To strengthen your memory of written information, read out loud the difficult material. Reading the hard parts out loud can boost your memory of those details by 25% or more.1, 2
The read-aloud technique can help you memorize school work or information needed for your job. It can help you commit to memory shopping lists, phone numbers, details from news articles, and other everyday facts.
And if you read the hard parts out loud to someone (rather than just aloud to yourself), you may remember the information even better.
As reported in the journal Cognition and Consciousness, repeating out loud to another person further boosts long-term memory4:
We knew that repeating aloud was good for memory, but this is the first study to show that if it is done in a context of communication, the effect is greater in terms of information recall. - Prof. Victor Boucher
Verbalizing ALL of the material out loud doesn't boost memory, though, according to studies.3 Reading aloud becomes a powerful memory aid if you read out loud just the selected parts you really want to remember (and these may be the harder parts much of the time).
What do I mean by hard parts? The facts, technical terms, lists, quotations, definitions, formulas, and other items in the written material that might require extra effort to memorize.
Reading the hard parts aloud makes them distinctive, and therefore memorable.
Abraham Lincoln was famous for his impressive memory. And guess what? Reading aloud was his favorite go-to memory technique.
Lincoln would often read aloud from newspaper articles, legal books, and other written material he wanted to remember. This was much to the annoyance of his law partner, William Herndon, who shared the same offices.
As Steve Chandler notes in his book, 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself,
[Lincoln] discovered that he remembered twice as much when he read aloud than when he read silently. And what he did remember, he remembered for a much longer period of time.
Any time you have an opportunity to read something that's important to you, try reading it aloud. See if you don't make twice the impression on yourself.7
If you can find a quiet place to read the hard parts aloud without bothering anyone, you may be able to boost your recall of the material significantly. Even better, find someone willing to listen as you read difficult sections out loud.
Saying words out loud taps into what neuroscientists call the Production Effect. When you speak the information out loud, you "produce" the words yourself. Normally we read silently or listen passively, which isn't production (by us).
The production effect represents a simple but quite powerful mechanism for improving memory for selected information.3
Producing words yourself creates additional pathways to long-term memory, by making those words distinctive. In other words, by reading the information out loud, it stands out. Neuroscientists suggest speaking the words creates a "distinctive encoding record" in long-term memory.6
By addressing the reading material to another person while reading out loud, you boost this effect even further. Speaking to someone, beyond simply saying the words out loud to yourself, encodes the material in the context of a communication.
Dr. Boucher, of the University of Montreal, explains why speaking the information out loud to someone adds even more strength to the memory:
The production of one or more sensory aspects [i.e., by speaking the words out loud] allows for more efficient recall of the verbal element. But the added effect of talking to someone shows that in addition to the sensorimotor aspects related to verbal expression, the brain refers to the multisensory information associated with the communication episode. The result is that the information is better retained in memory.
If you don't quite understand his scientific explanation, don't worry. It isn't necessary to understand the technical reasons why reading aloud (along with the added effect of reading to someone) boosts memory in order to use the technique yourself.
If you've ever repeated a list of items out loud a few times to help you remember it, you were tapping into the Production Effect. And if you have ever repeated the list aloud to someone else, you may have noticed you later recalled the information more easily and completely.
Now that you know science supports the effectiveness of this method, I challenge you to use the read-aloud method intentionally and often to boost your memory of reading material.
The read-aloud memory technique is easy to use. The good news is that, unlike memory skills such as the phonetic-number method that requires pre-memorization, reading aloud is simple to do without much preparation.
Here are the basic steps to using the "read out loud (to someone)" technique:
Within the overall written material, identify specific facts, terms, and other details you want to memorize.
Find someone willing to listen. For example, your spouse, child, friend, study partner.... whoever will agree to be attentive as you read.
Maybe even your dog or cat, if he or she will pay attention (or pretend to pay attention). I am serious.
(The key to effectiveness here is awareness of an attentive audience.)
Speak the difficult material slowly and clearly.
Keep in mind you have an audience. Someone is listening!
Repeat the facts, items, and other details as needed.
Use repetition to help set the information more firmly in memory.
Later, perhaps when you are alone, quiz yourself to see how much you've remembered.
That's it! You've just boosted your memory of the material by up to 25% or more.
The "read aloud" verbal repetition technique of memorization is an old one, and it works fantastically for some people. Add this powerful, easy-to-use memory aid to your list of memory tricks.
And for an extra memory boost, be sure to read out loud the hard parts to another person when possible.
Last Updated: 04/01/2020
1. Conway, M. A., & Gathercole, S. E. (1987). "Modality and long-term memory." Journal of Memory and Language, 26, 341-361.
2. Gathercole, S. E., & Conway, M. A. (1988). "Exploring long-term modality effects: Vocalization leads to best retention." Memory & Cognition, 16, 110-119.
3. MacLeod, Gopie, et al. "The Production Effect: Delineation of a Phenomenon." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
2010, Vol. 36, No. 3, 671-685.
4. Repeating Aloud to Another Person Boosts Recall. UdeM Nouvelles News
5. Alexis Lafleur, Victor J. Boucher. "The ecology of self-monitoring effects on memory of verbal productions: Does speaking to someone make a difference?" Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 36, November 2015. DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2015.06.015.
6. Ozubko, Macleod. "The production effect in memory: evidence that distinctiveness underlies the benefit." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 2010 Nov;36(6):1543-7. doi: 10.1037/a0020604.
7. Chandler, Steve. "100 Ways to Motivate Yourself." Career Press, 2012
Last Updated: 06/11/2020