Hey guys! To change it up a little bit, today I am going to share my top tips for reading and studying from a textbook. As a History TA, I have heard SO MANY times that students just CAN’T read the textbook. It’s boring, they fall asleep, they don’t know what to take notes on, etc. etc. Fortunately, I had excellent teachers in high school who helped me learn how to take good notes and read from a textbook. Today I am sharing a few different tricks and tips that will make it easier for you to read and take notes on your textbook.
Basic Studying Skills
- Determining what’s important. I never realized that so many students had problems figuring out what was important when reading a textbook! This is a skill you will need to teach yourself, so don’t be ashamed if you aren’t sure in the beginning.
- Start by reading the cover pages of the chapter. These usually have a list of key ideas or take-aways. Keeping those in mind, skim the chapter sections and headings.
- Next, review the end of the chapter. Look at the questions being asked, and read the chapter summary. By reviewing these three areas before reading, you will have a better idea of what the key ideas are for each chapter, and what you should be paying attention to.
- As you read, think about what information in the chapter answers the main ideas/questions you reviewed before reading. Those are the things you need to pay attention to.
The Sticky Note Method
- I talked briefly about the sticky note method in this post, but I want to elaborate further on it here. With this method, have a pen and a set of sticky notes at the ready. Mark the pages you need to read, and then begin. After reading one or two pages, stop. Now that you know how to pick out the important stuff, summarize the main points on a sticky note. Very rarely will you need more than one sticky note per page. This will prevent you from trying to re-write the entire page in your notes, and forces you to pick out essential ideas. Sometimes, a page won’t need a sticky note at all.
- I like to do this method in conjunction with a vocabulary sheet, where I keep a notebook page next to the book where I copy down any vocabulary that is new to me. Keeping this sheet makes it really easy to make flash cards if you need them later on.
- This method has numerous benefits:
- It breaks up a tedious reading assignment. Rather than dredging through page after page without really taking anything in, you have to stay focused on the task and what you are reading. Pausing after each page forces you to synthesize the information.
- Reviewing for the test will be a breeze. Instead of trying to skim all of your notes or even re-read the textbook, you can skim your sticky notes, which contain all the main ideas.
- This method saves you time, because filling a sticky note is a lot faster than taking traditional notes, and makes your wording more concise.
The Outline Method
- If you are new to studying from a textbook, this might be a good place for you to start. I used this method a lot in high school when I was first learning how to take notes from a book. It can help you know what you should be writing down, and give structure to your studying. Make an outline that looks like this, using the actual titles used in your chapter.
- This method allows you to clearly organize your ideas and keep track of everything. It’s great if you are new to taking textbook notes, but it can fail. It is easy to write too much or too little. As a general rule, one page of written notes should be about 4-5 pages of the textbook. If you find yourself writing down everything you read, you aren’t really getting anything out of it. Similarly, you won’t get anything out of it if you just copy down the titles of sections.
Things to avoid
- Highlighting. In no world does highlighting actually help people. Highlighting is such a passive activity, your brain does it without even taking in the information you are highlighting. Handwritten notes are best (this has been proven by science!), because you actually have to think about what you are reading.
- Copying things down word for word. Again, this is passive, and it’s likely you won’t remember it when the test comes around. Writing things in your own words means you actually know the material, not just how to copy words onto a paper. Even with vocabulary, try writing your own definition, rather than copying one out of the glossary.
- Ignoring examples, primary sources, maps, images, and graphs. Ya’ll. I am the WORST at this. When things aren’t in the main text, I have this horrible tendency of skipping right over them. This is not great, because those things add so much to my understanding of a topic. Plus, I have had a lot of professors who pull test questions from those materials. Nothing is put in a textbook without reason, so pay attention to all the side bars and images that pop up!
- Searching the textbook for “answers”. At the end of the chapter, you should know the answers to the questions listed. HOWEVER, you should never read those questions and then skim the chapter for the answers, thinking that will be enough. You will never really learn the content if you are just searching for the “right” answer.
- Sometimes, reading a textbook can be downright exhausting. If you find yourself reading the same passage over and over without taking anything in, read it out loud. This forces you to actually focus on the words, rather than your eyes gliding over them.
- Stand up and move. If you find yourself drifting off, it’s time to move! I have had a lot of late night dance sessions in my four years. I put on a dance song, and don’t stop moving until it’s over. It always wakes me up and gives me an extra jolt of energy to focus on the task at hand!
- Try incentives. Bargain with yourself. “After I read these ten pages, I will eat a bowl of ice cream” or “After this chapter, I can browse instagram for ten minutes.” By offering yourself little rewards (I like to use m&ms or similar candies), you can push yourself to keep moving and stay focused.
- Browse study motivation. This works for some people, and doesn’t for others. I personally get inspired by seeing other people working hard and taking beautiful notes. I even have a pinterest board dedicated to studying pictures!
- Pomodoro technique. I personally haven’t been able to make this method work for me, but I know a lot of people who absolutely love it! Long story short, you study for a longer chunk of time (25 minutes) followed by a smaller chunk of free time (5 minutes). Here’s a post with more information if you are interested.
Studying from a textbook does not have to be hard! By following these techniques, you can conquer the ominous textbook and ace your next test! These tips work for any subject textbook, so don’t think these only work for history. If you are willing to work at it, there is no reason a textbook should be your worst enemy in college, in fact, it can be one of your best studying tools.
What are your best textbook studying tips? Share them in the comments below! I love learning new ways to study that I can try out and share with my students!