Reading Textbooks

Reading and studying the material in textbooks in university requires dillegence and a strategic approach. Many professors follow the textbook relatively closely in their classroom lectures, while in other courses, you are on your own in learning from the textbook. Your ability to understand during lectures can be greatly enhanced by scanning and reading sections of the textbook before class. This will help you to outline and organize your notes much better, and will also enable you to answer questions regarding parts of the textbook that you find difficult. At university, it is NOT the professor's responsibility to teach you the textbook - it is your responsibility to learn it.

Learning the skills necessary to master your textbook takes commitment and effort on your part. The following techniques are useful in reading and reducing the material in your textbooks.


Before you start to read the text, a good first step is to skim over the material to familiarize yourself with what you're about to learn. This is called surveying. Surveying greatly increases the meaningfulness of the material you are about to read and this enhances both your reading and learning efficiency.

Seven Steps of Surveying

  1. Before you start to survey, think about why you are reading the material. What is your purpose? Is it to learn detailed information, locate references that you can use in an essay, or to gain some overall background knowledge? Your approach to reading will vary considerably depending on your purpose.
  2. Read the title of the chapter. Think about what material might be contained in the chapter. Reflect on what you already know about this subject and what has lead up to this chapter.
  3. Now, read the first few paragraphs in the usual manner. This will give you some idea of what information the chapter contains and which information is presented first.
  4. Next, glance down the page and stop when you come to headings or subheadings. Turn these headings and subheadings into questions. For instance, if you find a heading entitled, "The Memory Trace" ask yourself, "What is a Memory Trace?" and then read a sentence or two under the heading to answer the question you posed. As you continue to glance down each page be sure to notice words that are italicized, underlined or bolded, as well as any pictures, charts or diagrams in the chapter.
  5. When you have finished surveying the chapter in this manner, read the last paragraph or the summary section. Normally, these sections will give you an overview of the entire chapter and help you to start to determine what the important topics are.
  6. After reading the summary, take a few minutes to reflect on the contents of the chapter. Then, go back to the beginning and glance through the entire chapter again, quickly but attentively, without reading.
  7. Finally, take a moment to think about the chapter. Ask yourself questions about the material. What were the main points in the chapter? How was the chapter organized?


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