Study skills 10# Studying from textbooks
Textbooks are intimidating things, we get that. There’s almost no one who finds these cumbersome books appealing, yet you have hold onto them. Even with most information being online these days, you can’t avoid conventional textbooks because they provide a compact guideline of the knowledge that is expected of you to learn in order to pass your exams. How to get all necessary information out of them and transfer it into your brain without going crazy?
Forget about cramming every single word
Let’s face it, you can’t cram everything that’s inside of a book and, fortunately, that’s not even the point. What’s tested here isn’t only your memory but also your ability to analyse important parts and getting them out of that avalanche of fluff surrounding them. Naturally, some subjects are easier than others. In case of medical textbooks, there won’t be as much redundant information as in, for instance, literature or history textbooks.
Tackle concepts and truly understand the content
Most of my classmates, especially at secondary school, were cramming information in textbooks like a poem. They could recite it but when the teacher asked them a specific question (not even a tricky one), they couldn’t answer. That’s because they were cramming words, not their actual meaning. Therefore, you need to understand what you’re trying to learn.
Actually, there’re two types of information: solid facts and concepts. Solid facts are things like historical dates, names of famous people and what they did. You have to cram these by heart, there’s no way around it (even though you can make use of some clever memory techniques). But for concepts you have to really understand what’s it about and how it works because even if you cram a definition, you would still be lost and probably fail your exam.
The least effective way of studying from a textbook is just passively reading its content. You won’t retain much information that way because it’s too ‘dry’ and doesn’t involve your senses. Try to imagine the information, transform dry sentences into movielike scenes in your mind. Ask questions, ponder the meaning, look up additional information if the book doesn’t cover the topic enough or you don’t understand their explanation. Be active! Don’t just re-read over and over again or you’ll inevitably fall asleep.
If you’re a student, there’s a high chance that you’ve probably killed many textbooks with your highlighter. While textbooks are meant to be used, don’t just paint your book yellow. (Forget about keeping them pristine hoping you’ll be able to sell them later for better price.) The point of highlighting is to pinpoint important information.
Golden rule of highlighting: Don’t hold your highlighter the first time you’re reading a new chapter because everything seems important initially. Read a few pages or a whole chapter and then decide what’s really essential. Also, don’t feel compelled to highlight whole sentences, you don’t need to retain proper grammar. You want to save time, not waste it re-reading fluff.
Create your own study materials
Absolutely the best way how to prepare materials for your exams is to make them yourself. Combine your notes from lectures with extracted information from textbooks, add some stuff from other sources if need be (the library and the internet are both your friends) and create your own ultimate study material. Added value? By doing so, you’re already learning.
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Don’t confuse fake recollection with proper recall
Just because you recognise some information when you re-read it doesn’t mean it’s rooted firmly in your memory. It’s only when you close the book and try to recall that information without any visual help you can proudly claim that you remember it. To avoid being blank during an exam despite the fact that you’ve been staring into the textbook the whole night before, employ memory techniques and spaced repetition.
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