Spot on. I took three years ‘off’ between completing my undergraduate degree and returning to university on a postgraduate course; during those three years I spent much of my free time ploughing through book after book after book. I developed an interest in US political history, so I systematically worked my way through biographies of two-thirds of the US presidents. Whilst it was a fascinating experience, which led me to a new appreciation of a number of former chief executives, I actually retained very little information from the tens of thousands of pages that I devoured during my efforts.
Since I have returned to the world of academia, I have consumed written information in the same quantity that I did beforehand, but as I am chiefly reading 20-page academic articles, which boil down their argument and information into the minimum-necessary space, I am retaining a far greater proportion of what I am reading. That I often have to read four, five, six or more articles on the same subject, but from a variety of different angles and with different conclusions, means that I both retread the same information — cementing the basic facts in my mind — but also engage critically with the subject at hand. I am forced to analyse the differing arguments and draw my own conclusions; this act, more than anything else, means that having read perhaps 150 pages on the same subject over 8–10 peer-reviewed articles will provide me with a far greater and ingrained understanding of a subject than a 1,000-page tome ever could.