Make the Most of Your Books!

October 3rd, 2013 by tstjohn

Welcome to college, where your professors assign textbooks that you pay hundreds of dollars for and never open. Not once. Right?

Wrong. If a professor assigns a textbook, there must be good reason. It’s what you choose to do or not do with that textbook that makes the difference.

If you have books that you feel you have no use for, keep reading. I have found textbooks are great for a multitude of reasons. If you feel that you really value your books, well, keep reading anyways. You may learn something new! Below I share with you some great ways to get the most out of the money you spent for your books.

Attention to Details

Ever notice how your textbooks in high school had bold-faced print on terms that were critical as well as a definition on that same page or in the back section called the “glossary?” Well, as you may have found out, college books aren’t always so explicit. Go through your books and familiarize yourself with how each is set up. Some may just contain pages of nothing but text. Others may have pictures, graphs, bold text, and sample problems. Getting to know your books and how they are organized is the first step in knowing how to make them useful.

When You Read Can Make a Difference

Many professors assign in their syllabi what chapters should be read for what lectures. Use that more as a guideline rather than a definitive assignment (unless your professor also provides quizzes each class, a case in which you will want to abide by your syllabus).  I have found that reading after a lecture helps the material sink in better since I have already been acquainted with the material. Textbooks generally prescribe in-depth detail that professors may not go over in class or even use for exams. In order to avoid any confusion as to what the professor is trying to teach you, try waiting to read after class. Then you can focus more on the topics the professor emphasized and touch upon the finer details without overwhelming yourself.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Does your book have pictures, graphs, tables, diagrams, or any other figures? If yes, then pay attention! Much thought goes into selecting the most appropriate figures in textbooks. Many texts are written by people with doctorate degrees or who have taught. These people wouldn’t place a figure in your book they didn’t find educational value in! Pay attention to figures and images as well as tables. Read any captions that go along with them and look for any extra descriptions of them within the main body of text. Pictures and images are very useful, especially for visual learners. Use them as examples rather than just things to spice up the page.


Highlighting is NOT Enough

When reading for a class, you may find yourself highlighting words, statements, sentences, or even paragraphs that you find important. Good for you for picking out important parts. But why are these parts highlighted? Highlighting a book takes little to know effort at all. Make sure you are attentive about what you are highlighting and ask yourself, “Why is this important?”  Too many times I have found myself mindlessly highlighting a statement while I was thinking about things other than the actual words I was highlighting. I would then look back and ask myself what I was thinking? Avoid  mindless highlighting and really focus on what you find important and why!

Lastly, if after reading my advice you still feel your textbooks aren’t useful, hang in there! At some point your professor may whip out the book and start lecturing from it. If you absolutely never use it, at least it looked good on your shelf. Maybe your friends even commented on it and how smart you are for having to read such a developed text! They don’t have to know that it’s collected more dust than your family’s set of encyclopedias!