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How to Get the Most From a College Textbook

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How to Use Your Textbook to Study for your Course

How to Use Your Textbook to Study for your Course

Textbooks Require a Different Approach

When you get your reading list of books for school or college it can be quite daunting to see the number of textbooks that you are required to read. Reading textbooks is a lot different to reading a comic book, a novel or a newspaper.

The language, the layout and the structure of the textbook will be very different to other books. The undertaking that you now need to accomplish is to learn how to read the textbook and engage with the content within.

You will need to be able to retrieve the relevant information that is within the textbook to help supplement your learning. The lecturer would not have assigned this textbook to your reading material list unless they felt that it was an important book for students to read.

The following steps can help you take important information from your textbook.

Understanding the Layout of College Textbooks

  • There will be a section at the beginning or at the end of each chapter or sub-section within the textbook that will list out the learning outcome expected from reading this chapter. This is the section that you read first.
  • School and college textbooks will have an index at the front of the book that lists the topics that will be covered within each chapter.
  • At the beginning of each chapter, most textbooks will have a summary page that outlines the topics discussed within that chapter. This summary will help you narrow down the key areas that you might need to focus on and it will also help clarify what exactly is covered in each chapter.
  • Depending on what the topic that you are studying is, there will be working examples listed throughout the chapter and questions at the end of the chapter for you to attempt. The answers to these questions will either be at the back of the book or in another answer book.

In school and college, you will have a limited amount of free time during the day, so you really need to learn how to take advantage of any free time.

“No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.”

— Nelson Mandala

Create an Outline of What You Need to Study and Focus on Key Figures, Facts and Explanations

Prior to reading any chapter of a textbook, you need to be able to zone in and focus only on the relevant information that you need to learn within that textbook. So reading the textbook summaries and chapter outlines can help give you an overview of what will be discussed within the chapter.

Topics to Include When Creating an Outline

To ensure that you don’t waste time reading books that you don’t need to, create an outline on a sheet of paper of what it is you need to learn from this textbook.

In your outline, you will need to include the list of topics that you need further information on, look for explanations of terms that you might not understand, and look at the examples used in the chapter to clarify the information within that chapter.

Next, highlight the key words in your outline list with a highlighter so that you don’t get derailed while reading the textbook. If you get lost or confused while reading the textbook, always refer back to your outline list to bring your focus back to the important areas.

Information You Can Use to Help Create an Outline

Also, reread the class notes that you took during your class to see what key areas the lecture focused on. Review your course outline to see what topics will be discussed this semester and don’t be afraid to talk to other students or your lectures to get more information if you are feeling lost and confused.

Following this method helps cut out unnecessary time wasted. It means you only research information on the areas you need at that time.

Tips On How To Browse and Retain Information From a Textbook

Learn how to browse a textbook without having to read the whole chapter. Browsing gives you a taste of what the book is about and it helps you narrow down the areas you want to look at.

Some good ways to browse a book are as follows:

  1. Have a list of keywords from your notes to help you narrow down what areas you need to find information on.
  2. Reading the index at the back of the book helps narrow down what areas you need to find further information on.
  3. Always try to read the chapter summaries first and then look at the chapter index to see if what you need an answer to is covered in that chapter or section.
  4. If you are looking for information on a broad area, then skimming through a book when you have some spare time can sometimes work.
  5. Take note of the different heading and subcategories in a chapter to see if it is relevant to the area that you need more information on.
Reading college textbooks takes up a lot of your free time.

Reading college textbooks takes up a lot of your free time.

Efficient Reading and Studying

In college free time is sparse so you want to be efficient with the time you have free. Here are some top tips on reading a book efficiently.

  • Read the chapter outline and the summary. Both of these will give you an overview of what the chapter is about.
  • The key points of the chapter will be summarized at the front or the end of the book.
  • If there is an area you have to study that has specific topics that you need to know in it then pick out only those key areas in the textbook to look at. Don't allow yourself to get distracted going off looking at other areas until you need to.
  • Doing these three things together will help you eliminate time doing unnecessary browsing and help you to economize your studying hours.

How To Use Heading and Sections in Textbooks to Reduce Your Study Time

Each chapter of the textbook will usually have a few different sections which will then also have subsections. If a topic has to focus on a few key areas within the chapter, then it will be explained in this manner.

