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If have read some other topics regarding this subject, but they were rather focused on the immediate understanding of a paper and not long-term knowledge of a topic.

Suppose I read a book about about a rather broad subject, such as one of Tanenbaums books, how can I effectively understand and learn its content? I don't want to completely memorize it (its not for coursework or a test), but at least be able to quickly get back into the topic after, say, a year.

I would mark and comment important parts, but I don't want to scribble in my physical book. Currently, I usually read a section or chapter and write down a short summary of it, but it feels pretty tedious since I spent the same amount of time reading and writing, which doubles the amount of work for a book. Are there any (better) methods or techniques?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

When it comes to learning from books, the most valuable thing working for me was to condense the information needed from the book onto a more tangible and graspable media. For me that was A6 index cards. On those cards I'd sum up any field of information that needed to be summarized together, using text, structuring means and graphics. The resulting card often could have served as a slide had I wanted to talk about the subject.

The second most valuable thing which I learned much later about was the Fast Book Outliner by David Seah. I'm using a folde printout of the 100 per page in any book I read to mark down pages I want to return to or keep reminders to some passages whenever I want to.

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The Fast Book Outliner is perfect for my needs, many thanks! – Lennart May 26 '12 at 16:49

The simple truth about learning is that the most effective techniques for learning something are more time consuming and can therefore feel more tedious. Since your stated critique of writing chapter summarizes is that if feels tedious, I'm inclined to suspect that you won't find much that is both faster/easier and simultaneously more effective.

One thing that you can try, if you're willing and if you know someone who'd be willing to help you out, is to still do chapter summaries but to give those summaries to someone else, as opposed to jotting them down in a notebook. The best way to learn something thoroughly is to teach it, so if you can find an audience you can cement things more strongly.

If you don't know someone who would let you talk their ear off, consider starting a blog or a wiki (that only you can edit), and write with your audience in mind. Instead of writing summaries based on your own frame of reference, imagine writing it for someone who doesn't know anything about the topic (except for summaries you've already written).

An advantage of the wiki format over the blog format is that you can link concepts together in more meaningful ways. An advantage of the blog format is that it will mirror the chronological progression of your developing understanding. Use what you think works better.

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I read a german on book on this topic. It is all about building associations. The new knowledge has to be hanged on existent knowledge. If you are reading something and some fact creates an image of a donkey in you (association) then just connect it with this image.

It does not matter with what you are connecting the new knowledge, but that you do it. Your Brain then has a path to find it.

Reconstruction of knowledge depends on how you are constructing it.

Some interesting hints:

I KEEP six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. - Rudyard Kipling

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+1 fo Rudyard Kipling note – CoolEulerProject May 26 '12 at 14:48

Spaced Repetition Systems like Anki are the solution. The first step is to understand the basic terms that are used in the literature. Then you make Anki cards that contain the information.

While you are making cards keep in mind that you don't need to know everything in the text. Instead it's about knowing the basics. Even when you think you already know the basics it still helps to make cards for it. There a difference between taking 1 or 3 seconds to recall a basic fact. Having Anki cards allows you to train to access the concept faster.

If a fact seems hard to remember it's probably no basic and you don't make a new card for it. If the fact still seems important, you should first search for basics upon which the fact builds.

The best moments to write a card are when you think: "I didn't know this fact before I read the text but now it's obvious to me."

It's also important to have as little information as possible on a single card. Whenever you can split the information on one card into two cards, do so.

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