4 Steps to Reading Your Textbook Effectively and Efficiently

Reading is definitely a huge part of learning, and there are almost no ways to avoid reading in college. If you are taking arts and humanity subjects, you will definitely understand the need of reading textbooks efficiently. By reading efficiently, it doesn’t simply mean finishing the reading fastly. It means you have to use the minimum amount of time to read and understand the text. A lot of people disregard the importance of understanding a text and simply go through the reading without having a big picture in their mind. In this week’s post, I am going to tell you how you can read a text in a way to actually understand the content well, and learn it well.

I have applied this method not only to textbooks but also to other readings like articles, law cases and more.

The Importance of Active Reading

You may have heard quite a lot of times about active learning on my blog because active learning is that important. You won’t be able to learn efficiently unless you actively learn – that you actively seek the knowledge, and is actually interested in learning about the topic. If you are thinking, ugh, I don’t even like studying, I just want to get things done as fast as I can. Then I am going to tell you, making yourself like learning is probably the fastest way to get things done. Because if you like doing something, time will pass without noticing.

Now here are some reading strategies that will increase your interest in learning and reading. They are the guide to reading textbooks efficiently.



To begin with, SQ3R is a famous reading strategy that helps you read actively and effectively. I have learned about this strategy when I was 10, and I have loved using it to read since then.

  • Survey: this is where you skim through the reading and generate interest and a sense of what is important.
  • Questions: ask yourself questions regarding the readings to generate interest.
  • Reading: read the text and make notes in the margin.
  • Recite: look up from the book and recall the information you have just read.
  • Review: you can now create a summary of the reading and try to apply the knowledge.

Throughout the years, I have used this strategy in a way that best suits my learning style. I have then created a reading system for myself to go through my academic readings. See the steps down below!

Steps to Reading Textbooks Efficiently


1. Preview the reading [S: Survey]

First of all, you should start off by having a clear outline in your mind on what the text is going to talk about. Having a big picture in mind can help you understand the framework of the text, and what the author is going to put forward (i.e. their main argument).

Find the Outline of the Text

  • Go to the back of the chapter because most textbooks should have a summary or a list of key terms, and they can give you an idea what the chapter is about.
  • Go to the content page to look at the topics covered in that chapter.
  • Skim the headings and questions of the chapter.
  • Read the introduction and summary of the text.

When previewing the content, I like mapping out the outline on a post-it note, and stick it in front of me when reading. As I read, I will know where I am at, and what the author has/has not covered.

Ask Yourself Questions

After that, I will ask myself questions regarding the readings to trigger my interest and understand what I want to know. Typically, the questions include:

  • Why does the author propose this argument?
  • How can the argument be applied in real-life context?
  • How is this argument related to the topic?


2. Read and Annotate the Text [R: Reading]

I love color-coding everything because I want to make sure different things stand out. When I go back to the reading, I can quickly find out the things I need to know. With annotating, I am also actively learning because I am actively organizing the information and differentiating what is important and what is not. This makes the reading much more organized in my mind, and I can know exactly what the author is writing about.

Here is how I take notes and annotate on a reading.

Get the FREE CHECKLIST PRINTABLE on textbook reading strategies and tips for college, high school, middle school students! - I talked about how to utilize SQ3R and make reading notes here || 4 Steps to Reading Your Textbook Effectively and Efficiently from Students Toolbox

  • I like highlighting in different colors, each means different things.
    • Pink: thesis, main arguments
    • Orange: headings
    • Yellow: anything I deemed important that doesn’t fall within the other categories
    • Green: keywords and definitions
    • Blue: examples
    • Purple: names and authorities
  • I also like writing the key idea in blue on the margins and organize my thoughts there.
  • Sometimes I draw mini mindmaps and flowcharts in the margins
  • If I want something to stand out, I may circle them.

Taking outline notes (Optional)

After annotating the text, I may do outline notes for the chapter if I find it necessary. This is usually when:

  • I am going to have a tutorial discussion on that reading, and I need a summary to guide my thoughts
  • There is a need to write an essay on that reading
  • I have a lot of arguments regarding the reading and would like to organize my thoughts in the outline notes.

I use Cornell note-taking method in OneNote, which is similar to the one I showed in my note-taking methods here.

Outline Notes for Readings - How I may my outline notes using the Cornell note-taking method for academic articles
Outline Notes on a chapter of the textbook for my political philosophy class.


3. Recall the information [R: Recite]

After finishing reading and organizing the text, I usually spend a short amount of time thinking about what I have just read, and the flow of the reading. I may look at my outline and recall all the information, or just put it down and think about it. Alternatively, I can teach myself the entire reading out loud – this is a very effective method if you want to remember the reading thoroughly, and it definitely is one step that helped me to read textbooks efficiently.


4. Making a short summary on note cards [R: Review]

Next, I will summarize the outline notes onto index cards (as shown in the above infographic). In this step, I usually would cover my notes and try to write out all that I can remember. This can check if I actually understand and remember the content. Here is what I made after I have finished the above outline notes.

Note card summary for readings

I will only write out keywords or important clues. The major function of this note card is to remind me of what the chapter is about. When I look at this notecard in the future, I would be able to recall the key information of the reading.

One thing you can do as well is to think about the questions you have asked to yourself previously, and then try to answer them. This can check whether reading the article actually enhanced your understanding!


Free Reading Checklist Printable

Want to use the SQ3R technique and the above steps when you read? This printable is made for you! I have summarized everything mentioned above, plus a few extra tips in this printable to guide you through the reading process. Make sure to download it for your reference!

Get the FREE CHECKLIST PRINTABLE on textbook reading strategies and tips for college, high school, middle school students! - I talked about how to utilize SQ3R and make reading notes here || 4 Steps to Reading Your Textbook Effectively and Efficiently from Students Toolbox

After downloading, do comment down below or write a review for the product to tell me if it’s useful so that I can make more helpful materials for you! 🙂


Key Takeaways

  • Using the SQ3R reading strategy can help you read actively, which allows you the absorb the information faster!
  • When you read, the first step is to preview the text, then ask yourself some questions to increase your interest regarding the article.
  • Next, you should read the text actively by taking notes in the margin and highlighting your text.
  • After that, recall the information you have read from the text, either by teaching yourself the content or by reciting key information you have just read.
  • Finally, review the questions you have asked yourself before and see if you can answer them. Then, write a summary of the article on a piece of note card or paper.
  • By doing so, you have actively learned the entire material, and you can retain the information. Not only that, you are actually spending less time to study the readings!


Now It’s Your Turn!

The method may seem to take a lot of time, but with this method, you can focus much better and understand the text well. So in the long run, you are actually using less time because you won’t have to re-read the whole thing again, or you are less likely to procrastinate while reading. Therefore, I find this a great strategy to help me to read textbooks efficiently.


How do you read normally? And do you find this SQ3R strategy and my reading method helpful? Let me know in the comments below!

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