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How to study a textbook?

Published on October 11, 2018·Latest update at March 14, 2019

Reading a textbook of a few hundred pages is possible, but you also need to understand what you have read and remember the information. That can be quite a challenge! How to prevent staring at the pages for minutes, while your mind is blank and you do not have a clue what you’ve just read. Study Psychologists created a term for this: ‘intensive and active reading’. This means that you immediately reflect on what you just read.

If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s the fact that you must not just start reading in a huge textbook, before doing some preparation. Use our following tips to even memorize that enormous law-book by hard.

Orientate before you begin

A textbook is divided by chapters, which are then divided by paragraphs. Most books also have an introduction and a summary per chapter. By preparing yourself on what you are going to read, you will be able to understand the structure of the book and separate major issues from side-issues. You know what to pay attention to. So always start by reading the beginning and the conclusion of a chapter.

Intensive and active reading

Textbooks are different texts to read than a novel during your summer holiday. You need to read slow and reflect on what you have read after every paragraph. Try to make connections in your mind between what you have read and what the author is trying to tell you. Wait with using marker pens, you will do this after the structure of the book is clear to you.


When you have done the intensive reading, you know what information is discussed in the text and, hopefully, you can connect this with former and later discussed subjects. The repeating of what you have read can easily be done after each paragraph or page. It’s not necessary to wait until after the chapter to start repeating.

Reflect on what you read

This is the big difference from reading a novel. Why does the author write this? Why is subject A connect to subject B and how? While reflecting, which happens often if you repeat reading the text, you can structure the information for yourself by highlighting words or write ideas next to the text. Another option is to make short summaries.

Check what you know

When you are at the exam and you realise you don’t know enough about subject X, it’s already too late. So you need to check what you know and have memorised after each chapter. You can do this by explaining all the highlighted terms to yourself, or even better, discuss the information with you classmates or practise old exams.

Remembering facts by hard

Sometimes there is no other option then needing to memorise boring facts. Always keep in mind that you need to learn these facts for a reason and structure the facts to know what they mean in context. If you wouldn’t learn the context, you would just be programming yourself like a machine, which is not very useful for an exam. Tips to memorise facts:

  • Determine which facts are most important.

  • Try to memorise the differences and similarities between terms and events.

  • Don’t study too long in one time on these facts, try to repeat them for a few minutes every day.

Active reading strategies

Study Less Study Smart

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