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How to Read a College Textbook


Do you struggle to read the textbooks for your courses?  These tips for before, during, and after reading will help develop your reading skills and improve your retention. 

Before you read: 

1. Find out how you are going to be tested 

  • This is how you will know WHAT you need to know and HOW to study
  • This is important!  Your course/unit objectives can give you some hints.
  • It's also acceptable to ask your instructor what type of exams will be given

2. Pre-read the material

  • Look at heading, graphics, bold words
  • Skim the material to introduce yourself to it
  • Read the summary to see the "big picture"
  • Pre-reading will prep your brain and improve your memory

3. Prepare Yourself

  • Make specific times to read assignments
  • Read only when you are able to concentrate
  • Start with an open mind
  • Recall what you already know
  • Have a purpose for your reading


While you read:

1. Read actively

  • Have a pen in your hand, use a highlighter, use sticky notes, make notes in the margins
  • If it's bold or highlighted in the book, it is important!  Pay close attention!

2. Take notes

  • Use a note-taking system like Cornell notes
  • Write your notes in your own words

3. Use reading strategies

  • Chunk the reading into small segments
  • Take short breaks - read for about 15-20 minutes at a time
  • Pause and ask yourself questions about what you read
  • Read aloud to stay focused

After you read:

1. Review often

  • It is best to review your notes every day
  • Find someone to review with you

2. Clarify unclear materials

  • Ask your instructor to clarify things you don't understand
  • Use the labs on campus to get assistance
  • Work with another student to solve problems together

3.  Self-Test

  • Create practice exams (use the same format that will be used on the actual test)
  • This will help you discover what has and has not been learned before you take an exam


Information on this page is based on 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (while studying less) by Thomas Frank.