Tips for Textbook Reading

Prepare to Read
Many times, students jump directly into reading a chapter without first preparing to read. Reading preparation takes about ten minutes and can increase the amount of text you understand and remember the first time you read. Remembering more from the beginning saves time when studying for a test. So how do you prepare? Simply follow these guidelines: 

A. Pre-Read the Chapter – Pre-reading is similar to reading the back cover of a book you want to read for pleasure. The purpose is to understand the “story”, or, what you will be reading about before you turn to the first page. Pre-reading a chapter requires you to read:

  • The chapter outline
  • Learning objectives
  • Section headings and sub-headings (note how they relate to each other)
  • Bold-faced vocabulary words
  • Charts and pictures
  • Chapter summary
  • Review questions

B. Set Reading Goals – A reading goal provides direction and purpose to your reading. The best way to set reading goals is to:

  • Identify section headings in the chapter
  • Turn the section headings into questions and write them on a separate sheet of paper
  • Read to find the answers to your questions and record your answers (in your own words) under your questions. Focus on the WHOs, WHATs, WHEREs, WHENs, WHYs, and HOWs in each section of the chapter. Be sure to avoid copying directly from the book. Your answers should be complete enough for you to understand the full concept without being too wordy

C. Pace Yourself – Because textbooks are all different, some are more difficult to read than others. Therefore, it may take you longer to read some books than others. The rate at which you read depends on three things:

  • How much you already know about the subject
  • Your motivation to learn
  • The difficulty of the text 
    To determine your “reading attention span”, time yourself while reading part of a chapter. Using a stopwatch, time yourself from the moment you begin reading to the moment your mind begins to wander. This amount of time indicates your attention span, and you should be able to remember what you have read in that time frame. It is a good idea to read for that amount of time and take breaks in between to increase the amount of information you recall.

Engage in Active Reading
Active reading involves using goal setting, note taking, and underlining/highlighting while reading – taking an active role in reading rather than simply skimming words on a page. Becoming an active reader means that you will understand more of what you read the first time around and be able to identify the important information in your book more easily. The following tips will help you become an active reader.

A. Set Reading Goals – A reading goal provides direction and purpose to your reading. The best way to set reading goals is to:

  • Identify section headings in the chapter
  • Turn the section headings into questions and write them on a separate sheet of paper
  • Read to find the answers to your questions and record your answers (in your own words) under your questions. Focus on the WHOs, WHATs, WHEREs, WHENs, WHYs, and HOWs in each section of the chapter. Be sure to avoid copying directly from the book. Your answers should be complete enough for you to understand the full concept without being too wordy

B. Highlight/Underline Text – Once you have identified questions to ask about the text (reading goal), follow the steps listed below to effectively highlight/underline important points for future reference.

  • Quickly read the section once to get the main idea. Note any new terms or concepts.
  • Read the section again more slowly to look for answers to your reading goals. When you find them, highlight them!
  • Read your highlighted phrases to make sure you understand them before moving on to the next section. 
    Note: Most of the time, the first sentence of each paragraph gives you the main idea of the paragraph. Highlighting the first sentence is a good way to draw your attention to the important point of the paragraph.

Highlighting Don'ts

  • Do not highlight everything – what’s the point?
  • Do not highlight minor points. Stick with information that supports your reading goal.

Margin Notes
Margin notes are comments about the text that you write in the margins of your book. Margin notes are useful summaries that direct your attention when reviewing something you have already read.
Margin notes:

  • Are written in your own words as if you were talking to someone
  • Summarize a paragraph or section
  • Draw your attention to an example in the text
  • Work well when you have technical material to read that would otherwise require lots of highlighting