11 Simple Tips on How to Tackle Textbooks for College or University With More Focus and Comprehension - and Without Putting You to Sleep!

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Here are 11 simple tips on how to tackle the textbooks for College or University. These rules should give everyone an excellent overview of how to best use the time spent reading textbooks.

These 11 tips are based on the recommendation of many masters that I have read throughout the years and are all things that I have both taught and asked students to dedicate themselves to at speed reading courses and if you use them, you find that your mind will stop wandering when you’re reading, and the textbook won’t put you to sleep.

Your focus and understanding of what you are reading will change. The reason is simple. You are now reading with an obvious goal in mind. You are looking for answers. You are no longer reading your textbook in the same way you read a novel, from the first page to the last.

You advance through it, carefully looking for the points that the teacher wants you to emphasize, and wary of the points that the author wants you to highlight. As a result, you will absorb more of the key points of the text and your notes will become infinitely clearer. You will find it much easier to commit yourself to your studies and to read the material that they assigned to you during the semester.

  1. Realize that you will read the chapter more than once.
  2. Keep the goals of each read-through clear in your mind.
  3. Previewing, what are you getting into? - 20% of the time.
  4. Keywords, key points, and key concepts.
  5. Creating & asking questions.
  6. Reading a chapter, looking for answers! – 40-50% of the time.
  7. Emphasize key components from previewing the text.
  8. Be an active reader.
  9. Answer questions.
  10. Post-reading, are you missing something? - 20% of the time.
  11. Emphasize weak spots.

1. Realize that you will read the chapter more than once.

Undoubtedly you are like so many others who, when they hear that for the first time, wonder ...is he crazy?... I don’t even have time to read it once. The thing is that this shouldn’t even be tip number one. It should be a well-known fact. But it isn’t! Most people think that it’s enough to read a textbook once. What utter nonsense.

How many years of the author’s experience, knowledge, and skill can be found within each page of a textbook? 10 years, 15 years, even 20 years of experience or more. Is it a fair expectation of yourself, as a student, to learn the material by reading the book just once? No, not by a long shot.

What you must realize is that the author is leading you step-by-step through the points that matter, and you have to find these points. Memorize them. Own them. That way, when you read the book all the way through those side points, examples and additional material will connect better. You are slowly but surely grasping this very complex material, step by step.

2. Keep the goals of each read-through clear in your mind.

When you have made the decision that you are going to read the material more than once, but you want to do it with more focus, don’t read it the same way each time. It’s much better to have an obvious goal in mind. That makes what comes next that much easier.

Why are you reading this book? What are you supposed to realize and appreciate after reading it? You need to know these points and, in that way, change the goal from reading, like you do when you read a novel, to actively searching for answers in the material. Looking for answers to key questions, being clear on the key points and the main objectives.

Changing our approach to reading from skimming over the text, gradually revealing the picture, the big picture that the author is introducing to us. One excellent way to see the big picture is to preview the text.

3. Previewing, what are you getting into? - 20% of the time

Previewing gives us an insight into the material that they have assigned to us before we delve deeper and start reading in-depth through the chapter. Here we need to recognize our primary goal with the reading, e.g., what are we getting into? What key concepts do we need to be clear on? What key points is the author trying to instill in us?

Instead of just picking up the book and reading, we are first going to assess the goal of reading. In order to ascertain and direct our focus in our reading. We need to realize what we should learn and understand fully after reading the textbook all the way through, and to do that, we use previewing. In 5-10 minutes, we are going to skim quickly over one whole chapter and look for the points that the author (or teacher) emphasizes. The points that we should be clear on. And then we will start putting the pieces together, filling in the blanks, completing the picture.

You are undoubtedly familiar with study materials where you only need to fill in the blanks, the right words, instead of doing entire projects. Those projects are always much quicker to do and now you need to change the way you read to, just filling in the blanks.

4. Keywords, key points, and key concepts.

It varies how much help we get from the author and the teacher to look up the words, concepts, and main points that we need to be clear on. Sometimes they give us a lot of help, simply because they realize it doesn’t help anyone if the student does not know what he needs to know after reading the book.

This is the reason that authors often use bold and italic to emphasize important words, concepts that we should try to ingrain in ourselves. They put various main points, e.g., Latin terms, etc. in bold or italic.

They put this material in the margins, in a text box, under images, illustrations, or graphs. They might even use some other way to point out to us that this is something we need to learn and instill in ourselves. Sometimes, the author even brings up these words in the beginning or end of the chapter to show us which words he is going to emphasize in the chapter. Words that we then look up, learn the definition of, and therefore find it easier to discuss or explain in tests, projects, or in the classroom.

Here you will build up a better fundamental knowledge of the main points of the material. When you progress to reading more in-depth, you know explicitly which points to highlight, mark and note. Your notes will be much better. The reading material will be clearer and as a result, your knowledge will be more extensive.

5. Creating and asking questions.

It’s important to write the questions that come up in your mind about the material. These questions are often directing you towards material that you need to answer. You can use the 5Ws and one H. Who, what, when, where, why, and how. Use this simple formula to stimulate your brain, ask the right questions, and push yourself to brainstorm even better and more focused questions.

You can use chapter titles, titles of subchapters, bold words, italic words, the text under images, illustrations, or in the margins. All of this should give you a clue about the main points and keywords that the author is asserting. With this help, you can easily use them to create focused key questions you will then use to look for answers in the study material.

