Mastering the ‘Text’ in Textbooks

Textbooks are an almost necessary part of most college classes, and there is a huge difference between reading them and reading them. That said, below are five helpful ways to better understand the nouns, verbs, adjectives, graphs and photos placed together in most college textbooks.

Find Key Terms & Content 

It’s 2012, and many college textbooks today are a multimedia force. Writing wise, anecdotes and quotes combined with the author’s style of writing make up most of the text. This is to make the reading easy to understand and relevant to the student. It’s here where students need to differentiate what’s making the text easy to read and what needs to be known for exams. Underlined, bolded and italicized words or phrases and a HUGE indicator. Repetition is also a hint for context that should be remembered. Finally, photos and graphs often highlight subject-wise concepts that a student should focus on due to the complexity and subdivision of chapters.

Highlighting / Sticky-Notes

Many students use a highlighter to make notes of key sections of a textbook. This is kool because you focus on the most relevant, useful content that needs to be learned. Also, it creates a more refined chapter for students choosing to reread the chapter later. YES some students reread them! My choice of note taking is off sticky-notes. They act as bookmarks for different pages and allow you to write  in the book (on the sticky-notes!) for general notes, definitions, or relevant class lecture. You can also make a nice study guide with them instead of flipping back and forth through highlighted pages.

Test Yourself

Many textbooks have specific pages that test your knowledge at the end of chapters or sections. A few examples of these are defining words/concepts,  multi-choice questions and writing assignments. Though these are often optional, they really reinforce the knowledge that should be taken from the reading, meaning these can be helpful for exam preparation. Finally, many textbooks nowadays have an online component that is activated by either a code that came with the textbook or just visiting the companion website.

The Whole Chapter VS The Chapter Summary 

Alright, first and foremost, reading the end chapter summary  is not a shortcut substitution for reading the entire chapter. Most textbooks have an end chapter summary that summarizes the chapter together because typical textbook chapters themselves are broken up by content and context. The goal of the chapter summarization is to re-piece the puzzle together, not complete it from that ‘skip ahead’ chapter summary reading.


Taking a break when needed is key! Yes, it’s good to complete your assigned readings, though it’s all for nothing if external or internal factors are in the way (tiredness, schedule, Xbox). It’s always recommended to read when you have  total focus, so if it isn’t there substitute it with a bookmark.


With all that said, how do you read your textbooks?


Mario Adkins is a senior at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). When not drawing or playing his favorite video games, he can be found on campus facilitating programs and events as both a resident assistant and vice president of membership for GVSU’s OΔK Circle–a national leadership honor society. Follow him on Twitter @zerolocked.


26 thoughts on “Mastering the ‘Text’ in Textbooks

  1. I quickly scan the chapter and look for key terms and main ideas. Then I read the chapter and underline key concepts, making note of things I do not understand.

  2. I read the chapter and write down important vocab, concepts, and draw any important diagrams because writing it down helps me learn the best. 🙂

  3. I like to pretend I am one of those actors on those informational movies and I read the text out loud in the same fashion as they talk. I find it” sticks” better in my brain by reading it out loud. Somtimes I add a funny accent and that makes it stick even better. Plus reading the text outloud helps me to understand it better.

  4. I get the basic understanding of the chapter by reading left to right, occasionally making note of the key terms and main concepts, but where I really start to understand the material is during lecture when we talk about the information and put real life application to it.

  5. I highlight key terms and concepts. Plus I sticky note the things I don’t understand so I can ask my professor about them. I might make an outline if it’s a difficult chapter.

  6. I read the chapter carefully, sometimes taking notes on the side and use sticky notes to bookmark pages. If I have to re-write a definition I’ll make note of it on a separate sheet of paper. After all that reading the chapter summary is important because if there was a topic I did not feel strongly about and it’s in the summary I will go back and look at it

  7. I read the notes the teacher provides and then I read the book to further understand the topic. I highlight anything else I feel is important and take further notes. From there I just skim until I hit important information.

  8. I read my textbooks from left to right. When i see important fact and concepts i will write notes and put a sticky note on the page so i can go back and review when it comes test time

  9. sasha kelly

    i read my books and take notes while using sticky notes to remember any pages i had questions or comments to bring up to my professor or in class

  10. I sleep with my books under my pillow and Steve Jobs teaches me computers, Sun-Tzu teaches Chinese and Albert Einstein teaches algebra

  11. I find having good note-taking skills helps me get the most of my textbooks. As I read through, I try to identify the main point of the paragraph, and summarize it into a bullet point in my own words (if you can put it in your own words, that means you’re understanding the material!). Any other important points can go under the main ideas! It’s a quick way to get the big picture of what the chapter is trying to say, and writing it down helps me remember it. I hope this comment helps anyone who read it and happy studying everyone!

  12. I usually use my highlighter to point out key things I need to remember. I do it in about 15 minute increments because if it’s longer than that I tend to doze off.

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