How to Read Your Textbook Efficiently

Textbooks are different from other forms of reading as their purpose is to inform and educate. Your instructor is expecting you to do more than just memorize facts from your textbook. You will need to understand the concepts.

Understanding the skill of reading a textbook is vital to efficiently learn from your textbook in the quickest amount of time. Follow this four step guide for reading your textbook efficiently:

Step 1: Get Familiar with the Layout of Your Textbook

  • Read the preface or introduction.
  • Read the table of contents.
  • Flip through the chapters. Are there summaries in boxes? Are there self-study questions or tips in boxes?

Step 2: Read Each Chapter Back to Front First

This may seem counter-intuitive but reading a textbook from font to back is not the most effective use of your time. By starting at the end of the chapter you are better able to connect ideas.

  • Does your textbook have questions at the end of the chapter? If so this is the best place to start your reading. Try to answer them. This is a great way to start thinking about the topic and remind yourself about things you already know.
  • Read the summary or key points at the end of the chapter. Here you will learn about the major themes of the chapter without getting lost in the details. 
  • Next look at the chapter headings and subheadings. Knowing how the information is categorized is helpful for your mental organization. 
  • Now you are ready to read the chapter from the beginning. 

Step 3: Read Actively

Reading is not the same as studying. A textbook requires nothing short of your full attention. You need to be thinking about what you are reading.

Read a paragraph or a short section then go back, highlight the most important ideas and write notes, comments, and questions in the margins. If you can’t write in your textbook write on post-it-notes and stick them on the relevant pages. Try to write in your own words. This helps you internalize and retain the information.

Step 4: Review

After you have finished reading the section or chapter, it is time to review. Can you answer any of those questions at the end of the chapter? Can you summarize your understanding in your own words? How does this section relate to other things you know? Go back and re-read your highlighted sections and your notes if needed. If possible, discuss what you have read with a study partner or friend.

Once you have developed the skill, outlined in the above steps, you will be able to open any textbook confident in the knowledge that you know how to get the most from it in the most efficient way possible.