These questions don’t all have to come from you. If you have access to old tests or projects, you can use those questions. The questions that the teacher is asking in class. Questions that fellow students are asking in the classroom, during projects, or discussions.

You can even use the author to help you when they bring up the important points at the beginning or end of a chapter. They sometimes put the goal of the chapter, questions, assignments, or projects there.

All of this is help from the author, information that can make it easier for you to come up with those 10-20 questions that you need to answer to grasp in full the main points of the chapter. This way you can easily change the goal of reading, from just reading the chapter from beginning to end, to focusing on searching for the answers to these key questions.

6. Reading a chapter, looking for answers! – 40-50% of the time.

It is only now that you are finally going to read the text in depth. But this time, you are reading it with a clear picture in your mind of what you need to know and understand. Most of the reading will be actively looking for these points. As a result, you can read the material far quicker. Your concentration and focus during your reading will be much better because the goal of reading is much clearer. How you observe, remember, and note important facts improves greatly because now you know instinctively which words and points you need to spot and identify.

As a result, you don’t need to spend as much time reading. You are just gradually revealing the picture. The big picture that the author (or teacher) is trying to share with you in the textbook. This is like having done all the edges of a puzzle and now you are ready to fill in the middle. Look for answers to the questions that came up when you were previewing the material.

Keep in mind that, we learn nothing by only reading about it. We learn when we commit ourselves to the material. It is only by using the knowledge in projects, writing notes, talking about it with fellow students, or answering and creating questions from the material that we learn the material fully. This way, we can ingrain this new knowledge in ourselves. Learn it by actively using the new knowledge in our studies.

7. Emphasize key components from previewing.

When you delve deeper into the chapter and are reading the material all the way through, confirm the words and concepts that came up when you were previewing. Which words and concepts were reiterated? Which words come up again and again? Where can you find the definitions of these words and concepts?

Use the opportunity when you are skimming over parts of the material to find answers to questions and highlight those answers in the text. Use the foundation that you have built up by previewing and studying the material. You now know which points are important. There is less risk of highlighting points that are irrelevant because the difference between irrelevant points and the main points is infinitely clearer in your mind.

Your notes will be much clearer. Because you no longer must write entire sentences or paragraphs. You now know which points matter most and that way you can emphasize writing those points down. Your notes are more concise, and you can use them as the tool that they should be.

8. Be an active reader.

Reading is a very inactive activity, and therefore, it is very important to become an active reader. We are more active when we are doing something fun, interacting, socializing, or playing video games. An interested and passionate student in a classroom takes a lot of notes and asks focused questions. He is active during the learning process. If we are inactive, the material needs to be that much more interesting and exciting to hold our attention.

Study material is often neither unless it’s something that we are especially interested in.

It’s very important that we keep ourselves active. Highlight keywords and concepts when they come up while reading. Use different ways to mark in the margins, depending on what comes to mind. Writing observations and remarks. Using symbols like pluses, minuses, stars, exclamation points, question marks are all ways for us to know exactly what thoughts and ideas came to mind when we saw certain words in the text.

But it is important not to stall. Mark the material and continue on straight away. Don’t take more than a fraction of a second to mark it. But, remember the goal of reading, to find these points and instill these key points in ourselves. Envision a clearer image in your mind and give yourself a better feel and understanding of the material the author is revealing to you.

9. Answer questions.

Immediately after reading, go back and revisit these notes and markings. Actively locate the answers that you found during your reading. Answers to the key questions that you noted earlier. Answer the questions as well as you can. When you do this, it will help you ingrain this information in yourself. When that question or a question related to this material comes up later, in tests, queries, assignments, or projects, you will remember the answer to the question more easily than just by reading the text.

The answer can create an unconscious association to the text and the passage will become more memorable to you. With practice, you will even be able to remember exactly where, on what page, and where on the page you noticed that answer.

Now you are memorizing the material, not just by reading, but by answering key questions about the points that matter.

10. Post-reading, are you missing something? - 20% of the time

Now, you have a much better grasp of the material than if you had just read it once over. You have also spent considerably less amount of time reading the material. Because you read it with an obvious goal in your mind right from the start. But...

...are you missing something? Are you missing important points, connections in the material that you haven’t grasped or noticed but are very important? That’s where post-reading comes in. Here you will spend about 5-15 minutes reading over all the material from beginning to end. But now with more understanding. You have finished reading, taking notes, and answering key questions.

The new material that’s connected to those points, material that, for some reason, you didn’t notice earlier, becomes obvious to you now. You see points, often minor details, in a new light.

Post-reading is often done 24 hours after you last read and worked with the material. Sometimes even 2-4 days later. You may even have gone to class or a lecture about the material and are noticing different points that the teacher or author is emphasizing and want to look up those new points.

11. Emphasize weak spots
This is where you are going to emphasize and focus your reading on any weak spots in your knowledge. Where can you improve? Is there any material in class, a project, or even a test where you noticed you were lacking in knowledge? Emphasize this material in post-reading. Find these points and read about them. This way, you can fill in the blanks in your knowledge of the material and build up an extensive grasp of the material that you are studying. And as a result, you are becoming a much better student.

To sum up...
This list is, of course, not exhaustive for the process we need to use, but is useful as simple steps to reading textbooks with a much clearer process in mind. These are all suggestions from old masters in the reading of books and therefore it’s useful to become familiar with their recommendation. Why reinvent the wheel?


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