Friday, October 25, 2013

Apologetics Toolkit: Tips for Lifelong Learning #03

This continues the Apologetics Toolkit series on: Tips for Lifelong Learning. The goal here is to provide a sort of "apologetics toolkit" -- habits, tips, and tools the Christian apologist can use to continue to grow, learn, and develop.

Tool #03: Focus and Recall Your Reading

The Problems: Have you ever finished reading a page in a book and realized that you can't even remember what you just read? What about reading an entire book and a week later not remembering anything you read? These are two things you should discipline yourself to avoid: lack of focus and lack of recall.

The Tools: To overcome lack of focus, think of your book as an interactive learning tool. You will need a pen (or pencil) and a highlighter. If you wish, use a bookmark to scroll down the page as you read - keeping your eyes moving over the text without losing your place. Use your highlighter to spotlight key points, notable quotes, and substantial ideas. Use your pen (or pencil) to write your own ideas in the margins. If you have no pen, you will sometime lose great ideas and will fail to capture your original thoughts.

To overcome lack of recall, use your pen to write brief one sentence summaries of various sections as you go along. This helps you understand it better as you rephrase the content in your own words. When you have completed a chapter or so, go back and scan over or re-read the highlights you made in the previous chapters. This helps you retain key ideas and process the content further. Ideally you will gain the most retention by re-reading or scanning back over the highlighted points in your books with this sort of time frame:
  • 1 day: Scan over the key ideas again to retain them.
  • 1 week: Repeat the process again; this time underlining the most notable highlights with a pen.
  • 1 month: Just scan over the book and read the underlined bits.
  • 6 months: Try to crack open the book once again. The ideas will flood back again as familiar.
  • 1 year: Make a point to scan over the most meaningful books that you read.
  • NOTE: This part is most easily achieved if you have an online calendar which can schedule a reminder. Once automated on your computer (or recorded in your planner), it can serve as an excellent tool if you are serious about retaining the information.
The Benefits: Your highlighting keeps you attentive, thinking, active in your reading. The writing and summarizing helps you process the content. The reviewing helps you retain it. If you don't need to retain the information, then adapt the tool for your own needs. But if you are reading to learn and want to keep the information as your own, this sort of tool (or something like it) is invaluable. The added benefit is that it makes reviewing books a much easier task!

What reading tips do you recommend? What helps you stay focused and retain the content?

Again, this book is the most recommended for learning through reading. Looking for good apologetics books? -- Look here. Looking for some great audio for learning? Check out Learning Skills 101.


Pamela said...

Good tip!

Twain said...

i do most of my reading via a kindle app, and mostly just read through a book without taking notes. not good! i want to use the kindle app's notes and highlighting more often. am curious to know if there are other kindle readers who do a better job of this.

Thomas Henry Larsen said...

Spaced repetition software is worth checking out.

Anonymous said...


I moved over to Kindle primarily for the note-taking and highlighting capabilities. In Kindle I can take much longer notes and I don't run out of space. And the fact that I can delete or correct where a highlight is has helped a lot too.

I have a kindle paperwhite that I use to read, but I also have the Kindle PC app open to the same location and I take notes in the PC app because it's much faster to type on an actual keyboard than the virtual keyboard in tablets.

However I also do the summary thing. For that I use OneNote. OneNote is probably the most valuable software I have on my PC.

Anonymous said...


I take notes by hand in notebooks, same as I do with "real" books (which I could never bring myself to mark up). The highlighting feature on my Kindle Touch works easily enough and could very well be useful, but it's not for me. I either highlight so much that I might as well just read the whole chapter over or get distracted from reading trying to evaluate every sentence as highlight-worthy or not-highlight-worthy.

The Janitor said...


The main advantage of the highlight feature, for me, is that you can open the highlight tab and see all your highlights with a glance and immediately jump to any highlight. Of course, the hard part might be not going crazy with the highlighter. I used to do that with "real" books too though. I remember sitting in the library once at my college and one of my professors walked by and saw me scrolling over a few pages with a highlighter. He walked over and said "Don't highlight the whole book, it's not worth it!"

GEM of The Kairos Initiative said...

One trick is a personal index of key points and clips. I use a blank page in the front of a book for that. So, as I read, I note key points with page references; also noting in the text. My Dad taught me never to mark up a book in pen, a soft pencil can be erased but if left there is permanent. KF

Peter Schaefer said...

Anon-agreed re highlighting in Kindle. GREAT way to summarize / orient what is going on, esp in complex philosophical texts. Helps when dealing with really cumulative thinkers ala Swinburne!

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