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Textbook Reading Strategies

Tackling a textbook reading assignment can feel daunting. However, they contain many features designed to help you learn. Apply these practical strategies to help you read textbooks more effectively to ensure that you truly comprehend the course material, come to class prepared, and perform better on assignments and exams.

Identify the Purpose

Textbooks contain numerous features such as key words, concept maps and graphs, footnotes, etc. to provide a wealth of information and clues about the text. You should always spend a few minutes previewing a chapter or section before you start to read so that you can identify the main concepts in that section. This will help you focus going into the reading and will help you to be able to pull out the important ideas more easily.

Active reading strategies

Before you read

Preview –skim through the text features in the chapter (headings, titles, graphs, bold words, etc.) to gain clues about the main concepts and important elements of the chapter. Pay special attention to:
  • Titles, headings, and subtitles
  • Illustrations, graphs, charts, visuals
  • Vocabulary lists, glossaries
  • End of chapter summaries
  • Introductions
  • Review questions and practice problems
  • Special interest boxes and notes in margins
  • Bold words

Begin at the end– read the summary, vocab list, chapter questions, and practice problems first to gain an idea of the most important aspects of the section and what you are expected to know and understand after reading it.

Activate prior knowledge– make a list of what you already know about the topic and what you want to know about it/questions you have about it.

Set a purpose– based on what you gathered in your previewing, set a purpose for why you are reading this chapter and what you need to understand, know, or be able to do after reading it.

Make predictions– right after previewing, make a prediction about what you think this chapter or section is going to be about.

While You Read

Figure out the main idea– focus on first sentences and text features for main ideas of each paragraph or section as you read. These often contain the main idea, while the other sentences in the paragraph provide support and details.

Use questions to find answers– convert major headings and topics into questions, then read for answers.

Finish an entire section or page before taking notes– write in your book or place sticky notes throughout your reading. This will remind you to pause and ask yourself questions about what you just read.When you do take notes, keep them brief, focus on main ideas, and put them in your own words.

Generate questions– as you read, write down questions that you have about the text. Also, create questions that you would ask on a test if you were a professor giving a test about this chapter (use them to self-test later).

Stop and summarize– after every section (or page), stop and write a brief summary of what you just read in your own words from memory.

Keep it short– tackle no more than 5-10 pages at a time. Space your reading out across the day and week as opposed to cramming it all into hour-long sessions. Check out our time management handouts to find some calendars and resources to help you chunk your reading.

Make connections– before, during, or after reading, make connections between the material and your own life, the world, and other texts/course material you have learned.

After Reading

Re-visit the chapter later– instead of re-reading the chapter this time, focus on the main concepts. Make note of how content covered in class connects with the material in the chapter.

Organize your thoughts– make an outline or concept map to help you synthesize and map out information visually. Ideally, start from memory and create all you can without looking at your textbook to better get a grasp of what you know well and what you need to study; then use your textbook for reference in filling out what you didn’t know well. This technique will aid your retention much more than over-relying on the textbook.

Make flashcards– create flashcards for key terms, dates, people, etc. and use them for self-testing. Answer the question/define the word yourself before flipping the card over and looking at the answer.