5 minutes): After repeating steps 2–4 for each section you have a list of key phrases that provides a sort of outline for the chapter. Test yourself by covering up the key phrases and seeing if you can recall them. Do this right after you finish reading the chapter. If you can’t recall one of your major points, that’s a section you need to reread.