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Taking Notes

Taking Notes from Textbooks & Course Readings

In this section, we'll focus on reading strategies to help you understand textbook content and other course readings, and we'll introduce you to different methods to help you take notes.

College textbooks can cover lots of complicated or highly technical information. Simply reading through your texts will not be enough for you to retain the information and build connections between content—you'll need to use active reading techniques and engage with the text as you take your notes.

Watch the video below for a quick introduction to active reading!

What is Active Reading?

Watch this video to learn about active reading techniques that can help you learn material.

10 Tips for Active Reading

It's easy to read an entire chapter of your textbook or assigned readings—but how well do you remember what you just read?

Active reading involves thinking, questioning, writing, summarizing, reflecting, and talking out loud as you read—it takes effort to stay focused and avoid being passive while reading new information.

Here are 10 active reading tips to try out:

  1. Link what you read to your current knowledge: Have you read about this topic before? Do you have lived experience with this topic? Are you reading something that confirms or changes what you thought about this topic? Noting how new information can change or support your views can make it more relevant while studying.
  2. Look for themes, patterns, and relationships in your readings: How do thoughts and ideas connect with each other in your textbook or between assigned readings? Noting similarities can help you understand the big picture when it comes to new topics.
  3. Use images to help you remember information: If strong visuals help you understand new topics in class, chances are you'll find them helpful when taking notes from your course readings! Try using Concept Mapping to draw connections between key ideas.
  4. Take the text and summarize it in your own words: After reading a chapter in your textbook, try to explain the topic in a way that makes the most sense to you. You could even try explaining the topic to a friend or family member to see how well you can summarize ideas in your own words.
  5. Ask questions while you read: Don't accept everything you read without asking questions—check out the Library's guide on Evaluating Sources to learn what kinds of questions you should ask while reading.
  6. Ask questions before you start reading: Asking questions before you read can help you guide your reading. For students writing research essays, you often need to start by asking questions about a topic to keep you focused on the exact answers you're trying to find (and to help you avoid getting off topic while reading!)
  7. Look up new or unfamiliar words and terms: If you come across a word or term you don't understand, look up the definition and make sure you understand the word before you move on.
  8. Make connections between your readings and your class notes: As you work through your assigned readings, refer back to your class notes. How did your professor frame their discussion of the topic? What were the key things your professor wanted you to understand, and how do your course readings support or contradict those perspectives?
  9. Create your own examples of a new concept: Creating your own example to explain a new concept can help you remember the key parts of that new idea—this is especially important if you need to write about it in an upcoming exam or assignment!
  10. Reflect on why this new information is important: You should make connections between your own life, the industry you want to join, and the wider world—why do these ideas matter to people? How might they affect how people solve problems? Look for ways to connect your course readings back to the world outside of the classroom.