Reading a Textbook

Reading for Meaning:

Do you understand and remember what you read? Would you like to retain more information from your reading assignments? Becoming an active reader will help you reach these goals. Students understand and remember more of what they read when they read with a purpose, take notes, and review.

How to read a college text book:

Try this approach and see if it helps you to read, review, and study each chapter in a way more conducive to actually learning, rather than just reading.

  1. Schedule your time so you begin to read each chapter about one week before it’s due to be discussed in class.
  2. Preview the chapter. Read the chapter outline if one is offered in the beginning. Read the headings and subheadings, and look over pictures, graphs, and charts. Carefully read all review statements, summaries and study questions at the end of the chapter. Pay close attention to statements such as “by the time you finish this chapter you should be able to…” This preview may take a half hour or so, but is well worth the time. Previewing allows you to gain an overview of the information and provides a context for what is meaningful as you begin to read.
  3. Decide how you are going to approach the chapter. A thirty-page chapter may take you between five and ten hours to read and understand depending on the complexity of the subject. You may decide to spend one and a half hours each day, divided into two forty-five minute sessions in order to complete the chapter. One tactic might be to read four pages each day, or two pages during each forty-five minute session, using the related headings and subheadings. Breaking the chapter down in this manner allows you to make a plan for each reading and set objective, manageable goals for each session without becoming overwhelmed or falling behind. It is much easier to find two forty-five minute periods in your day than it is to find five or ten hours the night before a chapter is being discussed in class.
  4. Begin by reading the information within the first section or subheading. Then pause and think about the most essential elements of the reading and how they relate to the overall learning objectives of the chapter (you will know this from your preview). Go back and highlight (or underline or take notes --whichever works best for you) those important elements. It is often difficult to appreciate the more essential elements until after you’ve read the entire section. This approach will keep you from over-highlighting or over-underlining.
  5. Before you begin to read the next section, review the highlighted (or underlined or notes taken) portions of the previous section of the chapter. As you progress forward through the chapter, always review the portions of each previously read section you indicated were the most important. As you proceed through the chapter in this manner, you are incorporating reviews into each reading session. These reviews provide context for the section you are about to read and serve as repeated trials of learning for the information you have indicated were most important. By the time the chapter is discussed in class, you will have already read and thought about each section very carefully, determined the most important elements of each section as they relate to the overall chapter learning goals, and reviewed the information multiple times. During class, you will find you need to take fewer notes because you already know much of the information. You will also be more likely to participate in class discussions as you will feel more confident in your knowledge, and won’t be so busy taking notes.
  6. Proceed in this manner for each chapter, always beginning about one week ahead. After each chapter is discussed in class, continue to review the highlighted (or underlined or notes taken) portions about twice a week until the time of the exam. You will find exam preparation is much easier and far less stressful than it was in the past.
  7. If you think this method seems to be too much effort, try it for a week or so. Evaluate your mastery of the material, and how prepared you feel in class, and your stress level compared with your previous method of reading.