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Despite being such an important activity, reading textbooks is slow, boring and a very laborious process. And since it’s usually a drag, you may tend to space out while you read, and eventually forget a lot of what you had just read.

the proper way to read textbooks

Here are a few tips from us that you could use, to ensure that you get the most for the time you spend reading your textbook.

1. Don’t focus on speed, comprehension is more important!

One of the biggest mistakes that students tend to make while reading, is to focus on finishing specific amount of reading material within a pre-specified duration. For example, I’m sure you always set your reading goals, of finish reading a chapter in the next 1 hour.

This may have proven useful in school, since the amount of reading material used may be lesser, and much less complicated. So even if you forget something, you can go back and read the entire text again, till you finally get a grasp on things. However in college, the set of readings that you’re required to do is considerably higher. And if you’re not intelligent about how you read, you may either not get any work done, or end up spending your entire college life, reading.

While reading textbooks, it’s important to understand that comprehension is vital, and is more important than how fast you can complete your reading. What use would it be, if you completed your reading, but don’t have the complete idea what the text is trying to convey?

So it’s very important to understand what you’re reading. And also be able to judge and allocate time according to the subject material you are reading.

2. Critical thinking

Reading textbooks is not about taking the contents of book at face value, but understanding the constructs within. Hence critical thinking is very important while you’re reading your textbooks.

Break down complex theories, or problems into basics. Since more often than not, once the basics are learnt, it gets much easier to understand even the most complicated problems. Another advantage of critical thinking is that you tend to understand better, once you learn the building blocks.

You could also use this to memorize formulae and equations. Let’s take a simple example to explain this.

Let’s say you’re trying to learn the formula: P = F/A

Here we can see that as you apply more force on a fixed area, the pressure increases. You can visualize applying a lot of force on a small box, thus increasing the pressure exerted on the box. Similarly if you try to spread the same force over a large area, the pressure exerted is much smaller. This understanding of how pressure works in an area, can help you remember the pressure equation.

3. Write notes that are easy to understand (Illustrate if necessary)

Over the years that we’ve spent studying, I’m sure we have realized the importance of taking notes. And taking notes is not just restricted to the classroom, but also while you’re reading.

However the problem that many students face while taking notes is that, they tend to write fast while taking notes, to ensure that they capture as much as possible, while not spending a lot of time taking notes. Although this works well in the short term, in the long run you would eventually forget what it means, or not understand the context in which it was written. Hence it’s important that you understand what you’re written, while you’re trying to review.

If you find it difficult to capture what you’re read in words, try to use flowcharts or diagrams, while taking notes. This could give better perspective while reviewing.

And finally it’s not required that you take notes in a separate notebook. At times, you could even take notes on the textbook itself. Small notes (scribbling) next to text books content can sometimes make it easier for you to understand specific topics.

3. Don’t take notes while reading

This may be a bit counter-intuitive, since you may have heard many people advise that you take notes while reading. However, it’s quite the opposite. When we look at how our mind works, it takes less mental effort to write down things from the short term memory, rather than shifting things from the short term to long term memory. And just like us, our minds also usually tend to take the easier way out, by choosing the one with the least effort. This phenomenon of conservation of mental energy is known as ego depletion. Many people form this habit without realizing that they are falling into a downward spiral. Our mind makes us feel happy and content, if we indulge ourselves in the endeavor with the less effort (taking notes while reading), since this activity uses way lesser mental processing effort.

Hence the best way to understand what you’ve read is to summarize in your mind, the sections that you’ve finished reading, and you can even try to teach it to yourself. After you’ve done this and understood the concept, you can write it what you’ve read and analyzed into your notes.

5. Cut out the distractions and control your breaks

Distractions are a big interference, during your reading time. Hence it’s very important that you cut out any possible distractions, while reading. Another thing to remember is that, once you’ve started reading, you should be persistent and try to stay in the zone. Since it takes far more effort to get back into that reading zone where you have a high focus, than to stay in it.

So taking frequent breaks is very bad, even if the break duration is very small. Ideal study session duration is 40 to 50 minutes, with 10 to 15 minutes breaks in between

6. Do a wrap-up

After you’ve completed your reading session, try to recollect what you’ve read from the textbook. Do a quick recap in your mind, of what you’ve read. And since you’ve now completed the reading, you would have a complete picture of reading material. Thus you could start highlighting important points in the reading, which you can come back to for a quick review. Finally review the notes that you’ve written, to check for clarity and typos/grammar etc., but more importantly, to assess if you’d be able to recollect the concepts that you read.

Hence the whole point of reading textbooks is to comprehend the readings in a structured manner, to assess and assimilate the information. Hence it’s best to not try to comprehend all at once, instead you should aim to structure your reading and note taking. This is to ensure that you’re comfortable with reading, re-reading and reviewing regularly, to train your brain to cope with the learning process naturally and also comprehend and assess the learning materials efficiently, with a better recollection capacity.

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