Reading and Taking Notes From a Textbook



The Problem with reading textbooks is they arenít fiction, so they donít have a plot. For that matter, they pretty much donít have anything that would help you to stay focused on what youíre reading.That isnít bad in itself, but if you only know one way of reading (the way you read a story) they will put you right to sleep.




The result of this, is that most students in high school donít read their textbooks. Thatís a problem for two reasons. First, reading is the fastest way to put information into your head. So until they invent a pill to teach you whatever it is you need to know, reading is the fastest way. Second, reading is the primary way to learn in college. Since about 90% of NRHS graduates attend college, you will probably be expected to read a lot, and a lot harder stuff, when you get to college. If you arenít used to this, you will probably be in big trouble when you get there.


So learning if new way to read a textbook can solve the problem, why donít we teach it to you?


I honestly donít know, so Iím going to teach you a new way, right now.


The P-R-P Method


This not the only way, but itís easy and it works for many textbooks. Divide a sheet of notebook paper into three sections. Like thisÖ



The actual width of each column depends on the text. After a few times you will get to know your text better and can adjust them. For instance, the current E.P.S. book rarely has much in the post-read section once you understand how itís laid out. Remember, work section by section! Take a break after each section. Texts are arranged in sections to make it easier to absorb the concepts. Donít try to read too much without some sort of break. A break can just be getting up for a stretch or to go to the bathroom.




When you decide to sit down and read your text, you probably approach it like reading any book. But thereís a problem with that. As we mentioned before, there isnít any plot to pull you into the book. So you arenít thinking about the text, your still thinking about whatever occurred in your life just prior to picking up the book. This leads to the common problem of reading several paragraphs and not knowing what you just read. It happens to all of us, so to fix that we have to try a different approach.


In the Pre-Read section all we will do is read and take notes on the stuff in the headers and margins as well as look at the pictures and read the descriptions of the pictures and diagrams. Novels donít have anything in the margins so we tend not to look at them, but some of the stuff in the headers and margins is the most important stuff in the textbook! In the current E.P.S. text all the important vocabulary is in the margins. Key Points (sometimes called ďObjectivesĒ or ďImportant ConceptsĒ) usually appears in the header above the section. Those we donít need to write down but are important for letting us know what we should be looking for. The pictures (and their descriptions) also give us a clue as to what the section will be trying to tell us. Now some of the stuff is unimportant and it takes some time to figure out which is which but it isnít hard. Remember, the most important thing when deciding what to write down it this: ďWill it be on the test?Ē If not, why bother? Stop when you reach the end of the section.


What if there is a diagram or something that would be a pain to copy down but you are unsure as to whether it is not the test? I just jot down the page number and a brief description and put a big question mark by it. Why? More on that later.




Now we can start on the text itself. Our mind is now focused on the task at hand. When reading, I recommend you skim the text looking for important points or facts to write down. Slow down your reading when you seeÖ


1.   titles of subsections

2.   bold-faced type

3.   italic type (usually additional vocabulary)

4.   the end of a subsection. (This is because the subsection is often summarized at the end of it.)

5.   when you hit a concept of fact you know will be on the quiz.


Remember, you are only writing down the stuff that may be on the test. What if you are unsure? Just like in the diagram example above. Jot down the page number and a brief description with a big question mark next to it.


Stop at the end of the section.




In this final section, we look at the questions at the end of the section. Even if they werenít assigned for homework. What you should do is read each question and ask ďcould I answer that with my notes?Ē If not, you may have missed something important. Go back and find it and write it in this section.




To be a real student superstar, do your notes a couple of days before theyíre due. Then at the beginning of class, get them out and look for any big question marks. Raise you hand and ask, ďExcuse me, but is the diagram at the bottom of page seven something we need to know for the test?Ē Your instructor, probably shocked that someone actually asked, will tell you. If yes, go back and put it in the notes, if no, cross out your big question mark. Thatís it! You look like a superstar and you got some info as to whatís on, or not on, the upcoming test.


Thatís it! Now instead of trying to read a text like a novel, you will have gone through the text three times instead of once, gotten written notes from it, and it should take no more time than if you had tried the old way.


Work smarter, not necessarily harder.


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Copyright© 2012 - C. Boch