Look at each section and then each subsection in that chapter to see how they relate back to the topic you need more information on. This can help you waste less time as the answers to a question might be 15 pages in that chapter.

Narrowing down what you need to learn can reduce the time you spend reading a whole chapter.

The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

— Dr. Seuss

Understanding The Layout of Paragraphs in Each Chapter

In college textbooks, the writing style can vary from book to book.

  • Usually, the first paragraph of the book will explain what the topic is about.
  • The second paragraph in the textbook will give you an example to help you understand what the previous paragraph was talking about.
  • The third and final paragraph will reiterate what the first and second paragraphs were about to help you get a grasp of what the topic is about. The aim of this paragraph is to lead the reader into the next subsection of the chapter for the rest of that topic.

How to Read Difficult Sections of Chapters in College Textbooks

Some college textbooks will use words that you are not familiar with. This might mean that you need to head over to your Collins dictionary to get the definition of the word. Once you find the definition of the word reread the section again and see if you now understand what it is the author is talking about.

If you have issues with this you can try out the following technique.

  • Firstly reread the paragraph again now that you know the definition of the word. If you have privacy, try rereading the paragraph out loud.
  • If you feel that you understand what the paragraph is about, try to rewrite it in your own words and in a method that makes it a lot simpler for you to understand at a later date.
  • Using this method will allow you to summarize sections of topics you need to learn in a manner that makes it easier for you to understand.
Focus only on the chapters that have the key information you need at this time.

Focus only on the chapters that have the key information you need at this time.

I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything.

— Steven Wright

5 Tips on How To Read a College Textbook Correctly

When you first decide to start reading a textbook, break it up into stages so it doesn't overwhelm you.

  1. Do not try to read a chapter of a whole book in one hour especially if it is an area that you know nothing about. You will just get bored and frustrated.
  2. Look at what you need to learn and plan out the areas you need to study up on.
  3. If you can only spend 30 minutes of your day reading a portion of the textbook then that is 30 minutes more of the chapter you have read.
  4. Look at your notes and write out the key areas you need to look at from the textbook.
  5. Write out a list of questions you need to get an answer to from this chapter. This will help you focus on only the areas you need to find an answer for.
Browsing and reading only the key areas from a textbook reduces the time it takes to read a textbook.

Browsing and reading only the key areas from a textbook reduces the time it takes to read a textbook.

Other Methods of Learning

Try not to spend your whole weekend reading your textbooks. Break it down into segments. Try to do 30 minutes or one hour instead.

This reduces your chances of getting bored or frustrated by spending so much time reading.

If you hate reading see if you can get the book in an audiobook version. You can then listen to it on your phone while walking to class. Similarly, you could download an eBook app and read your books on your cell phone while you are commuting to college.

Also reading a book over a number of hours over a number of weeks means you won't get overwhelmed or bored by trying to do it all in one sitting.

You will be surprised what your memory will recall about a chapter you read a little while later.

By seeking and blundering we learn.”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Sp Greaney


Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on July 30, 2020:

@Evalyne Cornelia Wakhanu, your welcome. Glad you found it helpful. Best of luck with everything.

Evalyne Cornelia Wakhanu on July 30, 2020:

Thanks, SP Greaney. The information is supplementing my current reading course at the University of the people online.

Thanks for this addition.

Justin Peter from London, UK on November 03, 2018:

Really good article.

Robert Sacchi on February 08, 2018:

That's true. There are many variables, it could even vary with a person depending on subject.

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on February 08, 2018:

@Robert Sacchi, 100% agree with you there. But no one will ever tell you the correct way to study either. Each of us will approach it differently.

Robert Sacchi on February 07, 2018:

Exactly, get through subjects such as History and English by repeating what the book and teacher says. That leaves time to concentrate on subjects such as Math and Science.

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on February 07, 2018:

@Robert Sacchi, yes that method is one of the worst ways to learn I feel but it is still the most popular for theory subjects. Maths, now that you will not pass with rote learning.

Robert Sacchi on February 07, 2018:

Yes, it seems in many cases A students use rote memory for the unimportant subjects so they can focus on learning the important subjects.

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on February 07, 2018:

@Robert Sacchi yes it is. Too much to do with too little time to do it. :)

Robert Sacchi on February 07, 2018:

This seems a very good approach. It seems in school time management is the big thing and I think this article helps a lot.