How to memorize textbooks | The Information Funnel Method banner

How do some students get A’s in their classes without even showing up to class? They do it by effectively studying the course textbook & materials. This tutorial will teach you how you can, too.

Table Of Contents

  1. Active vs. Passive Reading |  Active reading: process and output information. Passive reading: absorb information the way it is written.
  2. The Information Funnel Method |  1. Preview the text. 2. Read it again and create a summary. 3. Create a keyword list.
  3. An Example |  See the method in action.
  4. Download This Article
  5. Comments

Hover over the   to see a preview of each section.

Tap on the   to see a preview of each section.

1. Active vs. Passive Reading

The key to memorizing a textbook is to use active reading instead of passive reading. Active reading is when you process and output the information as you read it. Passive reading is how you normally read, that is, you just try to memorize the information the way it is written.

There are many active reading techniques, such as:

  • Ask questions about new concepts, including who, what, where, when and why.
  • Highlight important text
  • Annotate your thoughts beside the text

But, none of these techniques are sufficient to give you a thorough understanding of the text.

For maximum results, an integrated method is necessary, such as…

2. The Information Funnel Method

The Information Funnel Method (IFM) is an advanced active reading technique that achieves 3 things:

  1. It helps you identify the important information and hides the unnecessary text
  2. It lets you rapidly review the material and identify problem areas in your knowledge
  3. It replaces your textbook

The IFM involves creating, 2 sets of notes: a Keyword List for self-testing and a Summary for review. The Summary will be anywhere between 10 and 25% of the length of the original text, while the Keyword List will be anywhere from 2.5 to 5%.

Step 1 – Preview (Optional, But Highly Recommended)

Quickly skim the chapter without worrying about fully memorizing or understanding the content. Skip sections that seem unimportant, but pay particular attention to the chapter summaries, bolded text, information boxes, visuals/diagrams and emphasized content. The objective is to just get a general idea of the content.

Step 2 – Summarize

Read the chapter again, but this time, summarize the main concepts. The purpose of this step is to extract the key information from the book and write them down as concisely as possible; do not copy the explanations word-for-word (unless you genuinely believe it has already been written as concisely as possible).

The chapter summary document will replace the textbook for review purposes. In this way, you can quickly review the entire the entire chapter in 10%  to 25% of the time it would take to re-read the entire chapter.

Step 3 – Create A Key Word List

Now create a list of key words from the chapter summary. In other words, remove all explanations and list only the names of concepts and critical data points.

The keyword list will then be used for self-testing (explanation below).

Step 4 – Review

In order to review a chapter, start by reading the keyword list. Try to recall the information in the summary associated with each keyword. If you can’t recall something, refer to the chapter summary for review. That’s it!

Additional Tips

  • Don’t review concepts you already know well. It will give you a false sense of confidence and is a waste of time.
  • List the page numbers for each concept in the chapter summary. That way, you can easily find that section in the textbook in case you need to.
  • You don’t have to be so strict with grammar; be concise.
  • Taking the notes in a word or note-taking application has the advantage of being accessible by your smartphone and you can use the search function to quickly navigate the document.

3. An Example

I used a section of the How to Memorize Things Quickly & Effectively – Part 1 tutorial as the basis for the example.

Here’s how much I was able to condense the text:

  • Original Text – 296 words (100%)
  • Summary – 69 words (23% of original)
  • Keyword List – 8 words (2.7% of original)

Click the tabs to see how I did it.

  • Original Text
  • Summary
  • Keyword List

Preparation

Don’t underestimate how much proper preparation can influence your ability to memorize. Did you know that Olympic athletes prepare for weeks, months, even years for a single performance? Preparation is what separates the best from the rest. By applying these simple best practices, you can easily double or triple your memorization abilities.

Don’t Listen to Music (with Lyrics)

How well can you listen to another person speak while you listen to music? Music, especially music with lyrics, interferes with your language-processing center (which is necessary for most academic types of studying). By listening to lyric-heavy music like rap, hip-hop, country or pop, you’re sabotaging your ability to memorize. If you must listen to something, make it something instrumental or ambient-type music.

Disconnect

Don’t let a Facebook notification disrupt your concentration 5 minutes after you start. Turn off notifications on your phone and computer by either turning the wi-fi off, putting it on silent, turning off notifications or turning the power off. Set a timer for 20 minutes and dedicate the next to one thing and one thing only, memorizing.

Choose Optimal Memorization Times

An optimal memorization time is when you have energy, your mind is clear and when you’re least likely to be interrupted. A sub-optimal memorization time is when you’re tired, distracted, stressed and likely to be interrupted. For most people, studying early in the morning or late at night, when everyone else is asleep, works best.

Move Around

Standing and walking promotes blood flow and engages your muscles, keeping you alert and engaged, while sitting results in reduced blood flow and oxygen to the brain. If possible, pick up the material you want to memorize and review it while leaning against a wall, pacing back-and-forth in your room or walking in your hallway.

Preparation

Can double or triple your memorization abilities.

Music

Lyrics (e.g. rap) interfere with language processing. No lyrics (e.g. instrumental) is better.

Disconnect 

Turn phone and computer wi-fi/notifications/power off.

Optimal Memorization Times 

When you have energy, mind is clear and no interrupted. Recommend early mornings or late nights.

Move

Standing and walking promotes blood flow, keeps you alert and engaged. Sitting reduces blood flow and oxygen to the brain. 

Preparation

  • Music w/lyrics
  • Disconnect
  • Optimal memorization times
  • Standing/walking

Hopefully with this example you can see how powerful this technique is. Not only does the creation process force you to truly understand the content, but the resulting summary and keyword list allow you to review past material in a fraction of the time it would take you otherwise.

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