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Tips for Taking Good Notes When Reading a Textbook

By Meaghan Montrose

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One of the most common things you are asked to do in school is to read a textbook and take notes. Though it seems straightforward, taking good notes can be difficult. Here are some tips to follow to help you stay focused and take effective notes:

1. Eliminate all distractions.

Turn off music. (Some people may find classical music playing low in the background helpful, but in general music is a distraction) Turn off your computer and cell phone. Find a quiet part of the house to work.

2. Be prepared.

Have all of your supplies with you and at arms length so you don’t have to keep getting up. Gather together your book, pens and pencils, highlighter, and notebook. It will also be helpful to have things like a glass of water and tissues so you don’t have any excuses to leave to get something.

3. Use pre-read strategies.

Before you jump right in to reading and taking notes, skim over the entire section that you will be reading. Read all of the headings. Look at the pictures and diagrams. Read any captions. Read any focus questions or summary questions contained in the section. Doing this will prepare your mind for what you are going to read. This will get you focused on the objectives of the section and make it easier for you to pick out the important information.

4. Work with small chunks.

When you are reading to start taking notes, read a small part (usually a paragraph or two) of the section. (Many textbooks break the chapter into smaller subheadings) After you read the paragraph, think about it and decide what the main point is. Put that main point in your own words and write it down.

5. Be brief.

The purpose of notes is to have a shorthand version of the material in the textbook. When you are writing notes avoid using full sentences. Try using bullets and phrases instead. It is also a good idea to use abbreviations when possible. (For instance if you are writing about a government, you can write “gov” instead. Feel free to invent your own abbreviations,just make sure you will remember what it means.)

6. Leave room.

Keep some extra space between topics in your notes. There may be more information that you want to add in later when you read the next section or when you have discussions in class. One strategy is to fold your notes page in half and only write your notes from the textbook on the left side of the page. When you get into class and your teacher gives notes, you can add extra information on the right hand side of the page.

7. Make it personal.

Everyone has their own learning style so it is important your notes fit your style. Write things down in your own words and choose an outlining or note-taking format that feels natural to you. This will make the process of taking notes easier and make it more meaningful to you. If you are a visual learner, one suggestion is to use different colored pens and or highlighters to group similar topics in your notes together. (For example, all of the pros of the Civil War are in blue and all of the cons are in red.)

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