Human memory has an intrinsic decay rate that is staggeringly exponential. Retention of learned material from reading drops to about 20-30% after 1 hour for most people The SQ5R, SQ4RW, SQ3R are all study methods that if used properly with textbooks and readings can increase your retention to 80% on a long term basis. The basis of the method is that you are engaged in active processing of material driven by 'curiosity', the most powerful stimulus for learning.
Here is the method:
SURVEY - Before reading the actual chapter, read the introduction and summary (if given). Skim through the chapter paying attention to topic headings, bold-faced words, pictures, charts, and graphs. These can give you an idea of the general structure and content before you begin reading. This should stimulate curiosity for the material and questions will begin to arise. You might also simply jot down everything you know about the subject before you start reading and then ask what you would think is important to learn that you don't know.
QUESTION - Set a purpose for your reading by developing questions about the material. Use the topic and heading information you gathered in the survey step to create questions to be answered. Begin asking yourself who, what, where, when, why, and how questions. Questions are most beneficial when they are general, covering main topics and important points. However, remember that the purpose of the questions is to stimulate curiosity.
READ - Read to answer your questions. Some say divide the reading material into sections that will take about 20 minutes to read (often the chapter is already broken into sections which will work just fine). Read the material section by section. Look for answers to your questions, key concepts, and supporting details. Study charts, graphs, tables, and pictures. These can serve to present new information as well as tie together concepts from the reading.
RECITE - Ask your question and try to recite the answer incorporating key information and ideas. Put the material in your own words and go back and re-read until you feel comfortable with it. This may be frustrating at first, but it will lead to better understanding and save you review time in the long run. (Do this after each section.)
RECORD (WRITE) - Here I would strongly recommend putting your questions on the computer or writing them in a notebook. Then in a brief note format with abbreviations you develop, write the answers without looking at the material. Check it after to make sure it is right. Chances are this process will lead to other questions and you may wish to jot those down as well and try to answer them.
REVIEW - After completing each section review the prior sections simply by answering your questions. You will be amazed how much you retain compared to just reading a chapter or underlining. An hour later review your notes again. Review will need to be done again in one day and then in a week to maintain your 80% retention.
We have tried to promote this method in the material presented in anatomy here by asking you questions that you search for the answers in links. We have purposely added more material than the answer to be complete. The material is redundant in areas to encourage review.
For ophthalmology residents, putting the notes on your laptop is a great resource for clinic. You can link your answers to photographs that you take later, or ones available on the web. You can link to original articles and to medrounds for the diagrams and answers. Take your laptop everywhere so you can continually organize and review the material. Material that you don't wish to memorize such as specific drug therapy for relatively rare problems can be found in your notes. You can add to your information and update it at rounds and conferences. You can also keep patient photographs and information organized so you can show specialists later to help you with the diagnosis as you follow their case.