Back to School: Textbook Notes

I truly believe that the main reason many students don’t do the assigned readings they are given is because they find it difficult to comprehend everything they are reading. Reading a textbook and reading a novel are two completely different things.

Novels allow you to almost zone out while you are reading and transport you into a different reality; textbooks are throwing information at you from left and right. That’s why processing them requires a bit of extra work.

I highly suggest writing your notes out; you’re more likely to retain what you’re reading than if you were to type them. By doing the readings and taking notes you are already ahead of most of your class. So have fun with it. Make your notes come to life, and make sure you are learning what YOU need to learn to stay ahead.

So here are some tips on how I take notes from a textbook. 

1. Read the section, then take the notes

I recommend reading the section before you start writing anything down. Don’t waste your valuable time writing things that don’t matter.

2. Highlight the BIG points in the text as you’re reading

As you’re reading, highlight or sticky note the big points so you don’t have to re-read the section to remember what you need/ want to write down. Plus you’ll be the savior for the next person who has your textbook. We all have those textbooks, and we’ve all sent out a well-wishing prayer to the previous owner when we find the answers or side notes written in the books when we get them.


3. Section out two inches of space on the right-hand side of the page for in-class lectures

Before you begin taking notes section out a quarter of the page on the right-hand side for in-class notes. We all know the professor that has a different way of explaining it than the book, and you want to make sure that you capture that next to the textbook’s version. That way when you go back to do the homework or study for the test you can figure out which way works best for you.

4. Title the notes with Class and Catalog Number, Chapter, the title of the Chapter, and Date.

This will be very helpful when it comes to finding your textbook notes among your other notes for the course, but even better when you need to study Chapters 5 – 9 and you have them numbered out. This will also be very helpful if your professors are anything like mine and jump around between current and past chapters… [I’m not bitter]. It’s helpful to be able to find the chapters on a quick flip through than try to remember what content was in each individual chapter.  Adding the date will also allow you to match up your notes with the syllabus in case you forget what was discussed certain weeks, etc.

5. Choose five pen colorsIMG_0286_edited

It’s scientifically proven that color coding notes will help you learn and retain the information you are writing. So pull out all of those pretty pens you have and put them to use. I chose five for the five different parts of the notes. This works really well for me so I know what to look for when doing study guides or when the professor asks about something specific in class.


image1-3.jpg6. Every section and subsection is a new title

Treat these as fresh starts. In each one find 1 – 3 important points and write them down; this allows you to grasp every bit of the chapter. This was something I learned from my high school US Government teacher (Thanks Mrs. Hill!) For homework we had to read certain parts from each chapter and take notes on them in a specific way. She would make us write things down from each paragraph, but that was too much for me. So in each section, I force myself to find a few main points to write down. Doing it this way has stuck with me over the last 5 years or so, and I have used it in every college class I’ve taken that required textbook reading.

7. These notes are for YOU

Remember that. If you want to write down every paragraph, then do it. If doodling interpretations of the notes is how you remember, then do it. Don’t write them the same way your friend does, because we all learn in completely different ways.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Kaitlin D'Souza says:

    This saved me for psychology class. The textbook is massive. Thank you so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. marissajwatkins says:

      Yay!! I’m so glad I could help! 🙂


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