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How To Take Great Study Notes From A Textbook (& Common Mistakes To Avoid)

Student sitting on floor with laptop and textbook.

Have you ever finished a chapter in a textbook, only to realize you don’t remember anything you just read? While you technically finished what was assigned, none of the information actually stuck.

The solution? Taking notes while you read!

Taking notes while reading is a great strategy to ensure you’re grasping and retaining material from your textbook. Plus, it helps make reviewing for a test or exam much easier.

Keep reading to learn how to take effective study notes from a textbook and what note-taking mistakes you should avoid.

How To Take Great Textbook Notes

Before You Start

  1. Review Your Assigned Reading List
  2. Review your list of assigned readings and double-check to make sure you’re reading and taking notes from chapters that have been assigned.

  3. Create An Outline
  4. Before you start writing down your notes, skim the chapter or assigned pages. Be sure to read the introduction and the conclusion so you have an idea of the topics that will be covered.

    As you skim through, write down the headings and subheadings (using an outline method), leaving plenty of room under each to write your notes. This will keep you organized and focused as you read and create your notes.

    Steps For Taking Notes As You Read

  5. Always Start From The Beginning
  6. Start from the beginning of the chapter/assigned pages. The beginning usually has information that you will need to understand more specific concepts later in the chapter.

  7. Read One Section At A Time
  8. Instead of reading the whole chapter at once, take it one section at a time. A section is a chunk of information, usually under a heading. Breaking your reading up into chunks makes it much easier to digest the information.

  9. Use Your Memory To Start Your Notes
  10. Once you have read a section, close your book and fill in the key points on the outline you made before you started. Working from memory will help make sure you paid attention to what you were reading and helps you recall the information later when studying.

  11. Add Important Details
  12. Open your book, skim the section again, and add any important information you missed when writing from memory. This helps make sure your notes are accurate.

  13. Repeat For All Sections
  14. Repeat this process for all of the sections in your assigned reading, until you have a complete set of notes. Take breaks between sections to help keep focused while reading.

  15. Summarize The Reading
  16. Write a few sentences at the end of your notes to summarize what the chapter was about. When reviewing for a test, reading your summary will help trigger your memory for the concepts covered in that chapter.

    How To Make Your Notes Even Better

  17. Color-Code Your Notes
  18. Color-coding your notes is a great way to organize information. Use different colored highlighters to go back and label key details. For example, you could use one color for important terms, one for important dates, and one for important people.

    Using a consistent color-code system helps when it comes time to study for a test. You will be able to quickly locate important information in your notes!

  19. Use Doodles, Diagrams, Or Shapes
  20. Use visual cues throughout your notes to help you make sense of the information. Draw pictures in the margins and use diagrams and charts to illustrate key concepts.

  21. Annotate Your Notes
  22. Write in the margins or use sticky notes to add extra information to your notes. Write down questions you would like to ask your teacher, key terms and concepts to remember, ideas and connections, and review questions for studying.


Common Textbook Note-Taking Mistakes To Avoid

  1. Copying Notes Word-For-Word
  2. Writing information from the textbook word-for-word doesn’t encourage you to think about what you have read. Writing down ideas in your own words ensures you understand the information from the textbook.

  3. Writing Too Much Or Too Little
  4. A common note-taking mistake is writing down every tiny detail from the textbook. Writing too much information in your notes is time-consuming and makes it hard to take away key ideas.

    On the other hand, not writing enough detail may not help you remember the information, making studying later on much more difficult. Focus on the key takeaways and make sure to write down important people, places, dates, and terms.

  5. Writing Notes While Distracted
  6. Although it’s tempting to take notes from your textbook while doing something else (like watching TV or listening to music), writing out notes while distracted isn’t ideal. First, the information probably won’t ‘stick’. Second, you might miss writing down important information. Commit to taking your notes in a distraction-free zone so you can get the most out of your time.


Don’t Wait Until The Last Minute To Start Studying

Don’t wait until the night before your test to start reading your textbook. Plan your time so you can tackle smaller chunks of your book and retain more of the information.

Save yourself the last-minute cramming and use the tips above to start writing great notes you can return to later for studying.
For more study help, check out some of our other resources:
6 Good Study Habits Every Successful Student Has
The Benefits Of Self-study (And How Your Child Can Use It)

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