Make Reading Textbooks Bearable with These 3 Hacks

Let’s face facts: reading textbooks and e-books that cover academic information is not enjoyable. Effective textbook reading is a key study skill for student success, however, as nearly every class requires you read them. Reading textbooks is very different from other kinds of reading, which is why certain specialized strategies may really come in handy. Here are 3 hacks for reading textbooks that can help make studying more doable. 

SQ3R Method

The SQ3R Method is a reading comprehension and study skills method named for its five steps: survey, question, read, retrieve and review. In class, students receive a graphic organizer to use when reading, along with an explanation of each step. The template explains:

Survey– Record important titles, subtitles, captions, subheadings, graphics, illustrations, highlighted text and vocabulary words from the chapter (students are not reading at this point.)
Question– Turn each heading into a question before you start to read.
Read– Read to find the answers to the questions and write the answers below.
Recite– In your own words, write what you have just read. Write summary sentences that paraphrase the key ideas and main points.
Review– Write the important details from the chapter. Create a short outline, or concepts map of what you read, or what you need to remember to do well on the test.

The SQ3R Strategy can be very helpful in requiring students to actively read. The “recite” step in particular allows information to convert from short-term memory to long-term memory. The SQ3R strategy can help students improve comprehension, efficiency in reading, and study skills.

Read for Big Ideas and Key Details

Textbooks are extremely thorough. No one can absorb each and every tiny detail found in a chapter; you have to focus on what’s most important. Textbooks are great because they explain those big ideas in context, but make sure you don’t get lost in the minutiae. Big ideas are easy to spot because they are often in bold print or section headings. Look for the complete sentence thought that summarizes and drives each subdivision, and then make note of the key supporting details that fill out the big idea and help it make sense. While this looks different in each subject, they should be relatively easy to pick out. Check your notes against the questions at the end of the chapter. If they reflect the same key details, you know you are on the right path.

Reading Backwards

Though it may feel counterintuitive to read a book back to front, reading a textbook chapter front to back ensures that you will waste time. Try reading your textbook chapter in this order:

  1. Go to the questions at the end first. Read them, answer them to the best of your ability, and then begin your actual reading strategies. This will start the engines of retention.
  2. Read the final summary of the chapter to give you a general background as to the big ideas in the chapter.
  3. Look at the headings and subdivisions of the chapter.
  4. Read the chapter introduction.
  5. Skim the chapter from front to back. 

By using this out-of-order strategy, you are focusing not on the chronological order of the details, but rather connecting the ideas found in the chapter together. This is infinitely more useful than reading things in the order they were written. If you put in the work now to get used to reading a textbook more effectively, consider the time you’ll save in the long run. 

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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