How to Take Notes from a Textbook
Effective Note Taking is Important
Do you wonder how to do better in class? Wish you could remember what you read? What is effective note taking and how can you do it? As a professor at a private University, I often see students studying hard, but not really learning effectively.
Whether you are reading a textbook or listening to a lecture, you won't remember everything unless you do something to help keep the main points in your mind. Moreover, you can't possibly study for the test or final by re-reading everything. How you take notes makes all the difference in how you study. I can actually usually tell how well students will do in their classes just by looking at their notes. Here are tips on taking great notes.
Tip #1 Write it down
Whether you use a phone, an iPad, a laptop, a phone, or paper and pencil, you need to write down what you are thinking as you read as well as make notes of what it is important to remember later. Three great ways to do this are:
- Using highlighters (see video below).
- Underline and write your thoughts in the margins of the book (or highlight on your iPad).
- Take notes on a separate sheet of paper (or on a computer).
I use each of these techniques in different situations depending on what I will need to do with the reading later. The technique which helps you remember the most is writing separate notes about the main ideas of the passage and your own comments while underlining important examples/quotes you might use later in a paper.
9 More Note Taking TipsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Tip #2: Have a Plan for How to Take Notes
Taking notes in an organized way will help you remember better and also help you to study for your exams. Here are some ways to organize your note taking:
- Read with a pen/pencil and notebook/ iPad/ computer.
- Underline topic sentences—the main idea of each paragraph. If no single sentence in the paragraph tells the main idea, then write a summary sentence in the margins (or in a notebook).
- Use a different way of marking good quotes or examples (highlighter, double underline or wiggly underline are examples). Do this sparingly and not at all until you have a very good idea of your paper topic.
- Circle words you don’t know and look them up and write the definition in the margin or iPad etc. This isn't a waste of time because it helps you to fully understand what you read. It is a part of studying. You might also circle things you don't understand and write questions to ask in class--that will not only teach you something but might make you look smart to the professor.
- Use your initials to write your own ideas down in the margins (or in notebook/laptop). These notes may remind you of places you disagreed with the writer or looked at the subject from a different perspective. These may also point you to your own essay topics.
- Double-log entry. This is another technique which helps you to separate your notes about what the text says and what your thoughts are about that text. You take a sheet of paper (or a computer screen) and divide it in half. On one side, you write your notes about what is in the book. On the other half, you write your thoughts and analysis.
- Don't forget that you can also ask questions on your notes.
Take Notes Effectively
What is a Summary?
A summary tells the main idea of the text. A summary is shorter than the original and doesn't add your own ideas.
Tip #3: Finish with a Summary
After you have taken notes or annotated in your book, you may want to write a summary of what you have read in order to help you remember it.
When do you use a summary in your essays?
- You summarize your own ideas in your thesis sentence and topic sentences of each paragraph.
- You often summarize another writer’s work to show how it supports your argument, or when you want to argue against that author’s ideas.
- Summaries are especially useful because you can condense a lot of information into a short space.
How do you summarize?
- Find the topic sentence in each paragraph and underline.
- If no one sentence states the topic (or if the author is being ironic) then write a sentence which does in the margin.
2. Summarizing longer works like Essays or books:
- During your first reading, you want to get the main idea of the essay. To figure out the main idea, you should ask yourself why this essay was written and published. Clues to help determine this are the title; the place it was published, which can help you determine the intended audience; the date of publication; the type of essay; the tone of the piece; and ideas which seem to be repeated throughout.
- During your second reading, look for the thesis sentence or write out a thesis sentence for the piece.
- Underline a topic sentence for each paragraph or write a sentence in the margins or on notebook paper for each paragraph.
- The thesis and topic sentences should be the basis for your summary but you will need to restate these sentences in your own words if you did not do so as you read.
- In addition, you want to make the summary as short and concise as possible. So you will condense sentences and leave out unimportant details and examples. Stick to the important points.
- Your summary should start with the author’s name and the title of the work.
Tip #4 Remember Note Taking is Study
Remember, you aren't wasting your time taking notes. Every time you make a decision that something is important enough to write down or underline, you are repeating that information in your head as you think about it, re-read it ,and write it in your own words in a paraphrase or summary.
College English 101
Tip #5 Take Notes To Help you Concentrate
Whether it is a lecture or a textbook, it is easy to fall asleep or let your mind wander. When you really want to understand what you read, you often need to do more than just pass your eyes over the text. Effective reading means you concentrate on trying to understand the text and then you use a system of underlining, annotating, summarizing and note taking in order to help you:
- Remember what you read.
- Analyze what you read.
- Keep a written record of your reading so that you don't have to re-read.
- Help you start to analyze what you are reading.