Have you ever pored over a chapter of a textbook, only to realize you don’t remember anything that you just read? Or worse — you did take notes, but you basically ended up highlighting the entire chapter because you weren’t sure what was important?
Taking notes when you read is an important part of learning and retaining material, but taking good notes from a textbook that will actually benefit you, in the long run, is a different matter entirely.
If you are struggling with your notes, don’t be discouraged. With a little practice, you will be able to take notes from a textbook like a pro — quickly, efficiently, and effectively — to get the most out of your studies.
Why should I learn how to take notes from a textbook?
You might be thinking, “Why do I need to learn how to learn?” Just like anything else, figuring out how to take effective notes from a textbook is a learned skill — one that you should get the hang of in order to learn more from your assigned reading.
The textbook reading assignments for many upper-level or college courses can be especially rigorous, and many professors expect their students to learn material outside of class. This makes it imperative that you are able to fully understand and apply these concepts, which is a difficult undertaking without taking effective notes.
Taking good notes isn’t simply writing things down — it’s recording them in a way that is clear to you. Learning how to take good notes from a textbook in a fast, efficient manner will help you in a number of ways, such as:
- Creating study materials in your own words
- Giving you a deeper understanding of advanced materials and concepts
- Making connections to the material
- Creating your own talking points for the next lecture
What Not To Do: the most common mistakes people make when taking notes.
Before you can learn what constitutes effective note taking, you need to identify and unlearn any bad habits you may have picked up during your educational career. These are some of the most common mistakes students make when taking notes and why (if you do them) you should stop:
- Taking notes word for word.
If you’re taking notes directly from the textbook, you are wasting time. Many textbooks include long paragraphs full of filler words and extra information, when your notes only need to contain the things you need to know. Instead, you should interpret the information you read and put it in your own words, as this saves time and helps you understand the information better.
- Not knowing what to take notes on.
It can sometimes be difficult to know what you need to write down. Perhaps everything seems important — which leads to full notebooks and textbooks covered in highlighter marks. This takes up a lot of time and leads to confusion. Instead, focus on the key information instead of all of it.
- Taking too many notes.
Even when you are good at taking notes from a textbook, taking notes over extremely long sections of material or for an extended period of time generally means you haven’t given the material enough time to “settle” in your mind to truly learn it. Information overload leads to forgetting all of the things you just learned — take notes in short bursts, allowing yourself time to mull over the material again before moving on.
Once you are able to eradicate these bad habits, your notes will already be more helpful to you.
How to Take Efficient Notes from a Textbook
Taking notes from a textbook can often be a lengthy affair, especially if you have multiple assigned readings from different courses. Here are a few tips that can help you take fast, thorough, and efficient notes from a textbook:
- Read the syllabus or assignment list.
You need to know what you are studying or when you are preparing to take notes. If you don’t, how will you know when you come across important information? Not being informed typically results in taking the wrong notes (focusing on things you don’t need to know) or too many notes. Make sure to review your syllabus or upcoming assignments to ensure that you are prepared for whatever the next class or test may bring.
- Skim through the textbook and make an outline.
Before you start reading and taking notes, quickly skim through the assigned textbook reading so you can get an idea of what’s in store. Then, you can make an outline, using each of the chapter’s headings and subheadings as a guide. This way, you are able to comprehend the amount of time you will be spending reading and taking notes from the textbook and budget your time accordingly. If you know there are still sections you have remaining to read, you won’t dawdle too long on a specific one. However, you should still take all the time you need to read, reread, and fully understand the material in each section of the textbook.
- Choose an organized, easily understandable format for your notes and stick with it.
There are many different ways to format notes from a textbook, such as color-coded, concept maps, Cornell style, and more. You may endure some trial and error before you find the format that works best with the way you learn, but you want to make sure that your notes are clear and organized. This way, you can understand them easily when it’s time to look back over your notes to study. Plus, clear demarcations for each section of notes from the textbook make it simpler for you to navigate your notebook — some students even number their pages and add a table of contents!
Don’t be afraid to have fun with it or take the time to make your notes look aesthetically pleasing if you’d like. Though it can be time-consuming, color-coding and adding relevant sketches or stickers allow you to spend more time with your notes and absorb the material.
Take good notes from a textbook: it’s up to you!
Though taking notes from a textbook isn’t the most exciting, your notes are yours alone and you know yourself best. What works for your lab partner may not work for you, so always take notes from a textbook in the way that helps you learn best.