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

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

These 11 tips are based on the advice 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 will 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 a clear 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 go through it – keeping in mind to look for the points that the teacher wants you to emphasize – to find the points that the author wants you to emphasize. As a result you will retain more of the key points of the text – your notes become clearer and you will find it easier to dedicate yourself and read the material that you are assigned over 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. Pre-reading – what are you getting into? - 20% of time
  4. Key words, key points and key concepts
  5. Creating questions
  6. Reading a chapter – look for answers – 40-50% of time
  7. Emphasize key components from pre-reading
  8. Be an active reader
  9. Answer questions
  10. Post-reading – are you missing something? - 20% of 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 so. 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 be able to learn the material by reading the book just once? No – not by a long shot.

What you have to 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 a clear goal in mind. That makes what comes next that much easier.

Why are you reading this book? What are you supposed to know 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 looking for answers in the material. Looking for answers to key questions, being clear on the key points and the main points.

Changing our attitude to reading from skimming over the text to filling out the picture – the big picture that the author is introducing to us. One very good way to see the big picture is to pre-read.

3. Pre-reading – what are you getting into? - 20% of time
Pre-reading gives us an insight into the material that we have been assigned in our studies. Here we need to realize 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 ingrain in us?

Instead of just picking up the book and starting to read – we are first going to assess – the goal of reading. What we should know after reading the textbook all the way through and we use pre-reading for that. 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 whole projects. Those projects are always much quicker to do and now you need to change the way you read to – filling in the blanks.

4. Key words, 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 that it doesn't help anyone –  if the student has no idea 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 photos – or use some other way to point out to us that this is something we need to ingrain in ourseves. In some cases 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 definiton 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 – so that when you go to read more in depth – you know exactly which points to highlight and take notes of. Notes will be clearer, the reading material will be clearer and as a result your knowledge will be more extensive.

5. Creating questions
At this point it's important to write down the questions that come up in your mind about the material – they are often pointing out material that you need answers to. You can use – who, what, when, where, why and how – to stimulate your brain to ask questions and push yourself to come up with them.

You can use chapter titles, titles of subchapters, bold words and italic words, text under photos or in the margins. All of this is giving you clues about the main points and key words and you can easily use them to create focused key questions – that you will then look for answers to in the material.

But they 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 or projects there.

All of this is material that can make it easier for you to come up with those 10-20 questions that you need to have answers to. This way you can very easily change the goal of reading from reading the text to focusing on looking for the answers to these key questions.

6. Reading a chapter – look for answers – 40-50% of time
You are now finally going to read the text in depth. But read it with a clear picture in your mind of what you need to know and understand. Most of the reading will be looking for these points. As a result you can read the material quicker. Your concentration will be much better because the goal of reading is clear. Your observation improves because now you know which words and points you need to take note of.

As a result you don't need to spend as much time reading. You are just filling out the big picture that the author (or teacher) is trying to share with you in the textbook. This is similar to 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 pre-reading the material.

Keep in mind that in reality we don't learn anything by reading about it. We learn when we start to dedicate ourselves to the material by using the knowledge in projects, writing down notes, talking about it with fellow students or answering and creating questions from the material. This way we can ingrain it in ourselves and gain new knowledge.

7. Emphasize key components from pre-reading
When you are reading the material all the way through, emphasize the words and concepts that came up when you were pre-reading. Which words and concepts were emphasized? 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 the material to find answers to questions and highlight those answers in the text. Use the foundation that you have built up by studying the material. You now know which points are important. There is less risk of emphasizing points that are irrelevant because the difference between irrelevant points and the main points is clearer in your mind.

When it comes to finding points to take note of you will be able to make your notes much clearer. Because you no longer have to write down 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 generally a very inactive activity and therefore it is very important to find ways to become an active reader. We are more active when we are doing something fun – socializing, playing video games, an interested student in a classroom takes a lot of notes and writes down comments – 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 key words and concepts when they come up while reading. Use different ways to mark in the margins – depending on what comes to mind. 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. Writing down comments in the margins.

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 at the same time remember the goal of reading – to find these points and ingrain them in ourselves. Build a clearer image in your mind and give yourself a better feel and understanding of the material that the author is explaining to you.

9. Answer questions
Straight after reading look back and find the answers that you found to the key questions that you wrote down and were going to find answers to. Answer them as well as you possibly can which will help you ingrain it in yourself. When that question or a question related to this material comes up later – you will remember the answer to the question more easily than just the text from the book.

On the other hand the answer can connect you to the text and the text 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 saw that answer.

Now you are starting to memorize 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 time
At this point you have a much better grasp of the material than if you had just read it once over. You have also spent a considerably less amount of time reading the material. Because you read it with a very clear 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.

New material – that's connected to those points  – material that for some reason you didn't notice before – becomes clearer to you now. You see points – often small 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 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 that 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 a more whole and extensive knowledge 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 advice. Why reinvent the wheel?

 

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