Textbooks: Guidelines for Study   back

The University of Alabama
Center for Academic Success
124 Osband

If you have left the campus bookstore groaning under the weight (both financially and physically) of required textbooks for the semester, you may want to consider an effective approach to learning from them. Maybe you view textbooks as things to spend money on, lug around for a few weeks (or maybe hardly ever pick up), fall asleep trying to read, and then trade in after learning little from them. If this has been your experience, maybe this handout can help you stay awake and get your moneyís worth.

As a first step in getting the most from your textbooks, you should keep in mind the purposes they serve:

  1. They provide a framework for a course

  2. They reinforce learning by elaborating on classroom lectures

  3. They present ideas in a different way, sometimes from a different point of view

  4. They expand on points of interest

The textbook can provide a more thorough overall understanding of the course, allowing the instructor to weave in and out of the course material, emphasizing and embellishing areas of interest. The textbook is available to fill in any gaps not covered by classroom lectures.

Several methods have been developed as guides to effective textbook reading. These study methods, essentially, say much the same thing with minor variations. All involve the following techniques: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Recall, Reflect, and Review.

Take a few moments to skim the chapter you are about to read. Look for the chapterís organization by reading the introductory paragraph, the headings and subheadings, the summary paragraph, and any questions at the end of the chapter. You can also determine at this time where the author places key or topic sentences in the paragraphs.

Turn each major heading into a question. Asking questions about each section of the chapter gives your reading a purpose. By asking who, what, when, where, why, and how questions, you are searching while you read, rather than passively reading through and hoping you have absorbed the right material. Asking relevant questions promotes thinking at its highest level. Questioning also leads you to main or key ideas. After determining key ideas, remember that absorbing what is said about the idea or topic is as important as finding the key idea. Since you canít remember 100% of what you read, questioning helps you to be productively selective in what you choose to remember.

Read actively (not like you would read the newspaper) to answer your questions, to find facts, ideas and relationships. Note important words, graphs, tables, and illustrations. While you read, ask yourself:

  1. Do I really understand this?

  2. Can I remember?

  3. What is the main point of what I just read?

  4. Am I answering my own questions?

Keep in mind your specific purpose while reading. Are you reading for details or main ideas? Is this the main text or a "suggested reading"? Adjust your approach accordingly.

It is good practice after each paragraph, section, and heading of your chapter to recite (out loud or to yourself) what you have just read and to verbally answer your questions. This process allows you to find out what you know and what you do not know. Reciting is another way to keep yourself actively involved. Students who spend time reading and reciting do better on tests than students who spend the same amount of time just reading. The amount of time spent reciting depends on the complexity of the material, but often 90% of study time can be spent reciting. You should recite the material to yourself as you are reading and again when you review for your test.

5. "RITE"
Many authorities recommend taking notes on what you read. You can do this in the same notebook you use for class notes or in margins of your text. Some find it helpful to write textbook notes on the back of pages of lecture notes. Others find it helpful to divide lecture note pages in half, reserving the lower half of the page for textbook notes. Rather than duplicating information, try to come up with a complete set of notes representing both lecture and textbook information.

Reserve some time to sit back, prop up your feet, and consider what you have read and recited. How does this new information influence or compare with previous knowledge or experience? Try to incorporate the new material into a broader context of previous learning.

To further reinforce what you have learned during the study session, itís a good idea to review or test yourself on the material in the chapter. Review without looking; then check and correct any gaps or errors. You may wish to
ask yourself several test questions and check your answers.