Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reading Textbooks: The Right Way, The Fast Way, The Wrong Way

For many classes, everything you need to know for the class is in the textbook. The problem is that you need to read the textbook.

If you want to do well in the class, and you are going to spend the time reading, you might as well do it right. Here are some ways to read textbooks:

The Right Way: When you really need to learn the material, here is the best way that I have found to read and retain information from a textbook. It is my practical, faster version of the SQ3R method. Follow these steps:

  • Skim everything that is not a paragraph. The great thing about textbooks is that they put all of the important items where they are easy to read - boldfaced titles, italics, diagrams, picture captions, end of the chapter summaries. Read these quickly.
  • Ask yourself what is important. You are more likely to find the answer if you know what the question is, so ask yourself what the textbook author wants you to know based on the material you skimmed in step one.
  • Read the paragraphs and take notes - quickly. Now is the time to read the chapter in order, but keep a fast pace so that you don't get bogged down. Every two or three paragraphs, write down a line of notes. Review last month's newsletter for tips on note taking.
  • Use two column notes. In the left margin next to each line of note, write a title - two or three words that describe the content of the notes.
  • Review. Skim over the chapter headings, illustration captions, and end of chapter material just like you did at the beginning. Did you learn about all of the important things that the textbook highlighted?
  • Study. Fold your page of notes over so that the titles in the margin are showing. Test youself. Do you know the information that goes with each title?

The best part about this method is that your brain is exposed to the content several times. Each time you skim, read, write down notes, look at your notes, or review, the information is cemented in your memory.

The Fast Way: But what if you are too busy to read the correct way? Do the best with the time you have. You know how you skimmed the boldfaced titles, chapter headings, italicized phrases, illustration captions, and end of the chapter stuff in the instruction above? Since that has most of the important information, this is where you should go when you are pressed for time. Ten minutes of skimming will give you a lot more than reading the first two pages of the chapter.

The Wrong Way: Do not read a textbook the way that you would read a novel. If you just sit down and start reading in order, it is not likely that you will remember as much. Furthermore, if you run out of time, you will stop reading where you are and get nothing out of the end of the chapter.

Strangely, reading a textbook should be a lot like surfing the web - lots of skimming and looking at pictures, with close reading only where you need it. This is especially true if you are reading an electronic textbook on an iPad or other device.

Speaking of devices, don't forget that our Essay Engine shows you how to write great essays and works wonderfully on all internet-connected devices.


Kurt said...

Do these tips work with math and science textbooks? Or do explanations of how to solve problems require more careful reading?

Bradley Peterson said...

I believe that it would work for most math and science textbooks too. If there were an important formula or problem-solving technique, the author would put it in a sidebar or graphic, not hidden in the middle of a paragraph. However, I agree that the student would have to take the time to answer more questions in a math or science textbook than he or she would in a history or English text.