These days the most common comment I get from CFA students is “I keep forgetting and it’s all too much”. Well, a big part of this poor memory is due to poor reading habits. Below are 8 tips to improve retention the next time you read:
1) Know Your Purpose
Everyone should have a purpose for their reading and think about how that purpose is being fulfilled during the actual reading. The advantage is that it helps you to stay on task, to focus on the more relevant parts of the text, and to rehearse continuously as one reads. In CFA you have Readings and LOSs assigned to you and you need to always ask, “What do they want me to learn from this?”
2) Skim First
Even material that has to be studied carefully should be skimmed (ie read quickly) first. The benefits of skimming first are that the skimming: 1) primes the memory, making it easier to remember when you read it the second time, 2) orients the thinking, helping you to know where the important content is in the document, 3) creates an overall sense for the document, which in turn makes it easier to remember certain particulars.
3) Get the Mechanics Right
When you need to read carefully and remember the essence of large blocks of text, the eyes must snap from one fixation point to the next in left– to right-sequence. The fixations should not be one individual letters or even single words, but rather on several words per fixation. Poor readers who stumble along from word to word actually tend to have lower comprehension because their mind is preoccupied with recognizing the letters and their arrangement in each word. That is a main reason they can’t remember what they read. Countless times I have heard CFA students say, “I read that chapter three times, and I still can’t answer your questions.” They often can’t answer the questions because they can’t remember the meaning of what they read. In short, to remember what you read, you have to think about what the words mean.
4) Be Judicious in Highlighting
Use a highlighter to mark a FEW key points to act as the basis for mental pictures and reminder cues. Many students either highlight too much or highlight the wrong things. They become so preoccupied in marking up the book that they don’t pay enough attention to what they are reading and soon each page has more colors than a Rainbow!!. A better approach is to highlight just a few key words on a page. Also, highlighted text needs to be rehearsed in the context of how it fits with the purpose, why it needs to be remembered, and how it fits with important material that preceded it.
Every few paragraphs or pages, the reader should stop and self-quiz to make sure the important material is being memorized.
5) Think in Pictures
A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it can certainly capture the essence of dozens of words. Moreover, pictures are much easier to memorize than words. CFA students can use to good effect the practice of making mental images of the meaning of text. The highlighted key words in text, for example, if used as a starting point for mental pictures, then become very useful for memorization. One only has to spot the key words and think of the associated mental images. Pictures also become easier to remember when they are clustered into similar groups or when they are chained together to tell a story.
6) Rehearse As You Go Along
Read in short segments, all the while thinking about and paraphrasing ( ie using your own words) the meaning of what is written. To rehearse what you are memorizing, see how many of the mental pictures you can reconstruct. Use headings and highlighted words if needed to help you reinforce the mental pictures. Rehearse the mental pictures every day or so for the first few days after reading. Ask yourself questions about the content. “How does this information fit what I already know and don’t know? Why did the author say that? Do I understand what this means? What is the evidence? Do I agree with ideas or conclusions? Why or why not? What is the practical application?” How much of this do I need to memorize?” Apply the ideas to other situations and contexts. Generate ideas about the content. THINK!!!
7) Operate Within Your Attention Span
Paying attention is central to memorization. Trying to read when you can’t concentrate is a total waste of time. Since most people have short attention spans, they should not try to read dense material for more than 20-30 minutes at a time.
After such a session, they should take a break and quiz themselves on what they just read. Ultimately, readers should discipline their attention so they can concentrate for longer periods.
8) Rehearse Soon After Reading
At the reading session ends, rehearse what you learned right away. Avoid distractions and multi-tasking because they interfere with the consolidation processes that enable longer-term memory. Then answer the questions about the content you have just read from the CFAI, Schweser or Genesis Q bank. Think about and rehearse what you read at least twice later that day. Rehearse again at last once for the next 2–3 days.
I hope these tips prove to be useful. Watch this space for more study and exam tips soon!!