Textbooks are ubiquitous in college. They are also extremely expensive, especially in certain disciplines like business, engineering, and nursing. Considering how much money you spent to get it in your hands, shouldn’t you know how to best use this resource?

What’s the best way to learn from a college textbook?

In this blog post I will teach you how to use a very important learning medium with which you will become quite familiar in the coming years: the textbook.

Here is how to read a textbook. First, you should know there is a place for cover-to-cover reading (for example, your favorite novel), but that is not how you should approach a textbook.

Let’s take this example: You  just exited your Psychology 101 class and your professor assigned chapter 4 and 5 as reading before your next class in two days. How should you go about completing the assignment?

First, open to chapter 5. Before reading the chapter, split your work into three parts: preparation, reading, and review.

For the preparation, scan the chapters for important words, read the first sentences (which contain main ideas), and develop a goal for what you need to learn by reading.

For reading, you read the chapters (this is obvious, right?).

Finally, review the material and see if you accomplished your goal and have a solid understanding of the textbook. How does it relate to the lecture from class? How does it connect to previous learning?

What should I do after reading my textbook?

After you have read the assigned material, you should take notes on your reading. You might think this is redundant, but it is imperative  since you will probably be tested on the textbook’s material. These notes will help you when you finally sit down for the big study session before the test.

How should I take notes in my textbook?

There are several ways to take notes on a textbook, but I will outline a very simple process that may or may not work for you. Remember: learning is an individual process and you need to discover what works for you. I would recommend a quick Google search to uncover more strategies.

First, highlight the main ideas in your textbook. 

Second, write questions and insights in the margins. In other words, interact with the reading material.

Finally, get out a sheet of paper and put all this information together in one studying cheat sheet. You could outline it something like this:

Chapter 1:

  • Chapter 1 main idea #1
  • Chapter 1 main idea #2
  • Chapter 1 main idea #3, etc.
  • Definition #1
  • Definition #2
  • Dates, facts, formulas
  • My notes, insights, ideas, questions

Making notes sheets such as this will help your recall when you sit down to study, and increase your chances for success when your grade depends on it.

This blog post is part of a series on how to be successful in college.