Getting the Most from Your College Textbooks

If you are taking a Penn State World Campus course, you probably have at least one textbook. Whether it is an online textbook or one that you can hold in your hands, it is a very important part of your course and a resource that should not be ignored. The strategies you use when reading your textbook can be the key to either a stellar course performance, or lead to an unproductive waste of time. The following are some great strategies for getting the most out of your college textbook.THEMACGIRL*, Flickr

Strategies for managing your reading:

  • Be Prepared: Make sure you complete the reading prior to the class when it is due. You cannot participate in the discussion if you have not read the material.
  • Plan Ahead: Take the number of pages to be read and divide it by the number of days available to read it. This will give you the number of pages you must read each day.
  • Test Yourself: Take the section headings and turn them into questions. As you read through the section, try to answer the question in the margin.
  • Take Notes: If there are chapter questions or key points at the end of the chapters, make a notecard with each question. When you find the answer in the reading, note the page number on the card. Come back to it after you complete the reading and try to answer the question.
  • Highlight Sparingly: Manage your highlighting. Highlighting too much can result in choosing information that is not relevant. This is a difficult skill to master and one that requires a lot of focus and attention.
  • Study Images: Make sure you look at the pictures, charts, graphs, and any other information that is in the margins. Sometimes the most useful information comes from a place other than the actual reading!
  • Note Text Changes: Look for bold or colored words, any text in italics, parentheses or brackets, and lists. These are visual cues that indicate the information is important.
  • Use Mnemonic Devices: Try to relate what you are reading to your prior knowledge ­­— something you already know. Think of an example or an analogy that will help you understand the reading and retain the information.
  • Start a Conversation: Discuss the reading with your classmates. This allows you to hear other points of view and to share yours. The discussion might generate a connection to the material you did not have when you read it.

The most important resource you have to determine the best way to approach the textbook reading is your instructor, who knows exactly how the textbook fits in with the course. Reach out to your instructor and let him or her know that you are looking for good strategies for reading and studying your textbook. This will show that you are motivated to do well and be successful.

By using good time management and effective reading strategies, you should be off to a great start to the semester!