You always hear your high school teachers warning you about college and professors, or at least, I did. They liked to list off lots of things that my professors wouldn’t tolerate. Some professors turned out to be this way, and others turned out to be just like your college peers. They like to cancel class, allow you to turn in assignments late depending on the reason, and sometimes they’re late to their own classes.
One thing my high school teachers always warned me about that I didn’t fully comprehend until college is the skill of note-taking. Everyone is different, but in my high school, a lot of teachers did the notes for you. They gave you fill in the blank pages, expected you to copy directly from slides, etc., etc. I’m sure everyone has different experiences, but this did not reflect my college classes.
I remember taking an organic chemistry class one semester, and it took me a couple of months to figure out that my professor was not going to spell out the principles for me. He simply showed example after example without ever slowing down to see if people were comprehending how the problems were being solved. This was an extreme example of how difficult it can be to take notes, but I did learn that note-taking was going to be completely up to me. I want to talk about a couple of tips and apps that may help you while you’re trying to find your way through the art of note-taking. Obviously, some examples will work better for some classes. However, knowing different strategies is going to help you better recognize how your professors present the information allowing you to better record what they find important.
Utilizing the Textbook
Ninety-nine percent of the time, professors are going to expect you to do some kind of reading ahead of time. You’re not spending nearly as much time in class as you did in high school which means you’re going to be learning a lot of things on your own outside of class. What this means is that you need to learn how to read from a textbook which for some, can be incredibly difficult. My husband can read something in his head or out loud and completely miss what he had just read. My best style of learning is actually reading the material, but even I found myself daydreaming sometimes while trying to focus on material that I had no interest in (cough cough generals).
So here are some tips to help you get the most out of your weekly readings.
Tips on How to Read a Textbook Well
Like it or not, reading a textbook well requires expended effort
If you’re going to spend the time reading the textbook, take the time to read it well. When I was studying in school, sometimes professors would leave little “quizzes” that merely consisted of whether or not you had read what you were supposed to. I never really felt like I could lie about it, and so I often found myself speed-reading through assignments without taking in any information. I know that it’s really easy for me, as an already graduated adult, to tell you to actually skip out on other activities in order to devote enough time learning from a textbook, but it’s worth investing the time. When I actually worked to learn from the textbook, I often found the information more interesting too.
I’ve never been into chemistry. My high school chemistry teacher was engaged, and she never planned on teaching again. All I can remember from that class was sitting at her desk with some of the other girls looking at her engagement photos while chaos ensued amongst other students behind me. Organic chemistry wasn’t easy for me nor did I like the subject, but I HAD to put in a ton of effort or I was definitely going to fail that class. Interestingly enough, by the end of the semester, I loved the class and it remains one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken to this day. Put in the mental effort and energy. It’s worth it.
Try some new types of effort while reading
To go along with the idea of putting forth some mental effort while reading, try exercising while studying. A lot of student apartment complexes have gyms. I used to take my textbook with me to the gym and read while sitting on a stationary bike. Obviously, you can’t exactly do CrossFit while studying, and I often had a real workout later on. However, the simple act of pushing those pedals around made me healthier as well as getting some extra blood to my brain. Your memory actually improves if you’re moving while trying to memorize. And while you won’t be memorizing the textbook, you’ll still have a lot more recall.
You can also do a “fun” little game with flashcards. For every flashcard you get wrong, you have to do x amount of push-ups or sit-ups. Maybe you’ll think it’s fun like I do, or maybe you’ll just think I’m crazy. Either way, it’s a healthy way of studying.
Do the opposite of exercising while reading
Eat. Lay the textbook down on your desk or on the floor and place a single M&M on different words throughout the page. Whenever you make it to that word, you get to eat the M&M. It’s like getting a pat on the back for reading. Except way better because it’s an M&M.
Pro-tip: Use gummy bears. They’re even better than M&M’s.
If you’re not looking to gain the freshman fifteen and M&M’s are off the table, try chewing gum. A study was published in the UK that chewing gum while studying improves short term and long term memory. In the study, gum-chewers scored 24% higher than their counterparts in immediate recall. The gum-chewers scored 36% higher in long-term memory recall. So that’s a pretty easy way to remember things.
Headings are my favorite
Headings really are my favorite.
Pay attention to the headings of each paragraph. When I first started my attempts at reading textbooks to gather information, I found that I often got lost in reading all of the text. I couldn’t make connections or keep things organized while reading. It all sort of blended into each other. That was the case until I actually started to pay attention to the headers.
In a physics class I took, I remember reading how to solve various types of problems. The text would explain why formulas worked and where they had come from to help the student grasp the formulas better. However, it was all jumbling together for me. I couldn’t separate the different formulas until I started paying attention to the headers. I was then able to draw better connections between the formulas and what they were for. For example, a really big header might read “Formulas for Motion.” Then there will be several smaller headers for different formulas for motion. It seems like such a simple concept, and maybe i’m just ridiculous for not figuring it out earlier, but those headers will really help you keep things separated and neat in your memory.
Write stuff down (and more headings!)
Write stuff in a notebook. Writing things down helps engage multiple parts of your brain which means that the information is going to stay there longer. It also means that you’re going to keep the information better organized and be able to draw upon it for a test. The best way I found to take notes while reading a textbook was to write the headers. Imagine that. Write the headers down, and then write a couple of key points from the actual text information. Once again, it’ll keep you organized and help you make connections between what you’re reading in comparison to simply writing down unrelated random facts.
Listening instead of reading
If you have an extremely hard time learning while you’re reading the textbook, sometimes an eBook version will read the text aloud to you. Following along while listening is crucial because trust me, your mind isn’t going to stay on topic while a computer is reading to you. However, some people just learn better listening in comparison to reading. If there is no eBook version to read aloud to you, you can actually record your own voice reading the text and then listen back to it. This takes a lot of time obviously, but if you’re really struggling in a class with a professor who is bad at lecturing, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Reading the text is important in college. There’s really no getting around it. Simply put, you don’t have enough time in class in order to get all the information you need for the class. Your lectures aren’t going to cover it (pun intended). It’s worth learning how to read a textbook well. It’s going to make your college experience a lot easier if you set yourself up with these skills.