Francesco’s question

Francesco emailed the following question:
I have a question on an exercise I found in various “speed reading” books: is it useful to read a paragraph (or, for more advanced, a page) and then to close the book and write on a paper all you can remember of what you just read?
Does it help in recalling the useful content of entire books?

Thanks for your help and work,


I thought I would share my answer to this interesting question.

Hi Francesco,

The exercise you describe is a test of recall. The real issue is the earlier part of putting information into memory.
A blank sheet of paper is not a prompt to recall, neither is it related to how readers usually retrieve information which they have read.
I like my students to embed speed reading into what they routinely do.
Before reading, decide what the purpose for reading is. It can be specific or it can be general. Identify the reading level (scan, skim, comprehend, analyse, contextualise, evaluate). Decide what you want to do with the knowledge you gain from the book. If you intend to have good recall and speed read, use the simplest and most effective memory techniques you can. For beginners, the easiest is to decide what questions you want answered. For a non fiction read, you could survey the material first by glancing quickly though the book. After that, you formulate your questions, For a work of fiction, you could ask about plot, characters, style, themes, viewpoint, setting, structure and context.
Over an entire book, integrating the detail with the whole is much easier if you have thought about what you wish to achieve before you start. Begin with the end in mind.

Use your questions to test recall after you have finished reading. They will be good for revision purposes too.

All the best,



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