Motivational and inspirational writer, Bryan Hutchinson is the author of several books about life with ADHD including the highly acclaimed, best selling "One Boy′s Struggle: A Memoir" and the author of the hilarious eBook that went viral "10 Things I Hate about ADHD"

7 Strategies on How to Remember What You’ve Read. The ADHD Way.

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Reading, Memory and ADHD

As you well know reading is one thing, remembering what you’ve read is another. Dang it.

I love reading. Truly, I do. But it’s often been a frustrating experience because I have ADHD.

I read for minutes or for hours and then when finished I come to realize I don’t remember a thing. Nope. Nothing. Blank. Nada.

I’m lucky to remember the book title. This was a pain in the booty back in my school days. It’s kind of weird, but I tend to remember things better two weeks later rather than after 2 hours. Go ahead, try and explain that to your teacher.

However, the good news is that over the years of beating my head against books (paperbacks, because hardbacks hurt), I have come up with strategies that help me remember. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.

So below are the top 7 that have been the most successful for me. Keep in mind that I can use some help, so if you have any good tips on how to remember what you’ve read, please share in the comments.

7 Strategies I Use to Remember

1) Change up reading speed. I read as fast as I can. Speed reading. I thought if I read slowly I would remember more, but it turns out that I remember much more when I read faster. I still can’t wrap my head around how that works but it does.

2) White noise. A fan or a washing machine will work and I tried the blender, but I couldn’t hear the words I was reading in my head and Joan threatened to make me read in the garage. For the sake of our marriage I now listen to soft ambient music while I read. Headphones help, too.

3) Turn things off. I turn off my cell phone, the TV and the PC monitor and yes, even my ipad (unless I am reading on my ipad, then it stays on and I shut off all the little background alerts).

4) I use a highlighter, but not always to highlight something. I focus better when I have something in my hand to fidget with. A highlighter works perfectly and if I do happen to want to highlight something, well, I’ve got a something handy to do just that!

5) Use a ruler. Or some other guiding device. It helps keep my mind on the page, but frequently becomes another object for me to twirl.

6) Drink coffee or tea! Yes, this is the key ingredient to remembering what I have read, sipping coffee while I read. It’s magical, delightful and effective. Oh, and tasty, too. Not a good idea at bed time, though. Bummer.

7) I read what interests me. When I have the option, I read what enthralls me. I am currently reading something of interest, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it is right now.

Xtra -8) Punt. Self-explanatory. See. Book. Fly.

Your turn: What reading strategies do you use to remember what you’ve read? Share in the comments.


Photos via Flickr creative commons 1) by John Morgan, 2) by Moriartys.

Shubhang October 24, 2012 at 11:03 am

Hi there,

It was great seeing your post on methods of reading. I have tried all of them but none of them seemed to work. :-( . [Courtesy ADD]

Being a lawyer by profession, it has often been frustrating and mind boggling to keep in mind facts, case laws and the ‘law’ itself. While at law school, I resorted to the rote system of learning to help me.

I would say that the best way to remember what you read is, to always have the material in front of you when you need to present it or recollect it- similar to an attorney making a court room appearance (has worked for me until now). Retentive reading memory is a huge problem for people like us, but then the heightened instinct and intuition that most of us possess help us get along, just about fine. :-) .

Dee October 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Reading is a challenge for many of us who have ADHD…myself included, however, one of the keys to finding out what helps each of us read is to discover how your brain uniquely processes information. No two of us have the same DNA, so no two of us have the same brain, and no two of us have the same ADHD. Learning how your unique brain processes information allows you to use your processing strengths to link information in your brain. The ACKTIVV Processing Styles Indicator ( is a quick, easy, inexpensive way to identify and rank seven of the most commonly used processing styles. If you try it, remember, it is not a test and there are no right answers or any wrong answers – only your answers. Also, remember to use your first response as your answer or you will skew the results! Don’t over think each statement…trust yourself and use your first response.

Bryan Hutchinson October 26, 2012 at 7:00 am

Interesting, Dee.

RedHotBeads October 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Oddly enough, the older I get, the harder it is to remember what I read. (I was just diagnosed, at age 45, w/ inattentive ADD). I like your suggestions. I sometimes just have to resort to reading it twice — or remembering (trying to) a phrase in a paragraph so when I re-read, it triggers me to remember more of it. Does that even make sense to anyone else? My memory is just trashed, I swear. And my attention to detail? HA!! WHAT attention to detail!!

Bryan Hutchinson October 26, 2012 at 7:00 am

Attention to what? Just kidding.

Michael Scott October 24, 2012 at 6:58 pm

I think the being interested one works the best for me. When I am interested I can focus on the subject and dissect it as I go. If it is boring material, I try to find an interesting angle of the material as it applies to me or my interests, then I can go back to dissecting it. If I just read to read and there is no interest, it will ultimately be put to the side and probably forgotten unless I have a need to go back to it. Good article.

Bryan Hutchinson October 26, 2012 at 6:59 am

Yes, interest helps more than most things I try!

doug puryear October 24, 2012 at 7:48 pm

if it’s something i want to remember, i stop myself every page or two, and ask myself, “what did i just read?” if i’m more serious about it, i do the same at the end of each chapter.
If i’m actually trying learn something ie studying – then it’s a whole special system.
thank you for this good post

Bryan Hutchinson October 26, 2012 at 6:59 am

Thanks for stopping by, Doug! That’s a good question to ask.

