Taking textbook notes is a chore. It’s tedious and boring and sometimes challenging, but hopefully these tips will help you improve your skill and shorten the time it takes you to do textbook notes!
Give yourself time: Realistically, you can’t knock out 30 pages of notes in 20 minutes. Take your time with textbook notes so they’re a good studying tool in the future. The general rule is to take how many pages you have to do and multiply it by 5: that’s how many minutes it’ll take you to do the notes.
- Also, divide you notes up into manageable chunks to increase your productivity. I am personally a huge fan of using pomodoro timers, and I adjust the intervals for however long I need to.
Skim before you start taking notes: If time is an issue, don’t read your 40 page in depth before even picking up a pen, but make sure you know what you’re reading about by skimming a bit ahead of your notes. Read over section titles, and look at charts, maps, or graphs. Writing and highlighting as you read the chapter for the first time isn’t effective because you don’t know if a sentence will be important or not, so make sure you’re reading a paragraph or section in advance before writing.
Use the format they give you in the book to help take your notes: In a lot of textbooks, there will be a mini outline before the chapter itself that shows all the headings and subheadings. Those will be your guidelines! I find this super helpful because long chapters can be daunting to go into without any structure. If you don’t have one of those, use the headings and subheadings provided for you. If you haven’t already been doing this, it will help you so much.
Read actively: It’s so easy to “read” a textbook without digesting any information, but that is the last thing you want to do. Not only does it make taking notes a million times harder, but you’ll be lost in class discussions because you didn’t understand the reading. To keep from passively reading, highlight, underline, star any important information in the book itself.
- Have a color coding system for highlighting or underlining and write down a key somewhere (here’s a few that you can adjust for your needs: x,x)
- Use sticky notes or tabs to mark any questions or important points to come back to
Summarize important information and paraphrase: When taking the actual notes, don’t copy down full sentences word for word. Not only does writing full sentences waste a lot of time, it’s not an effective way to learn. If you can paraphrase the information, then you understand it. It’s also easier to study notes which are in your own words instead of textbook academia writing.
Be selective: You shouldn’t be writing down every fact that comes up in your textbook. If a fact ties into the bigger topic and provides evidence, then it’s probably something to keep, but you don’t need every piece of supplemental information (but do make sure you always write down the vocab). Learn your teacher’s testing style to help you decide what to write down. Could this be on the quiz/test? If the answer is yes, make sure you write it down.
Learn to abbreviate: Just like writing full sentences, writing out full words will waste time. Implement some shortenings (make sure to use ones that you’ll understand later!) into your notes. Some common ones are: b/c=because, gov=government, w/o=without, and here’s a great list of a ton of examples of abbreviations and shortenings.
Answer margin and review questions: A lot of textbooks have margin questions on every page or so that sum up what’s really important about that information. Make sure not to skip them because they’re really helpful for understanding. Write them down and answer them clearly in your notes. Most textbooks also have review questions after the chapter that check for reading comprehension, so make sure to answer those because they’ll show you if you really understood the chapter.
Don’t skip over visual sources: Maps, diagrams, illustrations, charts, and any other visuals in textbooks are so helpful. If you’re a visual learner, these things will be so essential to you and how you understand what you’re reading. Charts, tables, and diagrams sometimes also summarize information, so if you’re a visual learner it might benefit you to copy those down instead of writing it out.
- Add visuals if it’ll help you: As said above, copying down charts, tables, illustrations, or diagrams can be super helpful for visual learners. They’re clear and concise, so pay attention to them.
Write your notes in a way that’s effective and makes sense to you: Mindmaps, Cornell notes, or plain outline notes are all really good forms of notetaking. Find which one works best for you to understand them and which one is most effective for your class, and use it (stuff on mindmaps and cornell notes).
Combine your class and textbook notes: If you rewrite your class notes, add in information you think is relevant from your textbook notes. Mark anything both your book and teacher said were important–you don’t want to forget any of that. If you don’t rewrite class notes, then put stars next to anything repeated.