How to Read a Textbook Effectively

July 7, 2021

Learning how to read a textbook is key to absorbing the information they contain, though it’s not always easy. These heavy hardcovers are often dry, dense, and difficult to get through. Fortunately, there are ways to make the process more manageable. Check out the guide below for important tips on how to read a textbook the right way.

5 Steps for Reading a Textbook Efficiently

Uncover the unique ways in which adults learn by checking out this article on adult learning theory.

Textbooks house a lot of material. With the amount of reading college students are assigned, it’s important to incorporate a little strategy into the task. Here’s how to get started:

1. Pay Attention to Headings and Subheadings

reading a textbook can be difficult for students

Textbooks are organized by headings and subheadings. You can find these sections first listed in the table of contents. They provide readers with important clues as to what topics are considered more and less important. The bigger the heading, the more important the topic.

Pay attention to things like the size and color. These details matter when it comes to how the author wants you to understand the subject being discussed. You should also look out for words that appear in bold or italics, as this style is often associated with important vocabulary terms.

2. Read the End of the Chapter First

Don’t worry about spoilers! Skipping to the end can actually help you get ahead in your textbook reading. Start by reading the chapter summary and the end-of-chapter questions provided.

This will clue you into what you need to look out for when revisiting the material. Remember to focus on big picture concepts. You don’t need to memorize every single sentence to understand the section.

3. Break Your Assignments Up Into Chunks

Try not to procrastinate when it comes to reading assignments. We know, it’s difficult. But the further you fall behind, the harder it will be to catch up. It’s hard enough to digest a single textbook chapter.

It’s almost impossible to retain anything more than that in one sitting. Do your brain a favor and break up assignments into 10-page chunks. This will give you enough time in between assignments to rest up and dive back in with fresh eyes.

4. Interact With The Material

Interacting with the material is one of the most effective reading strategies out there. According to the educational psychologist Francis P. Robinson, the more senses you use in storing your information, the better your retrieval and retention.

Take notes while going through the pages. You can also highlight important themes and concepts. This kind of visual note-taking makes complex information easier to digest and remember. This approach really forces you to pay attention to the text. It will also help you pick out the most important information on the page.

Are you thinking about going back to school as a non-traditional student? Ask yourself these four important questions before you begin.

5. Don’t Forget About Graphs and Diagrams

The last thing you want to do after reviewing complex textbook material is dive into charts, pictures, diagrams, and other illustrations. However, these data points are important. In some instances, particularly when it comes to STEM topics, these sections may actually be more valuable than the actual text.

Still Struggling? Enjoy These Additional Reading Strategies

taking notes can help improve memory and retention

Textbook navigation doesn’t always come easy. If you’re still struggling to retain class material, try executing some of the tips below.

1. Bring Your Notes to Class

Take notes on your reading assignment and bring them to class the next day. This will help prepare you for class discussions. It’s also a good way to gauge how your notes compare to information highlighted by your professor during the lesson. See how they compare to other materials as well, like the course syllabus, lecture notes, test questions, and more.

2. Read Outloud

We know, this one might make you feel a little silly. But we promise it works! According to a growing body of research, reading out loud can help adults improve memory and better understand complicated text information.

Colin MacLeod, a psychologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada, has dubbed this phenomenon the “production effect,” meaning reading written words out loud helps improve our memory of them.

3. Change Locations

Try moving around if you’re having a hard time getting through a certain section of your textbook. Trapping yourself into the same position will only make reading assignments more tedious. Studies have also found that increased mobility helps improve attention and speed up our cognitive function.

5. Utilize Additional Resources

Just because your textbooks are big, heavy, and expensive doesn’t mean they’re the only valuable resource around. If you’re having a hard time understanding the way the author worded something, feel free to review other texts.

The internet is a great place to find answers to any questions you may have. You can also lean on other students in your class by exchanging notes or forming a study group. If that doesn’t help, you can always contact student resources or look for a private tutor.

How to Take Notes From a Textbook

taking notes can help you remember important information

One of the best ways for a college student to enhance their reading comprehension is by taking notes on assigned material. This is especially important for instances in which the tests may cover more than the teacher has time to talk about in class. Review the list below for tips on how to take notes on textbook reading.

1. Don’t Write Everything Down

Research shows that paraphrasing information can help you learn and understand it better. Copying directly from the textbook may feel worthwhile, but the reality is it doesn’t do much to help improve your comprehension. When you take notes, it’s important you understand the information well enough to repeat it in your own words.

2. Use Headings to Create an Outline

The good thing about textbooks is that they present information in highly organized sections. Use this layout to your advantage. Pay attention to headings and subheadings, in particular. Pepper these terms into your outlines. Create a section for all terms listed in bold or italics as well.

Most of the time, this formatting is used to indicate important concepts and vocabulary words.

3. Try Taking Notes from Memory

Too often, students spend more time worrying about the quality of their notes than they do retaining the information in front of them. Try reading short sections of your assigned chapter. Pause and think about what you just read. Then, take notes based on what you remember. This will help you focus on core topics instead of getting caught up in the details.

4. Do Your Work in a Distraction-Free Zone

This one may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget just how many distractions we encounter on a daily basis. We all know note-taking shouldn’t be performed in front of the television, but you might want to avoid checking in on social media or listening to music as well.

Remember, you want the material to stick. Background noises can cause you to overlook important information. 

Opportunities at New England Tech

pay attention to pictures in each section of your textbook

At New England Tech, it’s our mission to see our students succeed. Our student support services are designed to meet your needs. Tutoring is available to help you ace your coursework, and you will have a student advisor assigned to you to help you stay on track for graduation and get you all the help you need as you get ready for your new career.


Earn your degree from NEIT and begin your new career path today!




Many of our programs are also designed to help working adults achieve their educational goals while taking care of responsibilities at home. They can be completed in as little as 18 months and may be delivered in the following formats:

  • Evening classes – or day class options for individuals who work at night
  • Weekend classes
  • Fully online for some degrees
  • Hybrid online/on campus – weekends or short residencies on campus per year

We offer programs across diverse fields to help you accomplish your career goals. Whether you’re looking for an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree, we’ve got you covered.


Earn your degree from NEIT and begin your new career path today!





How do you effectively read a textbook?

Research shows that reading out loud, paraphrasing information, and revisiting the text can help improve reading comprehension. It is also a good idea to discuss the material with other students during your lunch break or arrange to meet with your professor one on one after class.

Do you actually read college textbooks?

Reading textbooks efficiently doesn’t require you to read every single sentence. Pay attention to the most important information. You can figure out what’s worth reading by reviewing all headings, diagrams, and test questions listed at the end of each chapter.

Is reading a textbook a good way to study?

Reading your textbook is one way to study, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you do to prepare for exams. Take notes on your reading material, revisit important points highlighted in the text, review the test questions listed at the end of the chapter and discuss the material with your peers.