How to read and understand textbooks

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As a student, reading textbooks is vital to success in school. However reading isn’t only important in a school setting, for you to be successful and to thrive in all life endeavors, you must be friends with books. The popular American children’s author, animator, and filmmaker Dr Seuss said that “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” There’s a whole lot you can learn by reading. Unfortunately as simple as reading seems to be, students still struggle to pass their various courses. People often have the misconception that the more hours a person spends in the library or with a book, the more they know and understand the concept. This isn’t always the case. 

Reading a book,  understanding what you have, and being able to apply the principles to generate noticeable results aren’t dependent on the number of hours you spend with the book. If you’re not reading right, you’re most probably going to fail that test or exam. Perhaps you’re currently preparing for an exam and you want to ensure to perform exceptionally well, this informative article explores ways and principles you can apply to ensure your study time is maximized for better results. Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more updates and information. 

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Read also: How To Take Effective Notes

Effective ways to read and understand textbooks

For you to read and understand textbooks, there are things you should know and you should apply to make your study time effective. It’s not enough to attend class, go to the library, and engross yourself in a book for five hours straight not bothering to see if you understood what you have read. Consequently, if you want to improve your reading culture, it is important to apply these principles for optimal results.

1. Adopt your most preferred Skimming Technique

In the simplest form, skimming involves focusing on the main idea of the text. You’re not doing an in-depth study, you just want to find out the whole idea of the textbook before you start the actual study. 

For you to read and understand effectively, you should first have an idea of the text. For instance, you want to plan to study the Atlas of Human Anatomy as a medical student. You don’t just start your reading off by picking the book and digging it. As a medical student, you already have an idea of what the whole book is about but your goal is to read and understand the content for you to apply the principles in your profession. For a start, you should:

  • Break the textbook into chunks. For instance, count the number of chapters and dedicate an ample amount of time to studying each chapter 
  • Start with the first chapter, and skim through it to get the general idea and the focus of the writer.

When you skim first, you don’t spend a long time trying to understand the idea the writer is trying to pass across before you learn the principle and identify ways to apply it. For you to skim effectively, you should:

  • Read the first and last sentences of paragraphs. 
  • Read the first and last paragraphs of major headings. 
  • Identify the visual and verbal cues, and read through them.
  • Focus on the introduction and conclusion
  • Do not discard bold words and illustrations.
  • Go through the review questions at the end. 

Read also: How To Manage Your Time Effectively

2. Have an active reading strategy

Additionally, you must have an active reading strategy for you to read and understand textbooks effectively. This means that you should ensure you read to understand, and then relate it to solve problems. You should actively engage the textbook and ask questions. Also answering review questions by yourself can help. These will help you study effectively giving you the required knowledge and confidence to ace that exam. For you to make your reading effective, apply these tips:

  • Use a highlighter to highlight keywords and ideas that are important. However, do not over-highlight the text. 
  • Write out important points and the additional understanding you have of what is being explained. 
  • Ask yourself questions to better understand the text. 
  • During your reading breaks, ask yourself questions and try to answer them without going back to the textbook.
  • You can also try recording what you have learned or explaining it to another person for better understanding and assimilation. 

Additionally, for you to better understand active reading, knowing the SQ3R will help. The SQ3R means:

  • S- Skim
  • Q- Question
  • R- Read
  • R- Remember
  • R- Review.

3. Remember to take notes as you proceed 

Furthermore, taking notes will help you read and understand effectively. While it may seem a bit stressful as you just want to open the book, cram the content, and then give back exactly what you read, you should know that cramming would be very effective in the long run. This is because you will have to go back to reread when you have another test coming up. However, taking down notes as you read will help improve the effectiveness of your reading. Adopting the right note-taking method can improve your effectiveness in note-taking. Some important tips to help improve your note-taking while reading include:

  • Write down points in your own words as you read. 
  • Read first to understand what the passage of the textbook is about before you take notes. Also, write notes the way you understand rather than copy verbatim from the textbook. 
  • You can also adopt the Cornell note-taking method where you divide your page into three sections which are: 
  • The cue: the narrow section where you outline the main points from what you have read
  • The note section: the larger area where you expatiate on what you have read.
  • The summary: one or two sentences explaining the whole idea of what you have read.
  • Finally, make sure your note-taking is also clear, concise, and straightforward. Avoid ambiguity.  

Read also: How To Stay Organized While Studying Abroad

4. Don’t forget to build  a Structured Study Plan

Also, if your goal is to read and understand textbooks effectively, remember to have a structured study plan. It is easy to get distracted as you read. Ensure you’re reading time is properly structured so you don’t end up spending long hours without achieving anything. Some of the ways you can structure your study plan as a student includes:

a. Do away with distractions

The first step is to do away with any form of distractions. If your phone is going to be a distraction, keep it somewhere. If you’re amidst people and know you can get distracted by their conversations, go to a quiet place. This way, you’ll be able to maximize your time better. 

b. Assign a time frame for studying

Additionally, having a structured reading plan also involves assigning a time frame for your study. Scheduling your study time properly will help you maximize your time, making you achieve so much more. 

c. Take breaks where necessary

It wouldn’t do much good to read for long hours without occasional breaks. You’ll get tired and lose concentration. Adopting the Pomodoro technique can help you structure your time properly whilst including breaks in the schedule. 

d. Read after lectures

You’ll assimilate and understand points better if you allocate time to read after every lecture. It may not necessarily be an in-depth study but go through the day’s lecture before your actual study time. 

e. Be consistent

Finally, consistency is key if you desire to see results. Reading today and then reading one month later will not be effective. However, when you do it consistently, perhaps every day, or five times a week, or three times weekly, you’ll have a better understanding and get better results. 

Read also: How To Create A Study Schedule

5. Maximize study groups

While it’s important to have a personal study schedule, it’s also necessary to belong to a study group. Sometimes, you might have trouble understanding a certain aspect of the textbook but your study buddies might get the point. As a student, ensure you have a study group with like-minded individuals. Discussion among study partners, exchange of ideas, and asking and answering questions can facilitate the reading process. 

In conclusion, reading to understand isn’t difficult, however, it takes intentionality, consistency, and discipline to generate the desired results. 

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  • Mercy Awofiranye is a creative writer with over five years of experience. Currently, she specializes in creating helpful content for students in the education space. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and learning new things.