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How to Read a College Textbook and Take Relevant Notes

Updated on September 27, 2016

University Libraries Have Everything

Textbooks are a large part of college.
Textbooks are a large part of college. | Source
Find all your college textbooks in the college library. This is handy if you can't afford to buy all of the textbooks on your course curriculum.
Find all your college textbooks in the college library. This is handy if you can't afford to buy all of the textbooks on your course curriculum. | Source

Browsing Textbooks

This is a key skill you use in your everyday life that you take for granted. You browse through a magazine in a newsagent before you purchase it.

You might also browse through books in the bookstore if you are thinking about buying one which is very expensive. Why would you buy something before you check it out?

Browsing is just another tool your mind uses to help it search out data that is relevant to whatever answer you require.

If you have a question in your head that needs an answer, then you will want to find information pertaining to this specific question.

You may decide to either look at the index to find the information you require or you could simple read the chapter summary to see what it is the chapter is about.

Or you might simple skim through the chapter to see if anything interesting jumps out at you that seems relevant. In this instance looking at the section heading and subsection categories is a good way to see at a glance what the chapter is about.

How To Read a College Textbook

You will not be told in college the correct way to read a college textbook. Depending on the type of reader you are you might be quick or very slow at this task. In college you need to be able to ensure that the free hours you have are not wasted. .

You need to look at ways of cutting corners in college especially if you are under deadlines. One deadline could be a number of chapters of a book for a specific class. One quick tip you need to use is to study the list of topics covered in each chapter of the book you need to read for your course. Another tip is too look at the learning outcome from each chapter you are required to read.

Take a look at your college notes before you look at any book you are required to read and see the areas that your lecturer has covered in their notes. Then you need to look at your own notes that you have written down from class and see if there are any other key areas that you might need to do more research on.

Once you have established what it is you need to know, write down key questions you need to find information on from your college textbook. This way you can narrow down your work load to finding only the information you require.


Cut To The Chase When Reading

When you find the specific chapter you need to read, look at the chapter outline and summary if there is one. This will give you a quick overview about what the chapter is about and the summary will summarize the key points that are important in this chapter. This also helps eliminate unnecessary reading which isn’t relevant to what you are studying.

If you have an understanding of the areas you need to find information on before you start reading the college textbook, then you will find it easier to spot the relevant information in the chapter as you will be looking out for it.

Other textbook reading methods you can use

Another way to find information quickly is to look at the headings of the sections and subsections in each chapter to see if any of the information in them relates back to your questions. Again this can cut back on time wasted while reading a college textbook.

There is nothing stopping you from reading the whole chapter from beginning to end, however if you do this then the likelihood is that you will miss the information you are looking for.

Picking and choosing the relevant areas you need to read and doing it in an order which is convenient to you can sometimes be an easier method for many.

How often will you get bored halfway into a book and not want to read the rest of it as you still have 40 more pages to go and it all seem like a foreign language to you. Pace yourself and read to suit your own style.

Learn to Skim and Scan the relevant sections

Just like when reading a newspaper, you don't read everything. Skim what you think might look interesting and then scan it more if it is relevant.
Just like when reading a newspaper, you don't read everything. Skim what you think might look interesting and then scan it more if it is relevant. | Source

Skimming sections of books

Most of us skim the newspaper. If we did choose to read the whole paper we could easily be 2 hours later still reading it.

When reading you read a newspaper you look at the headlines and you will read the areas that you find interesting. This could be the national news, the political section or the business section.

Just like with a newspaper, when reading a book, you need to learn to pick the areas that are relevant to your topic.

Have a Dictionary Handy

Sometimes you will need a dictionary handy to help you get a better understanding on what a particular section of a textbook is about.
Sometimes you will need a dictionary handy to help you get a better understanding on what a particular section of a textbook is about. | Source

Tip On Reading Difficult Sections of a Chapter

It might be necessary to have a dictionary handy when reading some passages in certain college textbooks.

Sometimes you will find that they are words used that you’ve never heard of before. It can be quite difficult if this is your first time reading college books to understand what it is they are saying.

In cases like this you might need to reread the sentences to get a better understanding of what it means. You should not skip difficult sections; they might be relevant to the section above or the next section.

Once you have an understanding of what the difficult word means write out the sentence in a way that incorporates the meaning of the word, but excludes the actual word itself.

This way if it is a relevant piece of information, you will have a better grasp of its meaning as it is in your own words.

Success Is Never Far Away

Remember the more time you spend studying the more successful you will be in the exam.

Reading Techniques

Did you have a particular method you favoured when reading college textbooks?

See results

Paragraphs Layout in Books

Sometimes in college textbooks you will see a pattern in the writing style. You might find that the first paragraph in a section can explain what it is you are about to learn, while the second paragraph will give you an example to help you better understand what it is they are saying.

Finally the third part of the paragraph will reiterate what it is they have already said and then lead you into the next section or subsection relating to that particular topic.

Quick Tip On Reading College Textbooks

When you start reading college textbooks, it is better the first time to break it up into stages. Don’t put pressure on yourself to read a whole chapter of a book in one go. Spend time getting to grips with what it is you need to learn.

Take 30 minutes out of you lunch break if you don’t have any other free time and head to the library. Once there lay out your notes and the book/s you require and then refer to your written question relating to the notes.

Find the relevant sections in the chapter you need information on.

Practice Makes Perfect

You will often find that taking a few minutes here and there like 30 minutes at lunch time can work to your advantage.

Later on you will find that this form of note taking will help you remember key parts a lot more easily later on. Your recall will be quicker compared to if you spent 3 hours reading a chapter from start to finish.

How To Learn In College

University Lecturer Dr. Stuart McKelvie gives an overview of how to cope in college and advises student on note taking and study techniques for college.


If you skip to 10:46 you can head to the note taking section that is covered in this video.

Finally remember the more practice you do the better you become. Don't put off today what you can do tomorrow.

© 2013 Sp Greaney

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