Many students struggle with figuring out how to take the most effective notes from their textbooks. I understand that taking notes from a textbook can be very overwhelming and at times tricky because it’s hard to narrow down what information is important and what you should focus more on, especially when your grades are at stake.

Over many years of research and experimentation, I have developed a very effective  method that has helped me get high grades when textbooks questions were tested. Now, I want to share this helpful system with you.

This is a system that helped me to extract the most valuable information out of my textbooks in order to ace my exams.

I strongly encourage you to pay  very close attention to the steps I’m going to mention in this blog because it can save you hundreds of hours of pointless studying and worrying. I suggest that you print these steps and post them on your wall if you can. That will help as a reminder whenever it’s time to open your books and start studying.

I suggest that you print these steps and post them on your wall if you can. That will help as a reminder whenever it’s time to open your books and start studying.

Step 1: Perform a Preview of The Chapter

This is one of the key steps of this system. The first step is about performing a thorough visual inspection the chapter material.

In this step, pay very careful attention to:

  • headings
  • charts,
  • graphics
  • bolded text
  • Italicized text
  • and most importantly, the summary

The purpose of this step is to warm up your neurons in the brain for the upcoming reading. This is the perfect way to ease your brain into absorbing large quantities of information, without overloading and exhausting your brain.

Previewing information in this way, have shown to create initial neuronal connections for further learning and comprehension. It creates the necessary memory slots for more detailed learning during the reading process. In addition, it has the ability to increase your focus and attention since you have created a state in your brain that will anticipate more information in the future. This increased attention can drastically contribute to forming stronger memories.

In addition, it has the ability to increase your focus and attention since you have created a state in your brain that will anticipate more information in the future. This increased attention can drastically contribute to forming stronger memories.

Reading the summary (if one available) is a very important aspect in this step. You may not understand everything that you read in the summary but do this anyway. As mentioned before, it can drastically increase your attention and comprehension that will facilitate future learning.

During the lecture, if your professor has pointed that you should focus on a specific point and have asked you to study specific parts of the textbook, you must put extra care to identify these sections and do a quick read through. This is because your professor finds this information very valuable for you to know. As a result, there is a very high probability that this information will show up on the exam.

Step 2: Take notes TO understand

The second step is about reading and taking notes to understand. In the first two years in university, I took a lot of time taking notes on specific details.

By the time I reached my third year, I realized that this process was rather ineffective and wasteful. I used to depend solely on these notes to study for the exams. This is a big no-no!!!

By the third year, I realized that taking as many notes as I can be rather ineffective and wasteful. Not only is this method very time-consuming and ineffective, it can affect your GPA, if you rely solely on these notes to study for your exams.

This is because you may have left out important information, as at the time you may have thought it was not important, but actually was important for you to know.

By using the following method, you can ensure that you never miss out on key information in the textbook.

There are two  specific situations in which you should take notes.

First situation: Take notes of concepts that you are having difficulty understanding

If you come across a concept that you have difficulty understanding, you must rewrite what you are trying to understand in  your words in a piece of paper. Attempt to write the concept with multiple but smaller sentences.

Start with writing down aspects of the concepts you understand. Then, move on to more difficult aspects of the concept. If you still can’t understand some aspects, do a quick google search and see if there are any videos, images or information that can help you understand.

Sometimes using difference sources can offer a better perspective on the concept, and help you understand. Make sure that you hand write this information in your paper.

By using this method, your brain focuses on understanding what you are reading. This process helps you gain a high level of comprehension because it dissolves the concept into smaller pieces that help you understand.

The main goal of this process is to break down the concept and make it easier for your brain to understand.

Most cases we do not understand a concept because we try to take in too much information at once. Our brain becomes overloaded with information that makes it difficult to make connections for a short period of time. For example, the amount of information that gets thrown in during the reading process may be too much, or the sentences may be too long.

When this happens, you need to digest bits of information at a time. The goal is to make it easier for your brain to understand.

Second Situation: Take notes on concepts you have never come across before

You should take notes of any concepts, definitions, theories or formulas that you have never come across in your life. Take detailed notes of these concept definitions, theories or formulas. You can write down examples, but this is not always necessary, to make it easier to understand the concept.

If you are just starting out university, you may feel as though you don’t know or understand what you are reading. That is expected and is okay. Myself along with countless others who have accomplished a great GPA, went through similar challenges.

My recommendation is that you must push through the concepts and be able to identify the concept and give your own examples. As time goes, you will become familiar with many of the concepts, and the whole process will become second-nature. I can guarantee you that if you always focus on getting better at what you do, you will become good at this process.

Always remember to write down your notes by hand. This is extremely important. Taking notes by hand as oppose to typing it up on your laptop, contributes to better memory and recall. This has been well documented in research. This is because taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have direct consequences for learning.

This writing process helps you to engage with the material because you are actively thinking about what you are writing as you put the information on paper. Therefore, making the process more engaging. This also helps you to consolidate the information into your long-term memory.

The primary purpose of your notes should be to increase comprehension and understanding of the material that you are reading. The primary purpose is not storing information. The purpose of the book is to store information. You must never solely rely on these notes to study for an exam. This is extremely important to remember.

The reason I emphasized this is because when you are studying for an exam, you must use the source to study. This is because only the source has the most accurate information that you will be needing for exams.

When you were taking your own notes, you may have missed some important information that would be extremely valuable and may likely appear on your exams.

Step 3: Perform the Speed Read Method

This third step is about going through the textbook material as fast as possible. Use the directional tracking (Finger Method) to power through your reading.

When you are doing this step, if you come across concepts you do not understand, reread and do your best to understand them. Do not rely on your own notes because, as mentioned before, you may have accidentally dropped some valuable material (use your own notes as the last resort). It is okay to slow down in order to understand concepts that you have difficulty with, however speed through concepts that you are familiar with.

The purpose of this step is to make sure that your brain becomes familiar with the concepts discussed in the textbook and in turn would help develop a deeper understanding of the textbook material.


Step 4: Advance Your Speed Reading

Always leave time to go through the exam second round. When you go through the exam second time around, you will often discover that you may have misread a question and chose an obvious wrong answer.

I remember that I often salvaged around 2-4 multiple choice questions performing this method. We often misread questions due to distractions and information overload. Too much information thrown at us can cause us to skip or misread information that is necessary to answer accurately.

Think about it: wouldn’t you be able to understand more of a textbook if you had time to read it a second time around?

The best way to deal with this problem is to leave time to go back and check your answers.

In most cases, you have more than enough time to do that. Many students try to finish the exam, and try to get out the door as fast as they can. Do not be one of them.

Remember, you are paying lots of money for your education. Use up the time to make sure that your answers are correct. These grades are going to stay with you forever.


Some Advice For You…

It is important that you ask your professor how important the textbook readings are for your exams. If he /she says it about 50-50, obviously you must put equal effort to master understanding the material in the book.

If the professor points out that lectures are more valuable than the book, pay much more time in understanding the concepts in the lectures. If the professor recommends that you pay attention to the lecture more, focus heavily on the lecture. Like I said before, your professor is responsible for  designing the exam, and so you need to study accordingly.

There is a general tendency in higher courses to focus more on the lectures when studying for exams. If you are still first or second year, you may need to pay attention to the textbooks and lectures equally. Always ask your professor, what you should pay more attention to.

Tell us how you take notes on the comments…

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