Reading faster and remembering more has been a dream to me since my teenage years. 

So many books, so little time. — Frank Zappa

If the quote above touches your soul, then I’m thrilled to tell you how I satisfy my cravings for absorbing as much knowledge as possible.

Normally, I finish a 300-page book in less than a week, and I read merely during my commutes to work which adds up to 2 hours.

Noteworthy to add that I merely read non-fiction books, and if you think I might be forgetting most of the material, well, I have to say: absolutely not.

I still remember the title to all the 15 chapters of the last book (Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely) I read as well as the key ideas of each chapter.

So good to be true?

Well, There is no magic at work here. All you need to have are the followings:

  1. A zest for knowledge
  2. The right method
  3. The right tools
  4. The right mental techniques

Given that you are reading this article, I presume you already satisfy the first requirement. So let’s move on to the second.

2. Read Faster: The Right Method

Think before you speak. Read before you think. — Fran Lebowitz

All of my endeavors to find the best reading techniques were to address these two cravings of mine:

  • Reading much faster
  • Retaining much more
read faster remember more
Fig 1. Fast Reading
I faced two obstacles to achieving them.

First, I constantly found myself lost in the endless maze of my thoughts.

Second, even if I was focused, I simply couldn’t read fast enough, and none of the speed reading techniques worked for me. 

After experimenting a lot, I finally found what actually works like a charm:

Exploiting both the visual and auditory senses for reading.

So here’s the method: I follow the text while listening to it. That’s it.

All you need is the text of the book (either in form of e-book or hard-copy) and an audio version of the book.

This simple method without any further tweaks utterly resolved my focusing problem.

Addressing my speed reading desire at this point was a piece of cake. I simply started to increase the playback speed of the audiobook.

Initially, 1.25x, then 1.5x and now I can readily follow the audio and the text at 2x speed. (Given that I’m not reading a book like how the mind works by Steven Pinker.)

3. Read Faster: The Right Tools

I have two different sets of tools that enables me to follow this combinatory method. (these are my personal picks and I am not affiliated with any of the following.)

In the first tool set, I use an amazing application on my iPad called PDF Expert.

This application has a wonderful text-to-speech functionality and you can adjust the speed of the narration.

Thus, you get to look at the text, while the app is reading it for you.

As for the narration, it is surprisingly smooth and human-like. Using PDF Expert I no longer have to purchase the audiobook separately.

The second toolset that I use includes my kindle and the Audible application.

I get to have the text on my Kindle and have the audiobook on my mobile. The audible application lets you adjust the narration speed as well.

We’re done for the speed part, what about the retention?

4. Remember More: The Right Mental Techniques

Our brain naturally is not adept at retaining facts, numbers, etc. What our brain is remarkably good at, however, is retaining images; hence the quote:

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Let’s have a brief experiment. Look carefully at the following image for 20 seconds:

fast reading
Fig 2. Captured by Johannes Plenio at Pixabay

Now, try to recite as many things as you can.

How many did you get? 10? 15? 20?

With the 20 seconds limitation, could you pull off the same feat if the words were written down on a paper?

When it comes to memorizing, it’s not about how strong your memory is, it’s about how efficiently you use it.

So, burning facts into your memory is as simple as converting them into images, which works enormously well for retention.

Now, what about accessing and retrieving those facts?

There is one more step to guarantee successful retention and retrieval: putting those images you mentally constructed, into a place that you know by heart.

This is the very concept of a memory palace.

mind map
Fig 3. Memory Palace by Sam Falconer

In summary, this is how I chisel a book into my brain using the memory palace technique:

  1. For each book, I designate a place with which I am quite familiar such as my childhood school, or my office, etc. Let’s say I choose my office for now.
  2. Next, for each chapter, I consider an area in that office, such as a room or the kitchen.
  3. Then, I transform the chapter title I’m about to read, into a memorable image. Images that invoke emotions within you, images that are provocativehumorousextraordinary or exaggerated, in general, stick far better than other images.
  4. After constructing the image for the chapter’s title, I put it on the entrance of that area (room, kitchen, etc.)
  5. From now on, if there are any facts that I want to remember, again, I turn them into images and put them in that room, one by one, side by side.

How to Retrieve From Memory Palace

After filling the office with images, remembering the chapters and facts would be as simple as an imaginary walk through the office or the place you have chosen. That’s it.

Final Thoughts

Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice — Anton Chekhov

I must point out that I view knowledge as merely an initial attempt towards growth.

The “knowledge is power” is true only so long as you absorb as much as you can and synthesize them into action. That’s how you rise above the crowd.

I hope this article helps you at least with the first part of the equation, absorbing as much as possible.

Happy thriving.

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