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How to Take Notes From a Textbook (That You’ll Actually Understand)

This article has been syndicated to Her Campus from The Everyday Elegance by Courtney Kincaid, a Her Campus Blogger Network member. Read the full post here.

When I first started college, I never voluntarily read a textbook. Seriously. My grades, of course, reflected this decision. It was mainly because I honestly had no idea how to read a textbook in a way where I would understand and remember what I was reading.

Textbooks are overwhelming. Nothing about textbooks is fun. So when you have professors assign readings, sometimes from multiple textbooks, it’s easy to become discouraged and want to blow it off. That’s how it was for me, until I learned the best method for understanding your textbook and save you time later when you are studying for tests. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn how to take notes in a way that will help you absorb the information and reduce your stress later on!

1. Outline your textbooks

At the beginning of every chapter, there is an outline. It’s an overview of what the contents of the chapter are, the titles of the sections, and sometimes, any key terms from the chapter. This is a goldmine. When you take the time to do this as you have readings assigned to you, the week before a test doesn’t seem as stressful anymore.

2. Color code your notes

As you go through reading your textbook, highlight key phrases and words that stand out to you. However, you don’t want to highlight each piece of information with the same color. This is why color coding is so important. If you highlight information in all the same color, it is easy for your brain to get confused and overwhelmed. When you color code your notes, your brain visually understands what the information is at a glance. Here is how I break down my notes:

Pink = Definitions or defining information (some of my textbooks don’t put information in the margins or a glossary)
Blue = Statistics (percentages, case studies, etc)
Green = Quotes (This is mainly for my textbooks. Social work books tend to quote a lot of people for a number of different reasons and these end up on exams.)
Yellow = Any other miscellaneous information (this could be key points you know will be on an exam or are mentioned on your PowerPoints. Just make sure the information doesn’t fall under any other category)

The most important thing about color coding is consistency. If you are inconsistent with your colors, you will eventually get confused. So pick your colors according to your needs for the class and stick to it! Also remember, you don’t need to highlight every single word. If you do it correctly, you won’t be highlighting everything.

3. Transition your highlighted information into your notebook

This is the part where you actually start taking notes. You’ve just taken your textbook and highlighted the information you know to be important. You’ve also outlined your chapter. So starting with the first heading, begin creating your outline in your notebook.

Read the full post here.

Alice is the Senior Associate Editor at Her Campus. She graduated from Emory University in 2012 as an English major and a Dance minor. Before joining Her Campus, she was an associate editor at Lucky Magazine. She is currently located in Salt Lake City, UT, where she spends her free time rescuing orphaned kittens, whose lives are documented on Instagram at @thekittensquad! You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @alicefchen.