Textbooks: Guidelines for Study
The University of Alabama
Center for Academic Success
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:
provide a framework for a course
learning by elaborating on classroom lectures
ideas in a different way, sometimes from a different point of view
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
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.
OVERVIEW, or PREVIEW
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
OR FIND KEY IDEAS
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:
I really understand this?
What is the
main point of what I just read?
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.
RECALL, OR RESTATE
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.
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.
or TEST YOURSELF
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.