How to Study from Textbooks

The Complete Guide to Studying Text Books

The reading of textbooks is an integral and unavoidable part of your college education. Although in the classroom a teacher may cover much of the content of the subject matter, many of the details of the topic will be fleshed out from your textbook. Unfortunately much of the material you will encounter in a textbook can be dry, making it difficult to stay focused and study. Concentration is essential to your success in the class.

All of the material you are required to learn is crucial for your success. Especially at a collegiate level, professors don’t just assign busy work, so everything you read has a meaning. The readings in a textbook will show up throughout the course in homework, class discussions, tests, and projects, so it is up to you to have a thorough understanding to contribute to the conversation. At this upper level of education, some of the readings can be dense and difficult to understand, which is why you need to create methods and study skills to tackle these texts in an efficient manner.

A Systematic Method for Studying Textbooks

In order to glean the essential information needed from your textbook it is important to follow a systematic process. This will help you retain more of what you read and build a solid base of knowledge, which in turn will make it easier to study for the next test. We’ve provided you with a process along with other methods, for you to maximize your studying time and thoroughly learn the material.

1) Begin by reviewing the title and headers of the chapter you are reading. If you are following instructions to build something, you will most likely review all of the instructions first before physically beginning. This preview allows you to get a sense of what you will encounter and how that material will progress through the textbook.

This act is called Surveying. Surveying gives you an overview of what you are about to delve into and lets you familiarize yourself with the main concepts. With this action, you can prepare an outline or flow of the materials you are about to cover in your reading. It allows your mind to organize and prepare for the subject matter. In addition to the titles, also read the graphs, pictures, etc. to immerse yourself in the text.

2) Convert the chapter headings or main ideas into questions. Ask yourself who, what, when, where, why or how. Write these questions down. This allows you to focus in on what you are reading and gives you purpose, so that you are not aimlessly reading. Once you’ve read through a section, highlight of a couple pieces that sums up the main ideas or seem important. Don’t overdo the highlighting, as you should be able to read the key parts quickly without going over the whole paragraph. Use your notes or the margins of the text to write in questions that could be answered by the highlighted information.

As tempting as it may be, don’t take notes or highlight while you are reading through the text for the first time. This action can not only distract you from the material, but unless you’ve read the whole text, you won’t know which parts are important enough to highlight.

3.) Note any additional subheadings with questions. After you’ve finished reading the chapter, go back to your paper and make sure all of your written questions have been answered in a complete manner. Make sure there are no other questions that come to mind that need answering.

As important as it is to have a full understanding of the material, you should keep your responses to the questions concise. Otherwise, you might as well be reading the exact text.

Don’t forget to pay attention to any tables, charts, and photographs that are mentioned in the textbook. There is often additional information set aside in boxes on the pages that add to what is written in the body of the text. Take care to note or highlight this information as well as they are usually important.

4.) Finally, review the summary of the chapter and complete the questions at the end of the chapter. Use your notes to complete the answers, and write down any questions you didn’t find in your own notes. As you go back through the chapter underline the proper heading to locate these unanswered questions and write them on your paper along with the question.

Ultimately, after finishing the reading you should be able to answer the questions you wrote down. If you do happen to struggle with them, then you can just check the highlighted portions. Keeping a written question and answer format of your textbook reading will help you when you are involved in classroom discussion. It will allow you to probe your teacher for any answers that weren’t clear to you during the reading, and will make studying for your test that much easier.

You should also write other questions or observations, so you can bring these questions up during class or to your professor, which will give you a deeper understanding of the material. Especially in college, most professors have in-depth class discussions about the textbook readings. These discussions tend to count as a grade for class participation, so you want to make sure you are prepared and able to add your own opinion into the conversation.
Survey on how to study textbooks

Other details While Studying a textbook.

  • The information in a textbook will be easier to understand when you put it into your own words. This translation simplifies the text into terms that you are familiar with, so you can easily explain the information or answer questions. It improves your comprehension of the material and not just the memorization. Keeping it in your own words is also helpful for when you need to write essays as it prevents the likelihood of plagiarizing.
  • Be creative when writing the questions and answers, so that you are engaged while studying. Create note cards or a study guide along with the text that you will understand and enjoy completing. Or come with up quizzes and games that you can exchange with a peer.
  • Increase your learning pathways. Instead of just reading the text try visualizing, listening, or using a hands-on approach to learning. Simply reading and writing isn’t an effective learning method for everyone.
    More about learning styles
  • Work with a partner. After you’ve done the reading and taken notes, try working with a peer to review the information. They could help you with difficult parts and quiz you to ensure comprehension. Also, if you are teaching or discussing the material with them, then you have a higher chance of being able to recall that information yourself.  More about study groups
  • Read out loud. Hearing the words as you read with a physical voice—not just the one in your head—processes in your brain differently and increases your ability to remember.
  • Use the keys in a textbook, the internet, or a dictionary to define any words or references that you do not know or struggle with to avoid confusion.
  • If you are have trouble understanding the material, then seek help from your teacher, a tutor, or even a friend. Another fresh perspective can explain the concepts to you in a way you’ve never thought of before.


More tips and suggestions – How do you study textbooks?


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How to Study Handbook

Modified: November 1st, 2018November 1st, 2018
: August 10th, 2009

1 thought on “How to Study from Textbooks”

  1. Textbooks have a lot of information about the course. I Xerox the table of contents and use that to make a study plan and study schedule.

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