Studying A Textbook

Studying A Textbook

The First Step In Studying A Textbook: Previewing

By Frank L. Christ

The first step toward the successful completion of any course is to preview the textbook. Ideally, you should make this preview before the end of the first week of class. The textbook has been designed by the author as a tool for mastering the subject. Besides the text itself, it offers you special help such as the headings, italics, and footnotes to improve your efficiency in using the book. Previewing your textbook will help you to discover the:

1. Purpose, limitations and scope of the book as stated in the preface or foreword.
2. Degree of difficulty of topics listed in the table of contents and index.
3. Extra help that the book will offer you in mastering the contents through summaries, glossaries, review questions and problems, books for further study, pointers to important ideas through use of italics, headings, marginal notes.

When you begin your preview, look at each component of the book to see what help it can offer you in using the book and understanding what it is trying to teach.

Title - Reword the title to make a question. Write down other questions that you think might be answered in the book. Apply the classic six questions-- who, what, where, when, how and why to the title.

Author - Who is she/he? What makes him/her an expert? What else has he/she done or written?

Copyright Date - Is the book up to date? Have there been any new theories or developments in the field since the book was written?

Preface, Foreword, or Introduction - Does the author tell you why he wrote the book? Does he recommend the best way to use it?

Table of contents - Turn the entries into questions. Review what you already know about the topics listed.

Text Chapters - Are there introductions to each chapter outlining the contents? Is each chapter subdivided under different headings? Are there maps, tables, graphs and pictures? Is there a summary at the end of each chapter? Are there questions, exercises, or other study helps for each chapter?

Glossary - Does the book have a glossary? Is it at the end of the book, or following each chapter? How many new words will you have to learn to understand the subject?

Bibliography - Does the author provide a list of other books on the subject to which you may refer if you want more detailed information?

Index - Read down this alphabetical list of the main ideas and people discussed in the book. How many items are familiar to you? Remember that in addition to using the index for reference, you may also use it for review before examinations. If you are able to read down the list of entries and remember something relevant about most of them, you probably have a good grasp of the subject.

The Second Step In Studying A Textbook: The Chapter Assignment

If a chapter study method is to be really effective, it must help you in four ways:

1. It should help you divide a long reading assignment into shorter segments that are easier to learn.
2. It should help you select the important facts and ideas that you must remember from your reading.
3. It should make it easier for you to understand and organize these facts and ideas.
4. It should help you make useful notes and summaries to review for class recitations and examinations.

SQ4R: A Classic Method for Studying Texts


We call this method a classic because students have found it useful since the early 60's. It was developed by psychologist Francis P. Robinson of Ohio State University. It's probably worth your time to try all the steps at first, and then choose and apply only those that work effectively for each of your course texts. Although using the SQ4R method may seem time consuming at first, once you know the steps the process takes only a few minutes.

S = Survey

When you begin the study of a chapter assignment, first check its length. If it is long or appears to discuss many related facts and ideas, divide the chapter into shorter segments for easier study. The subheadings will provide clues to the topical divisions of the chapter. Treat each segment as a separate chapter. Read the chapter title and the entire first paragraph. Convert every subheading in the chapter or chapter segment into a question. Examine all the illustrations, maps, and graphs. Read the final paragraph. While you are making this survey, keep in mind the classic six questions: who, what, where, when, how, and why . . .to heighten your curiosity about the subject and give purpose to your studying.

Q = Question

Return to the beginning of the chapter and reread the first paragraph. Look again at the subheadings, illustrations, maps, and charts. Reread the last paragraph. Stop and think about the material you have surveyed, and then write down at least five significant questions in preparation for study-reading the chapter, For example, if you're reading part of a chapter called "Functions of the Spinal Cord," ask yourself, "What are the functions of the spinal cord?"

R#1 = Read

You then read, not passively sliding your eyes over the words, but actively engaging the text, trying to find the answer to your question. Be cautious, however, that you don't end up skimming for the answer to your question and missing other important information. Try to connect what you read with something you have experienced or something you have read before.

R#2 = Respond

Once you've read the section, close the textbook and answer your question, either orally or on paper, in your own words. If you can't answer the question, you should reread that section until you can. If you have difficulty developing an answer, you have not really learned what you have read. If, after several tries, you still can't answer your question, go on to the next few sections and see if things become clearer. You may find that you need to change your question. For example, you may have first posed the question, "What is the Treaty of Versailles?" for the subtitle "The Treaty of Versailles," but, after reading the section, you may find that a better question is, "Why was the Treaty of Versailles created?" If changing your question doesn't help clarify the reading, it's time to get some help. Your instructor or TA are good places to start.

R#3 = Record

Once you've understood the material and can summarize it in your own words, the next step is to record the information in some way. Some common methods are to highlight and/or mark the text, or take notes, or some combination of both. Whichever method or combination of methods you choose (some pros and cons are summarized next), it's critical to remember to read and understand the material first, and then go back and record.


The Pros:

Takes less time than note taking
Charts and graphs from text readily available

The Cons:

Very easy to do badly; can fool you into thinking you're learning material when what you're really doing is coloring.
Tendency to mark too much to avoid missing something important; experts say highlight 10 15%; students usually highlight 70 80%
Because fragments of sentences are highlighted, tendency is to read whole sentence for complete meaning and so most of the book ends up being re-read
Necessary to study for tests from heavy, clumsy textbook
Difficult to integrate with lecture notes
Textbook ends up looking very used and reduces resale value

Note Taking

The Pros:

Because it's time consuming, encourages you to be concise and more selective of important information
Information is in point form but still grammatically complete
Provides a portable, easy-to-manage study tool - text not often needed for studying
Condensed study notes can be made in margins as you go, saving time when preparing for exams
Easy to integrate text and lecture notes if done on loose leaf paper

The Cons:

Tendency to copy text rather than take notes in your own words

R#4 = Review

In courses where there is a lot of factual material to remember, a regular review period (usually once a week) can be a very effective strategy for retaining information. Integrating a weekly review period into your study routine will help you remember more of the information longer, thereby changing the nature of the studying done at exam time. Rather than relearning material that has been forgotten because you haven't looked at it since reading it or writing it down, preparing for an exam can include a review of familiar material.

The secret to making regular review periods effective is to start from the beginning of the course in each review session. The volume of material to review increases as the semester progresses, but the amount of time needed to review older material decreases. After you've reviewed the first week's material a few times, it will take only minutes to skim over it and recall the key points.

*Christ, Frank L., Studying a Textbook, SRA. 1966