Most college students are bombarded with textbooks, and reading is often a chore they come to dread. However, reading your textbooks does not need to be as difficult or time-consuming as you think. The key is learning how to read the text more efficiently and effectively.
You’ve probably never examined or analyzed the way you read your textbooks to know if you are doing so in an effective manner. Take a look at the following steps that will help you absorb and retain the information you are reading.
Step #1: Survey – Before you dive in and read the material in depth, take a minute to survey the material by briefly skimming through the chapters you plan on reading. A good starting point is to read the title of the chapter and any headings or subheadings you see. Before you begin, look to see if there is an outline or reference page at the beginning of the chapter. This breaks the chapter down into sections where you can see what each has to offer. Also, look for words in bold text, which reference important terms you should be aware of. You will also find it helpful to read the chapter’s introductory paragraph, which provides insight as to what you will be reading about. Also, read the summary at the end of the chapter, which outlines the most important topics covered in the chapter.
Step #2: Question – Formulate questions based on what you learned during the survey step. Ask yourself what the most important topics or concepts in the chapter are. You may find that turning each heading into a question is helpful. Develop questions like Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, and How?, which you can answer while you read.
Step #3: Read – Once you’ve become familiar with what the chapter is going to cover, it is time to start reading. Use what you discovered in step one to recognize any important terms or concepts. It is also a good idea to underline or highlight any information you think is important and that you would like to revisit later. You’ll get the most out of lectures by reading the chapter your professor is going to discuss in advance of the class. By reading ahead of time, you will be more receptive and will have context for understanding challenging concepts. After class, focus your reading on concepts your professor emphasized in class.
Step #4: Recite – After you have finished reading the text, the next step is to recite the information you learned. This is a good time to answer the questions you developed in step two. Try to answer each question without referring to the textbook in order to test whether you really absorbed the material. Once you feel you have a complete grasp of the material, repeat all the major topics and terms to yourself. Putting the concepts you read into your own words helps with memorization. Reciting the text is all about reviewing what you just read, so if you don’t feel confident that you can answer the questions you developed in step two, you should reread the text.
Step #5: Record – Now that you have a strong grasp on what you’ve read, it is time to take some notes. Use a notebook and label the top of the page with the chapter number and title you just read. Reflect on the questions you answered previously to determine what the most important topics were. Make headings on your paper with each of these topics, and write down any information you found important. Also, write down all the key terms in the chapter along with their meaning. Some textbooks include a list of these terms at the end of each chapter.
Step #6: Review – Now that you’ve read the material and taken notes, review everything you’ve learned. Browse your notes to recall the important topics that were covered in the chapter. Try to predict questions that your professor may put on an exam and practice how you would answer them. Make sure you have a strong understanding of what you just read. If you feel confused or do not understand a concept, use the page references you included in your notes to go back and read about that concept. Also, this is a good time to look over your notes to make sure they are thorough enough and contain all the important information you will have to study later. While your notes should be brief, they should also be detailed enough to allow you to refresh your memory of the most important concepts.
Now that you know how to read a textbook thoroughly and effectively, you should know how to use it for studying purposes. When it is time to study for an exam, you do not necessarily need to go through all six steps above, but you should take the time to review core concepts in each chapter. Many of the same tips you used prior to reading will be useful for test preparation. You will find it helpful to reread the introductory paragraph and summary at the end of the chapter. These give you a basic refresher about what information is included in the chapter. Revisit headings, subheadings, and bolded terms. Also, maximize the work you’ve already done by reviewing underlined or highlighted words that you marked while you were reading.