Kelly October 26, 2012 at 1:42 pm

The information you described is actually what I’ve learned helps me retain what I’ve read as well. Also, I’d like to include what works for me is that I try to paint a picture in my head of what I just read. I’m getting better with doing this while I’m reading and therefore less stops to ponder more of what was just read. Of course, I’m in true love with reading, learning and simply enough this is a true passion of mine. Needless to say anything of interest, even moreso. But I too have noticed the challenge still arises when I have to read something which doesn’t really interest me. Good news is the whole “painting a picture in my head” still does work considering.

Thank you for sharing!

Thank you so very much for all of the great information you share! It ALL is very helpful! :)

Bryan Hutchinson October 29, 2012 at 6:24 am

You’re welcome, Kelly. :)

Nightdriver October 24, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Hello, so many interesting ideas. Myself, diagnosed with ADHD at 48 and a Lecturer at a well known univsersity in Sweden I have always struggled with my memory. What is the subject of today? Have I met this students before? But, if I have some pictures or words to hang it all up upon I will remember everything. I think in pictures. So when I read I put everything in a situation and picture the story in my mind. I also prais the speed-reading: its all in the middle of the sentences. In a boring book you can read the first 5-10 pages, then some in the middle and 5 at the end of the book:)

I always chew on something, gum or pastilles and have something to fidge with in my right hand, a pen is as you said wonderful – and it looks like you are serious about what you are doing and you dont fall asleep. I also read in small portions of time, then I switch to some comics or fashionmagazines or jump around (at home), stretching is good.

Sorry if my english isn´t the best but I think you know what I mean. Yes, I love reading above anything I do, actually. I have learned to live with my memoryproblems and it´s so nice to read about other people cooping with this issue. Best regards/A

Bryan Hutchinson October 26, 2012 at 6:58 am

You’re English is just fine, Nightdriver, thanks for sharing with us!

Anonymous June 6, 2013 at 5:32 am

Is there no medication to be taking to restore memory

Kimberly Wiltshire October 24, 2012 at 9:51 pm

I can’t sleep if I don’t have a novel to read so I go through books like mad. I generally don’t have a problem getting through a novel as long as it’s remotely intersting. I am very visual and as I read whole little movies play out. But I also want silence around me to concentrate. Put me in front of a textbook and all of that goes away. My head willbe in two places at the same time. The text books just don’t provide the visualization I need to occupy the second brain. I hardly remember anything I read. Music in the background helps to distract the second bran that is bored and wondering off to other thoughts. But still it’s a struggle. Having said that I love random information and read loads of articles and have a plethora of information in my head from what I read at random. But, I can rarely quote where I read it which means when someone doubts what I said and asked well what’s your source I can never say well this magazine this author. It’s always just soemthing I read somewhere and there you go discredited.

Bryan Hutchinson October 26, 2012 at 6:57 am

I am very visual, too, Kimberly. However, once the movie starts to play in my head I too often like to change it’s direction and create a ‘new’ movie! I have to admit though, I love doing that, but sometimes it is upsetting because I left the book a long time ago!

Christy M October 25, 2012 at 10:56 pm

I have found that reading is a new found love of mine. I have been researching ADHD and the different types, because my son and I have 2 different types. I am very interested in learning more about how he “tick’s” and want to learn all about things that may help him succeed in school, so I am reading everything I can get my hands on about ADHD. During this reading I have also experienced some self realization on why I am the way I am. It’s been truly enlightening. I am lucky that my sons doctor has an ADHD library, and that is keeping my new reading love fed. With all of that said, I have read that some of you have to have music or background noise, and if I hear any noise at all I’m lost. It must be quiet when I’m reading, so I usually do it during the day when my son is at school. It’s a perfect way to start the morning…a book that you are interested in and a good cup of coffee.

Bryan Hutchinson October 26, 2012 at 6:54 am

a book that you are interested in and a good cup of coffee.

Indeed, I could not agree more. We are all different, even if we have ADHD, so it is no surprise that you prefer quiet. Sometimes, when I am alone at home, I do, but if someone else is here then I prefer something to distract me into only reading.

Joe C November 9, 2012 at 1:00 am

I have a bookshelf full of interesting books that I have never finished. I get excited in a bookstore, the quiet, the smells, all the ininteresting titles. I walk around with two or three, with the thought ” I’m going to read these, I swear!”. Always the best intentions..EPIC FAIL…what works for me is reading magazines. Short, to the point, done in no time and I generally remember everything I read. If it’s about something I love, or this week’s new hobby, I’m good to go. And a free app on my galaxy S3 called ” white noise” helps a ton

Robinn November 25, 2012 at 6:17 am

I’m one of the ones that needs noise or music to read/study. I learned that if I need to study, I can’t do it in the library unless I have my Shuffle with me to crank up. If I don’t have it with me, I study in the cafeteria or snack bar. I’ve noticed also that listening to music while doing math or chemistry (any science, really), that I understood and retain information much better than without the music. Mannheim Steamroller is my music of choice for this. I really kick butt at Scrabble with music playing. It wakes my brain up! Unless it’s for school, I absolutely refuse to read anything I am not interested in, even if it would benefit me to do so. Nonfiction? No thanks, usually.

Agnes January 6, 2013 at 7:34 pm

When reading for school, using You Tube on a certain subject, helps to develop some background knowledge and it attaches all senses. The You Tube excerpts are usually about 2 -5 min. long. Then going back to read on the subject can help me begin the movie in my brain and retain something from the reading.

Duke January 13, 2013 at 2:36 am

This is weird but when I read, I imagine myself being Morgan Freeman or some other celebrity with an awesome voice to try and make it fun and interesting…haha has its ups & downs

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