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At the foundation of almost any college class is the textbook. Perhaps the first step toward a comprehensive reading of a textbook is to have faith that, if you let it, it will offer up something valuable for you: knowledge, insight, inspiration, surprises, and/or a doorway into greater self-awareness.
You must remember however that reading a textbook is not a passive activity. You can’t just open the cover and expect that information will pour forth into your brain like liquid flowing from one vessel into another. Indeed, a textbook needs to be attacked actively. This means that the second step toward cracking a text is a well-conceived study strategy.
Below is a three-phase textbook study strategy that will help you gain as much as you can from your school books.
Phase One: Orientation
Before you begin reading the text assignment, take a moment to prepare yourself for what you are about to encounter. Like a long distance runner, you need to warm up—stretch out, assess the course, and know what to expect. Follow these simple warm up exercises.
Phase Two: An Active Reading of the Assignment
One major point cannot be stressed enough in this section: reading is an active endeavor requiring that you get involved in the communication process. One of the best ways to do this is to engage yourself in a dialogue with the author. Imagine that he is in the room with you as you read; questions him, challenge him, try to anticipate his next move, and summarize his key points as you read.
The best way to begin this dialogue process is to turn the heading of each section into a question and allow your mind to determine logical follow-up questions. For example, your history of the Middle Ages textbook might have a heading that reads, “Organization of Medieval Villages: The Manor.” Your question before you begin reading may be stated as “In what ways did the manor serve as an organizer for Medieval villages?” Now let your mind speculate on this question; undoubtedly numerous follow-up questions will logically emerge: “How did a manorial organization evolve?” “What is the structure of the manor?” “What was life like in the manor?” “What roles did the peasants play in the manor?” “Who ruled the manor?” “How were rules enforced?” “What were the relationships between the villagers and the rulers of the manor?” “What was everyday life like in the manor?”
Although not all of these questions will necessarily be answered in the reading, the fact that you are actively focusing your mind on the topic will keep your reading active. Look for answers, continually frame questions, be hard on the author by demanding a response to your inquires. It is this kind of active reading that will keep you involved and stimulated.
At the end of each section you may want to take a moment to ask two important review questions: 1. What is the main point of what you just read? 2. How is this main point supported? If the answers to these questions aren’t immediately evident, perhaps you need to reread the section. This kind of spot check will work as an antidote to a reading disease call “message hypnotism.” No doubt you’ve experience it; the eyes keep working, time passes, and you move further down the page only to discover that you have no idea what you’ve read.
Active reading also requires you to use your text aggressively. Yes, your texts are very expensive and they deserve your respect, but they are tools for you to use, so go ahead and mark them, write in them, color them if you want to, but use them. All good students develop a system of marking their texts so they can review the material later for tests. This is an important skill so be sure to check out Textbook Note Taking.
Phase Three: The Self-Lecture
At the end of your reading assignment, it is important that you solidify the material by reviewing it in its totality. One effective way to do this is to present a self-lecture. Here you imagine that you are the instructor (model yourself after your favorite teacher) and present a mini-lecture on the material you have just learned. Keep in mind some simple but important mini-lecture guidelines: