Textbooks are typically big, bulky, and jam-packed with complicated words and stringy sentences. With so much information condensed into every textbook, it’s no wonder that many students seek the perfect solution to creating practical, long-lasting notes based on these resources.
However, while there are many ways to produce high-quality notes, my experiences with note-taking have also revealed inefficient strategies that ended up causing me to forget information faster than I could retain it.
This article will discuss five important habits I’ve integrated into my note-taking process and five more things I avoid to ensure learning success.
5 Do’s of Textbook Note-Taking
Taking notes from textbooks is a crucial skill that needs continuous practice and refinement to get things up to par. While each of us has our learning style preferences, these are five general tips I recommend for your note-taking routine.
Skimming Through Chapters for Information
It can be overwhelming to read about a specific subject without prior knowledge of the topic — sometimes, complicated terms and jargon can just muddle up your energy and focus levels.
To mitigate this, I find skimming through textbooks a very helpful tool for taking notes for textbooks. Doing so allows you to discover the key terms and concepts most important to learn.
Usually, these words are emphasized by authors using bold or italics. Skimming cover-to-cover is preferable, but reading each chapter’s introduction and the conclusion is generally sufficient to acquire a good grasp of the content you need to concentrate on.
Displaying Notes in Different Ways
Sometimes, long-winding text about a certain topic can appear too redundant, hindering a student from maximizing their learning. This is common with textbooks that focus on high-level, technical subjects that need more time for studying.
With this, you may find that displaying your notes creatively will be hugely effective in helping you take in important information. Notes can be cleaned up using bullets, arrows, and shortened sentences, but you might enjoy creating graphics to present data. Flow charts, mind maps, and diagrams are just a few examples of how to effectively write notes from textbooks for visual learners.
Paraphrasing and Summarizing Content in Your Own Words
One method to help recall information later and ensure effective learning is paraphrasing textbook content in your own words.
Other than formulas and established definitions, ensure that your notes are written from memory and jotted down in your own words.
Afterwards, you’ll be able to easily compare your notes to the published content and determine whether you’ve truly understood the important concepts in the chapter.
You can also employ the habit of making summaries and conclusions about what you’ve learned through the readings. Make sure to write key takeaways from the chapter as well as any questions you want to be answered in future lessons.
Reviewing and Organizing Notes
Both professors and textbooks give learning goals and guide questions for an important reason. You’ll find that constantly reviewing your notes and assessing whether they match the intended objectives keeps you on track with the class lessons.
A proper review schedule, even if it’s as short as 15 minutes per day, will help you avoid cramming right before exams.
Aside from reviewing, note organization is another habit to consistently incorporate into your routine. Ensuring that notes from various subjects aren’t mixed and optimizing accessibility makes a large difference in the long run, especially with future time constraints and heavy student workloads.
Making Use of Headings and Abbreviations
Lastly, having an organized structure established throughout your notes allows you to be meticulous and aware of key pieces of individual information that define a topic. Headings and subheadings increase your understanding of the relative importance of different concepts related to the subject.
You can save time and energy in the long run as you can easily flip through your notes and search for a specific subheading if you ever need to remember something. Abbreviations and acronyms are also handy for keeping notes shorter. If you opt for this method, use well-defined shortened symbols and phrases to optimize overall readability.
5 Don’ts of Textbook Note-Taking
Taking notes from a textbook can be an arduous task. Still, it’s important to avoid ineffective note-taking strategies that may hinder your learning and reduce overall efficiency. These are five common note-taking mistakes to avoid when reading from textbooks.
Highlighting notes can be an effective strategy for detecting which pieces of information to keep track of. However, it’s important to avoid overdoing this, as too many highlights can be distracting and keep you from concentrating on the main ideas of the subject.
This process also doesn’t seem to actively work the brain, unlike other techniques such as memory recall. When you highlight notes based on textbook content, mark only the must-know information, such as facts, statistics, and dates. Doing this keeps you from losing focus but helps you easily identify important data you need to remember.
Copying Word-for-Word From the Source
It can be tempting to copy text directly from the original resource and call it a day. However, for content-heavy textbooks, this can be a detrimental strategy for students. With textbooks, there is a tendency to have tons of information packed in a single sentence, but choosing to transcribe content word-for-word prevents paraphrasing and rewriting text in one’s own words, which is crucial for a full understanding of a topic.
Whenever you flip through a chapter and take notes, condense and narrow down the information to the most useful facts and terms. This ensures that you can grasp what’s most helpful to know for future tests and recitation activities.
Ignoring Word Signals or Transitional Cues
Active reading requires active observation of the content of your textbook. Whether taking notes for your biology class or social science, it’s important to watch out for keyword signals and transitional cues that authors sprinkle throughout paragraphs.
Often, word signals lead to certain lists and relationships between concepts that you can jot down to organize written information. Avoid ignoring the text format or chapter structure — reading cover-to-cover without paying attention to these elements will decrease overall information retention.
When you take notes from textbooks, have your syllabus around to help you determine what key topics you need to look out for when studying a specific chapter.
Writing Too Many or Too Few Pages of Notes
When taking notes from a textbook, you must have a balanced number of pages you dedicate per chapter. While having a huge stack of notes can be especially confusing to sift through for important information, writing too little also limits you from understanding the subject at hand.
Notes need to be concise and comprehensive, so make sure to set one to two pages of notes for each short chapter in a textbook or adjust accordingly if you’re dealing with longer pieces.
Taking Notes While Distracted or Before Tests
A common practice that’s experienced by a lot of students is cramming huge chunks of information and hastily taking notes before a test.
However, while this strategy seems plausible given that it allows you to remember information right before an exam, I find that doing this overall decreases how accurately you recall data and increases personal stress levels.
Patience is a virtue, and taking notes gradually in a distraction-free environment allows knowledge to be taken in systematically and effectively.
Study More Effectively With This Efficient Note-Taking Guide
To make big improvements to your current note-taking routine, integrate each of the five do’s and don’ts described above to increase overall productivity and enjoyment in your lessons.
For more tips on effectively learning the material, read this article on effectively taking notes to optimize your study habits and routine.
What is the best way to take notes from a textbook?
The best way to take notes from a textbook is to write the notes in your own words instead of copying them from the textbook. Avoid over-highlighting and properly organize the notes to refer to them at a later stage.
Should I take notes from the textbook or just read it?
You should take notes from the textbook so that when you want to revise a particular topic, you can do it by reviewing your notes instead of reading the entire textbook.
What are the five Rs of note-taking?
The five R’s of note-taking are:
What is the most effective strategy for note-taking?
The most effective note-taking strategy is to take visually clear and well-organized notes. Moreover, your notes should be properly structured in different chapters, so you can easily revise them later.