Here’s the right way to take notes from a textbook

Ugh, I hate how the semester is already creeping upon us. I go back on the sixth which sucks because New Years was—what, 5 days ago? That’s not enough time to recover from the fun and excitement of parties and I’m still going to be writing 2016 on all my assignments.

Speaking of assignments, let’s talk textbooks.

The reason I created this website is because I hate the way things are worded in certain textbooks. It’s like higher education is allergic to fun and personality and engagement in their academic work. And if I hadn’t learned how to take notes from a textbook in high school, I’d be in a whole lot of poop right now.

I hated every part of it, but it certainly made me stronger (because textbooks were heavy) and wiser. And now, textbooks aren’t always that bad.

Um. Who am I kidding? (Most) textbooks are verbose, confusing, prehistoric, intimidating piles of disappointment. And it makes note-taking even harder. But studying using a book isn’t as bad as it seems all the time. So as long as you know how to take notes from a textbook the right way.

What’s that? Haven’t bought your textbooks for the semester yet?  You kinda need a textbook first in order to take notes. Chegg offers some textbooks on the low-low with (drum roll) free shipping. Just click the banner to get the access code:

Here’s the right way to take notes from a textbook

Textbooks got you feeling overwhelmed? Don't know how to take notes? Want to know the best and most effective strategies in taking notes? Students in every grade level including college often take notes in school and most times, they are doing it WRONG. Here's the right way to take notes from a textbook.

And before I begin, truly there isn’t one way to take notes from a textbook. Everyone is different. But this is the way that’s helped me keep my high GPA.

Figure out what type of grader/lecturer your teacher is

I know you’re thinking, what in tarnation does this have to do with note-taking? Every teacher teaches a different way. It’s important to pay attention to what the teacher pays attention to. One professor may like dates (good luck in that class). Another might be a stickler for spelling. And another might take points off if you don’t use the definition in the textbook.

Try to read the textbook as if you’re a teacher and mentally ask “hmm, is this quizzable?!”

Make time to take notes

Obviously, you’ve gotta make time. And I mean you need to spend quality time reading the textbook.

You need to be in a relationship with your textbook.

Do you talk to your best friend for a few seconds and lose interest and jump on Facebook? No, so you shouldn’t with your textbook. And if you are that type of friend, what kind of friend are you?

Warning: although it’s important to make time for note-taking, it’s also essential to keep track of time.

Textbooks are so convoluted with hocus pocus nowadays that every other word is an obstacle. It’s good to be immersed but watch out for these three time-wasting habits when you take notes from the textbook:

  1. Don’t spend too much time deciphering words.
  2. Don’t re-write from the textbook.
  3. And also, don’t write down concepts you don’t understand. You can write down the topic of that concept and circle it or put a question mark by it and go to your teacher at office hours to explain in detail.

Don’t write in the textbook

If you’re taking notes, I’d advise you not to write anything in the textbook. There’s not enough space on the textbook to write down your own paraphrased words. And then you can sell your textbook at full value since there isn’t anything wrong with it. Double whammy.

But what about highlighting?

Yeah, don’t do that either. Highlighting sucks.

And I’m not just talking trash on this one. Studies have uncovered how useless highlighting is, since you don’t process what you’ve written. Especially if you highlight the entire page.

A study published in the Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology analyzed highlighting tactics, and reported the way many traditionally highlight (aka excessively) doesn’t help with retention at all.

You know what I use highlighters for? Headings. Making my headings pretty.

Draw out all diagrams! AND color and label them

Drawing isn’t really writing, but it’s still an effective way to take notes and retain information according to the University of Waterloo. 9 times out of 10 your teacher is going to quiz you on a diagram in a textbook. Make sure you’ve drawn that diagram at least twice. Once for just the sake of getting familiar with it, and twice for illustration and understanding. This means grab a sheet of paper (I prefer clear printer paper) and elaborately draw out all the nooks and crannies of the diagram and understand what each part does.

Just think how many times you were told to draw an animal cell in middle/high school! You can practically draw it out now if you wanted to—the ribosomes, the nucleus, the mitochondria…you know what all of that looks like now!

And if you want more practice, you can flip the paper over and try drawing and labeling the diagram from memory.

School is right around the corner for me so I have to get in my textbooks soon. If you’re in the same boat I am, and you haven’t heard of Chegg, give them a try! Textbook rentals are incredibly cheap and they also offer FREE SHIPPING after you hit a certain amount. Check to see which textbooks you need from your university and type them in the box below to see if Chegg has them.



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How do you take notes from textbooks?