Three tips for getting more out of your textbook

1. Instead of reading the chapter from start to finish, read it in 3 steps:
  1. Read the chapter summary (and, if provided, the chapter outline and learning objectives) so you have an idea about what the chapter is about and what the author thinks is important.
  2. Read the headings and subheadings and turn the headings and subheadings into questions. (Your questions based on major headings will be broad and the answers may be the subheadings. Your questions based on subheadings will be more specific.)
  3. Read the chapter to answer the questions you generated from the headings.
2. Instead of reading everything at the same speed and pausing only to highlight text, throw away your highlighter (especially if it is a sharpie ☺),  and stop to take notes on the more difficult sections--but read and reflect before you write. At the very least, finish reading a paragraph before taking notes on it. In short, don't write while reading. 
  1. Take notes on key terms, ideally by making flashcards out of those terms and being sure that your flashcards not only have a definition of each concept but also at least one good example of each concept. Realize that there is a big difference between knowing the definition of a concept and having a complete understanding of that concept.
  2. Make tables to condense and connect information. If you are looking at a single concept, you can use a  two-column table, and your two column headings might be  "Advantages" and "Disadvantages" or "Evidence for" and "Evidence against" or "Causes" and "Effects. If you are comparing and contrasting two or more concepts, your column headings could  be important characteristics, and your rows could be the concepts. So, if you were taking notes on the 3 major memory systems, you might create a table like the one below.
  3. Type of Memory Encoding Storage duration Storage size
    Sensory Sensation Less than 5 seconds Large (everything currently sensed)
    Short-term Attention About 20 seconds 5- 9 chunks
    Long-term Type 2 rehearsal Permanent Large

    Do not limit yourself to tables. You may find that a simple diagram may be more helpful for describing a cause-effect relationship (e.g., frustration --> aggression) as well as for describing the relationship between a thing and its parts. For example, if you read, "The central nervous system has two parts: the brain and the spinal cord," you might just draw something like this:


  4. If you can't put your notes in a picture, table, or flashcard format, at least put them in a question-answer format. Think of the text like the game "Jeopardy"--it has the answers, but the answers don't make sense without the questions. Your job is to provide the questions so that the text makes sense--and so that you aren't surprised by test questions. One way to put your notes in a "question-answer" format is to use the Cornell method on your text. The key to the Cornell method is that instead of just having one column of notes, you add a wide, left-hand column that contains the questions you generated (see the example below).  Adding the question column helps you in two ways. First, coming up with the question  makes you think about how the material might be relevant--which  helps you get the material into memory. Second, trying to answer the question in the left margin while covering up the right side of the page helps you practice doing what you will have to do for the test: getting the information out of memory.
Your question (Any question will do, but the more interesting, the better) Your normal notes (and now the answer to your question)
How can I get information into sensory memory? If your senses pick up the information, it is in sensory memory.
What are two types of sensory memory? You have a sensory memory for hearing--echoic memory-- and a sensory memory for vision--iconic memory.

3. Instead of repeatedly rereading a chapter,
  1. Reread the headings and try to recall the subheadings under each heading. Then, depending on how well you need to know the chapter, you might also
  2. (a) reread the subheadings and try to recall the main point of each paragraph under that subheading (a paragraph's main point will usually be in that paragraph's first sentence) and even (b) reread the first sentence of each paragraph and try to recall the support  for the point that sentence makes.
  3. Focus on sections that are important or that you do not understand.
  4. See how good your notes are by seeing how well they would allow you to answer practice test questions. (Even if your textbook does not come with practice tests, you can probably find practice quizzes online.)
  5. Make sure your notes on the chapter are
    1. Meaningful: in your own words.
    2. Selective: short summaries of key points.
    3. Organized: From a few feet away, anyone should be able to see where the general point is, where the narrower points under that general point are, and where the supporting details are. You could do this by making the main point a heading, making a numbered list under that heading for the narrower, more specific points (e.g., parts of a neuron, key characteristics of a theory, types of phobias, elements of a theory, pros and cons, conditions under which the principle does--or does not apply), and adding bullet points for supporting details (e.g., classic experiments). However, numbered lists are not the only tool you can use. As mentioned above, you may find that you will often prefer to use tables or simple diagrams. 
  6. Link what is in the chapter with what has been discussed in class.
  7. If you are having trouble understanding a chapter in your book--or the entire book--find a textbook you like better and check it out from the library.