The Study Dude—Note-Taking for Textbooks

The Cookbook Continues!

exhausted student from studying

You’ve just read a chapter of a 1000-page textbook, applying the system for reading textbooks I outlined last week.  You scheduled two days to read the chapter.  Now you’ve got three days to take notes on it and two days to memorize it, spending one week total on the chapter.  What note taking strategies will give you the best set of notes from your textbook chapter?

Last week, I covered how to read a textbook.  This week, let’s focus on how to take notes from the textbook chapter you’ve just read.

The only ingredients needed for this recipe are notebooks, a pen, a yellow highlighter, a red pen, sticky notes, a printer, paper, and of course, a textbook.

Here is a strategy for reading textbooks:

  • First, read the chapter, according to the instructions in last week’s article.
  • Next, take all the headings and subheadings (along with page numbers) and type them up in an outline format in MS Word.
  • Alternatively, if you prefer handwriting your notes, take sheets of loose-leaf paper and title each one with the respective heading or subheading (along with page numbers): one heading or subheading per sheet of paper.
  • There are benefits to handwriting notes, which include a stronger recall of what was written.
  • I prefer to type my notes because I always have access to the typed version along with a printed backup copy. Plus, I can easily make revisions.
  • Within your textbook, you may want to either highlight or leave your textbook unmarked. It’s up to you.  Do you hope to resell your textbook? If so, then leave the textbook unmarked.
  • Consider whether you will be tested with an exam or an essay. If it’s an exam, focus on the facts.  If it’s an essay, focus on key concepts.  If you are not sure whether it’s an exam or essay, then focus on both.
  • If you highlight your textbook, then highlight all the facts or key concepts or, better yet, both.
  • Whether you highlight or not, type or write all definitions or key concepts or both from your notes in your outline under each respective heading. Try typing them in your own words, aiming to make the notes as short and simple as possible.  Be sure to include page numbers.  I’m a details person, so I’d rather type up the note verbatim and then add a short line rewriting the note in my own words.  It just means I have to spend more time studying, but possibly gain from a higher grade.
  • Leave space in your notes for diagrams, pictures, or charts. To add these elements into a typed document, simply take a photo of the textbook visual with your phone and email it to your desktop.  Then digitally add the visual to your typed notes.  Alternatively, you can add a sticky note with a diagram or picture hand drawn on it.  I prefer backups, so I’d snap a photo.
  • Use a red font or red pen to add question marks followed by a question you need clarified. Or add a red exclamation mark by anything ultra important.
  • Use an indentation system with bullet points, where key concepts are bullets furthest to the left and sub-concepts are indented to the right.
  • Digitally highlight your typed notes in yellow color or use a physical highlighter in your handwritten notes to accentuate key words and key terminology.
  • Use a red font or red pen to add in acronyms and other memory tricks. Don’t know what these are? No worries.  I’ll cover them in more detail in another Cookbook.
  • Draw a mind map, if you’ve got the ambition. You can either digitally generate one with paid online software or hand draw one.
  • Print out your masterpiece. Or take your handwritten loose-leaf notes and rewrite them in your notebook so they’re pretty.
  • Relish in your hard work and efforts! Just by going through this process, you’ve cemented your textbook knowledge further into memory.

Once you learn the tips for taking notes from textbooks, you’ve got an edge.

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