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How to Tackle Your Textbook

TIP Sheet

The following activities represent a thorough approach to reading a textbook, utilizing effective comprehension strategies that improve understanding and memory. The strategies are divided into three main parts: Pre-Reading, Reading, and Post-Reading.


1. Prepare yourself and your environment.

  • Give yourself adequate time.
    • Plan ahead - Break task into small parts.
    • Create a written schedule and stick to it.
  • Create positive setting.
    • Use good lighting.
    • Sit at a comfortable desk or table.
    • Control distractions (noise, people, activity).
  • Have resources at hand.
    • Have a pen or pencil and notepaper for taking notes.
    • Keep a dictionary on the desk.
    • Have class handouts available for reference.


2. Know your purpose for reading this material.

  • Ultimate goal - To be successful in your chosen career.
  • Long-term goal - To be successful achieving your academic goals in college.
  • Short-term goal - To be successful on this specific assignment.
    • Short-term goal is the task at hand.
    • Success with short-term goal leads to success in long-term and ultimate goals.
      • Must recognize and value that connection!
  • Identify knowledge and skills you hope to gain from this assignment.
    • Knowledge - What will you know as a result of this assignment?
      • Theory, techniques, legal requirements.
    • Skills - What will you be able to do as a result of this assignment?
      • Application of knowledge to real-life situations.


3. Create a mental foundation.

  • Look at the title and predict what you will learn from the reading.
  • Introduce yourself to the chapter by quickly skimming everything except the main text from beginning to end.
    • Look at headings, summaries, questions at the end, anything in bold.
    • Note all illustrations, charts, graphs, and tables.
    • Read captions.
  • At this stage, do not make any attempt to memorize details.
  • Write 3-5 questions: What do you think you will need to know about this topic?



1. "Light" Reading (Skim the chapter)

  • If time allows, read (skim) the chapter quickly without taking notes or highlighting text. Read without stress.

2. "Heavy" Reading

  • Read the chapter carefully, focusing on the main ideas of each section.
  • Underline important points. Make brief notes in the margin. Do not highlight yet.
  • Look up any words you do not understand. Keep a separate list of new vocabulary.
  • Always ask: Do I understand this?
  • Clarify any parts you do not understand by rereading if necessary.
  • Use resources to improve understanding (reference material, dictionary, class handouts).
  • Stop periodically to summarize main ideas in your mind as you go.
  • Write questions as you read (in the margin or on separate paper) for two purposes:
    • Write questions for follow-up that are not answered for you in the reading.
    • Anticipate how this information might appear as a test question.
  • Take short breaks from reading every 30-45 minutes or so.


3. "Review" Reading

  • Within each section of the chapter, begin by reading the questions you wrote.
  • Now read through the chapter, section by section.
  • Use a highlighter to highlight only the information that now seems important to remember.
  • Add notes in the margin (or take separate notes) to reinforce important points.
  • Differentiate between concepts that you need to understand and details that you need to memorize. Make an organized list of concepts and details on a separate piece of paper, summarizing the concepts and categorizing the details.



1. Interact with the information

  • Seek emotional involvement.
  • Look for a variety of methods to work with the information.
  • Take advantage of your own preferred learning styles.


2. Review the information

  • Repetition improves memory.
  • Use tools - flash cards, sticky notes, tape recorder.
  • Use study groups.


3. Test yourself on the information

  • Think in terms of questions (including alternate wording of concepts).
  • Create practice tests.
  • Test yourself and others in study groups.


Study Strategies: Suggestions for Post-Reading Activities

  • The more you interact with the material you are trying to learn, the more you will understand it, and the more you understand it, the better you will remember it. Some suggestions:


Summarize the chapter by making a list of all the topics covered

Make a list of terms you will need to know. Make a separate list of the definitions and match them

Summarize the chapter by creating an outline of main points and supporting details.

List each main point on a separate index card. Color-code them by category or importance. Arrange the cards on a table by category, importance, or sequence. Turn them over and try to remember them.

Make flash cards of important facts, as wells as terms and definitions.

Make flash cards with potential test questions on one side and answers on the back.

Create mnemonics in order to memorize key points or steps.

Write out a scenario describing how you would use the information in a real-life situation.

Explain the main points of the chapter to someone else. Have them explain it back to you.

Read your summary of the chapter (or notes) aloud and record it. Play it back and listen to it.

Create tables, graphs, or diagrams to illustrate difficult concepts from the chapter.

Create a practice test of ten questions for yourself. Set a timer and answer the questions quickly.

Ask a classmate to answer the test questions you created. Then answer your classmate's questions.

Work together with a group to create several written exams. Test yourselves and share answers.

Work together with a group to create scenarios. Role-play the scenarios and evaluate each other.

After trying some of these strategies, go back and read the entire chapter one more time.


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