5 Simple Yet Effective Strategies To Study Your Textbooks Like a Whiz

Are you not making headway with your textbooks? Perhaps you’re not doing it right! Check out these effective strategies to get the most out of your revising.

Published 16 Feb 2021

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Have you flipped through the pages of your textbook in an attempt to study but alas, nothing seems to stick? We’re not surprised. Textbooks can be dry, tedious and full of detail. In fact, you sometimes don’t even know where to begin!

Worry not — there are few tricks that can help you get the most out of your reading material. Here are some strategies on how you can retain more information from your textbooks. Practise these and you’re all set!

#1. Choose books you can use instantly 

Comprehension is key when it comes to studying but the idea of reading a brick-sized textbook may throw you off. One way you can do this is by choosing books you can use instantly. This means ditching the textbook and getting bite-sized revision books that only present all the essential information needed.

With summarised content ready in point form, revision books allow you to search for points, pay attention and remember the materials easily as opposed to lengthy texts that’ll just drive you into slumberland. If you only have a textbook in hand, jump to the end of the chapter and look for the summary or conclusion to get a bigger picture before diving into the content. You’ll be able to retain information better once you have grasped the theme behind it.

#2. Create searchable notes 

Keep in mind that the most important thing is to store your notes where it’s searchable. If you’re reading your notes via PDF or other digital formats, highlight the passages and jot them down in a digital note-taking app like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote. You can also jot down the summary of the chapter and any additional notes to summarise the information. Writing them down in one platform helps you locate your notes easily.

As for traditional prints like textbooks or papers, highlight your passages then rewrite key points in the note app or a post-it note for future reference. Dog-ear pages or place post-it notes as a bookmark. Another option is to store key information on an index card book and categorise them by topics. This way, you can use it as a flashcard or search for specific topics in no time.


Make sure to read the entire text beforehand to avoid highlighting more than 20% of the passage. Otherwise, you’ll lose sight of the key elements!

#3. Combine knowledge trees 

Instead of gathering information from just one book, consider taking points from several related books and create a knowledge tree.

The idea is simple: draw a tree with the fundamental concept as the trunk and the details forming the branches. These details are information gathered from various sources, whether it’s a PDF journal, an article or a fun fact that reminds you of a topic. It’s a method that’s similar to a mindmap except you’re forming an even bigger picture.

For example, a business management student may need to read more than one book on the subject of marketing. Instead of taking notes from just one book, gather similar or related information and examples from each marketing book to create a larger mindmap. Connections like these help deepen your comprehension of a particular subject and enable you to remember what you’ve read.

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#4. Turn your notes into a summary

As soon as you finish a chapter, challenge yourself to summarise each subtopic in one paragraph, ideally in 6 sentences or less. This may sound difficult but gamifying your study method will force you to only consider the key elements.

To boot, ask some questions when summarising them (e.g what are the main themes, what are the major pieces of evidence, who said what). Try to fit in as much useful information so you can get benefit from reading your one-paragraph summary as if you read the entire book again. Writing them in your own words will also make it easier for you to recall information.

An alternative to this is the Feynman Technique. Hatched by physicist Richard Feynman, this technique allows you to explain what you’ve read in the most simplified way. Here’s how it works: write the name of the topic at the top of a blank sheet then write out everything you know as if you were teaching it to a child. Explaining the subject in simple sentences without jargon forces you to understand the concept on a deeper level.

Next is reviewing your notes to see if there are gaps in your understanding. If you’re stuck at explaining any points, go back to the material and re-learn it until you can explain in basic terms. Once done, run by it with someone who has some knowledge in the subject and see if they can understand your summary.

#5. Review your notes more than once

Whether it’s your textbook or revision notes, reading it twice will help you understand the text better.

Depending on the material covered, take at least 20 or 30 minutes out of your day to go through your notes and review the information you learned and recite the main points and topics. Each time you read the text, you’ll have a better understanding of the material and can recall it easily. According to psychology, doing the rehearsing method can help you store information from short term memory to long term memory.

To make it easier, make it a habit to spend 10 minutes every day reviewing the highlighted parts of your notes over and over again until the critical information is etched in your memory. This way, you’ll be more than prepared when D-day arrives!

There you have it — ways to get more out of each book you read. While reading and revising is crucial to your study process, keep in mind to take breaks in between to avoid burnout!

Can’t stand the heat of being under pressure? Here’s what you can do to maintain your cool and still perform better.

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    Nina Fazil

    Nina Fazil

    A work in progress — has been for the past 24 years.