I often found it hard to recall the specifics of a book I’ve read to write a GatesNotes-type book review, which leads me to doubt the whole point of me reading books if I cannot remember most things — you with me?

To get the most out of reading, you have to find a way to remember the gems. Highlighting and taking notes is the full-proof method — the question is how.

The faintest pencil is better than the sharpest memory

Things I’ve tried but didn’t work for me:

  • Taking notes while reading — interrupt the reading experience too much to enjoy it
  • Writing a summary immediately after finishing a book — too big a lift still so often end up not doing it
  • Highlighting along the way — take a lot of extra time to reread the highlights and recall why the highlights
Tim Ferris — How to Remember What you Read

Then I came across Tim Ferris’ Video on how he remembers what he reads. He uses different symbols to differentiate different types of highlights and note down the page number and a few-word summary on the front page of the book, so he can just pull out a book and recall the essence of the book. This inspired me to come up with my own method — the ‘KWAT’ method (sounds fancy right :) )

The ‘KWAT’ Method

This method is to organize your highlights into different categories to easily narrow down to different things you’ve learned from a book. I use these 4 categories but you can certainly come up with your own.

I will use my highlights from the book Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World as examples.

K: Knowledge — previously unknown facts you’ve learned

W: Writing — good writing and choice of phrases/words

A: Actionable Insights — things you can apply to yourself/your life/your work, usually makes good materials for blog posts/tweets.

T: Think — food for thought, those that worth to be read again.

This method works on both ebooks and physical books.

For ebooks, while you read and highlight, add a one-letter note to the highlight, export the notes, and organize them into respective categories.

For physical books, I use these thin sticky notes to add to the highlighted pages and use different colors for different categories.

This method is the one thing that worked for me to quickly synthesize information as I read books and maximized information retention. If you have difficulties digesting books, give this method a try!