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Efficiently Taking Notes from a Textbook

So right now a lot of you have either just started your semester or are just about to start. I recently got back into the swing of things too.

I still have a couple classes to finish before officially receiving my diploma. My sister-in-law is here Mondays and Fridays for a couple hours in the morning to watch Zelie so that I can study. The classes I have left are mostly Theology and Catholic Studies (and one Shakespeare class), but I also signed up for a psychology class on adolescence and emerging adulthood.

It is SUCH an interesting class, but it is also really rigorous for me. I’m focusing on this class first, then I’m off to reading and writing papers for my other classes.

It’s crazy to say this, but this psych class is my last class that requires a classic textbook! So I thought I’d share how I’m most efficiently studying this textbook.

Note: after my hubby proofread this, he said this system would probably make his studying the textbook take longer. For me, it actually shortens my study time. Remember that every student is different and this might not be the best system for you.
Step 1. Preview

Before reading anything (anything!) take a look. Not the WHOLE chapter, just that first section. It’s usually labeled Ch 1.1 or even something like 1.1-1.3. Look at these items:

  • titles
  • review questions
  • headings and subheadings
  • vocab words and other key words
  • graphs and charts
  • anything bolded or highlighted

way, when you get to step 2, reading the text, you will read it much faster because you know what’s coming and can more easily understand the explanations and details.

Step 2. Read

Next you read the section after your preview! Sometimes each section is only a couple pages. Sometimes it’s over 20. Find a place you’re going to stop. Maybe five pages in there is a review question. That’s the perfect place to stop!

Read actively, but not slowly. No highlighting, underlining, or taking notes of any kind. But you’re not just looking at the words with your eyes either! You are actively thinking when you’re reading. You’re focused, and trying to understand. I try to read it like I read Harry Potter, by entering their world. Try to take 5 minutes per page. This may need to be adjusted to your reading pace. I am a slow reader, so it’ll take about 10 minutes. For my husband it would probably take only 3. You may need to practice by physically setting up a timer while reading so you’re not wasting time on just one page when you have a 500 page textbook to get through this semester.

Dictionary – I think this one is obvious at this point but if you can’t for the life of you figure out the meaning of a word, look it up. I have the Merriam Webster app on my phone, and their site bookmarked on my computer. I also have the Oxford Dictionary and UrbanDictionary apps. Otherwise there is always Google.

Step 3. Write

Now you’re going to go back to the beginning of that section and take notes!

Vocab – Do you bullet journal? I kiiind of do. It’s not pretty and full of art and calligraphy, but I at least know all my lists are in one journal. In your school notebook or binder, have a section for just vocab, not intermittently throughout your notes where they’ll get lost. When you write down each vocab word, also put the page number down next to each one so that you can reference it for context later if you need it.

When you’re done getting down all the vocab, identify 1 to 3 main points in each section or paragraph. Each subject is different, so for some subjects, you might not be able to do this easily per paragraph, so be flexible. This is to help you, not stress you. And paraphrase those concepts. Use your words; don’t just copy. Pretend you’re explaining those concepts to the person who sits next to you in class, or your roommate, or even your mom when you call her Saturday morning.

Review questions – Write the question and the answer down! It could easily be a test question your professor uses.

Other possible things to write down – You may want to copy some graphs, charts, dates, names, and other miscellaneous details.

Step 4. Repeat

Now that you’ve finished section one, now do the same for section two! Then behold! You have a study guide!

Summary:

Preview, Read, Write, Repeat, just one section at a time. Don’t take too long at each spot, just get the main points, vocab, and ideas.

*****

I really hope this was helpful for you! Good luck this semester!

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