Is Reading a Textbook a Good Way to Study?

In this post, we talk about if reading is really the best way of studying and how you should be making your notes. This article is going to change the way you revise.

Quick Answer

Reading a textbook is not a great way of studying. However, you can make it into a good way of studying if you use active recall.

This means after you read a textbook, you should cover up what you just read with your hand and try to repeat everything out loud.

Don’t Just Read the Textbook

You’re reading some notes you made previously, and you find yourself stuck on a page for the last half hour. How many times have you read that same paragraph in the last 30 minutes? Each time you regain yourself, your mind drifts again, thinking of happier things… You snap back and start re-reading that paragraph, but you again start drifting off.

You think to yourself “This is useless. What if I forget everything tomorrow?”.

Well, we are going to make sure you never have that feeling again.

People think that reading is a good way to revise.

They read their revision guide over and over with the hope that everything just sticks in their brain. Six months before the exam this is what they are doing. The day before the exam, they are doing the same thing.

However, they couldn’t have picked a worse way to revise.

Reading is just a passive form of revision. You aren’t taking any of it in.

It’s like watching a movie. One week later, how much of a movie do you really remember?

Unfortunately for us, a lot of homework involves reading a textbook or passage. From the teacher’s point of view, they believe a textbook is a great resource that you should be using every day.

So, if reading is a bad way of studying, what are you supposed to do instead?

Well, this is where active revision comes in.

In essence, you want to be testing yourself.

People remember things best if they are tested on it first. This is shown by the people who do amazingly well in exams; all they do is past papers.

However past papers aren’t the only way of actively revising. You can use flashcards, end of topic questions, or even make your own set of questions.

For a full guide go on active reading go to our post on active recall and spaced repetition.

What I suggest is that after you read a passage, turn the textbook over and say everything you just read aloud.

This ensures that you are using your brain and truly testing yourself.

Using a Highlighter

Highlighters are one of those study resources that everyone loves.

They make your notes look pretty and overall make the whole process much more enjoyable.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to show that highlighting your textbook or notes is a good way to study.

The only two reasons that you should be highlighting your notes is because you want to make flashcards out of the material or you genuinely think it motivates you to get out of bed and study.

Highlighting just to highlight the important information on a page is not beneficial.

Why Reading is Still Important

Even though I have talked a lot about how reading is not useful for studying, there is still a lot of value in reading.

Reading helps develop the mind and can improve critical analysis skills.

It is also the way that we are first exposed to information.

For example, how are you supposed to learn from a textbook without reading it first?

Reading is still a vital part of studying, however, it is inefficient for memorising things.

You still need to get the information into your brain one way or another.

Also, when it comes to English based subjects like English language and History, reading a fundamental part of the subject. You need to develop good reading skills to do well.

Textbooks Are Still Useful

Just because you shouldn’t read a textbook doesn’t mean you can’t get one.

In fact, textbooks are a great source of information when the internet fails you.

There have been plenty of occasions when I have not been able to find a good answer online. Then, I have been easily found the answer in an online textbook.

Therefore don’t feel discouraged if you have just bought a bunch of books. They still have their use.

What About Making Notes?

Making notes can be useful because it allows you to stay concentrated on what you are reading.

Remember that reading on its own is essentially useless.

So, my advice is to make sure that at the end of every set of notes you have questions that you’ve made yourself all about the topic you have just revised.

Then the next time you want to revise that topic you go through the questions first.

You try and answer all of the questions.

All the questions you get wrong you star.

After this, you can read your notes as you normally would. You can even add more questions to your list if you realise there is important stuff you missed out.

Now after your session is complete, make a note at the top of the page of the day’s date. You then note in your calendar the next time you are going to review the questions. This can be either at the end of the week or end of the month, depending on where you are in your revision.

The main thing is that you keep on revisiting the topic. Don’t drop the ball and leave it till the day before your exam otherwise you won’t be able to do everything we have said properly.

Here is an example of how you should be writing questions after your notes.


You have to change the way you are currently doing things. From now on make sure you are using active methods of revising and are not just reading the textbooks because your friends are doing it!

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