How to use your textbook to study

So you’re studying for finals. What exactly are you supposed to study? Is there a study guide? What DID you learn this year? Once you have a big-picture plan for tackling all your finals, it’s time to dust off that textbook – yes, the one made from dead trees – and use it to study.

Textbooks can be some of the driest and most challenging reading that we encounter in school. Did you know that many textbooks are written at a reading level higher than the students they’re written for? You may have a 7th grade history book that is written at a high school level. Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me!

But even if reading the textbook is not your favorite way to learn, the textbook can be a great resource when you’re getting ready for exams.I’m going to talk about a few different ways you can use your textbook to study for final exams.

Table of contents

First, use the table of contents. If your class this year has pretty much followed the textbook, then the chapter headings and subheadings are your first stop for a to-do list for what to study. Your teacher may give you a study guide that has more specific information but the table of contents is a great place to start. Make a list of important topics from the table of contents to cross off topics as you cover them.

One way to figure out how much you know about the topic is to ask yourself for each chapter title and heading, “What is the most important thing I need to know about ___?” You could list each heading on a section of notebook paper and under it list each fact that you think is important to remember. This will give you a baseline for what you know. When you open the book you will likely find out there’s more to it than you remembered but you will want to measure what you actually know and that will help you plan how much to study.

End of chapter questions

Textbooks often have questions that are written at the end of each section or each chapter. Some teachers use these questions as homework assignments or assessments for students. Especially if your teacher has not used these questions and you haven’t answered them before, getting ready for your final is a great time to try to answer them. Like you did with the chapter headings, answer as many of them as you can from memory but especially take note of the ones you aren’t able to answer without looking back in the book. Those facts are where you’re going to need to spend some time studying.

Bold vocabulary words

Your textbook likely has some key vocabulary words that are in bold throughout the chapter. They may also be listed at the beginning or end of the chapter and they will almost certainly be defined in a glossary at the end of the book. Make sure that you know these terms and that you can use each one in a sentence that talks about the content of the class.

Maps, tables, and charts

Sometimes these visuals in your textbook are a supplement to the content in the paragraphs, meaning they don’t give you any new or key information that you need to remember. Sometimes they’re there to illustrate an example or a point. Other times, they are there to highlight the importance of a certain piece of information. Use maps to help you answer questions about – obviously – countries, borders, cities, and other geographical features. Also use maps to help you develop answers to why questions:

  • Why did Germany invade Poland?
  • Why were the ancient Greeks sailors?
  • Why does the US export corn?

Looking at the geography of a place can help you better understand the people who lived there. Charts and tables are visual ways of presenting data. For some people, these are better ways of understanding the information and remembering it than reading sentences that say the same thing. If your textbook has charts and graphs, try to figure out what you can learn from them.

Supplemental textbook resources

Newer textbooks often have related websites or digital study tools that can be great resources as you study for your final exam. Look for website links in the introduction to the textbook or in the end of the chapter review materials. Also, check your teacher’s website for links to online textbook tools.

Read it

Sometimes you will actually have to read a chapter in your textbook. This is especially true if you haven’t kept up with the reading lately or if you haven’t done well on some of the quizzes. But don’t try to sit down and read straight through one or more chapter. Use the tips above to organize your reading and read each section and subsection with a question in mind. If your reading doesn’t answer the question, you might need to read again. And take notes or explain to someone what you learned right after you read it, so it doesn’t disappear! You can even make a video or audio recording on your phone of you summarizing what you read that you can play back later.

Weightlifting

In some classes, the teacher seems to actively avoid teaching from the textbook. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how schools work: sometimes teachers are required to use a certain textbook because the school or state picked it or because the teacher who taught before them chose it. So you have to think about whether the textbook has actually been a tool for learning in this class. If your teacher often use other resources, like articles videos and class discussions, then the textbook may not give you a great foundation for studying for this exam. In that case, feel free to use your textbook during study breaks for some bicep curls or some overhead presses. Getting some physical activity in the middle of long study sessions will help your brain work better and help your body feel better after sitting in your study seat for a few hours.

To find out more, check out my video, coming soon to YouTube: How to use your textbook to study

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use your textbook to study
How to use your textbook to study

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