The College Survival Series: 2. How to study and summarize a textbook

11:55:00 AM

In college, studying from textbooks is often a big cause of stress for students because they usually have massive books that are impossible to read page for page on the week before the exam. Many students resort to making summaries of textbooks, so that they can have a condensed version of the textbook information ready to study when exams come up. 

Summaries, however, aren't exactly an easy thing to master: it's difficult to know how much detail you should include in your summaries, for example, as you'll often end up over-writing and create long summaries which don't do the job you intended for them. So, this task can easily become ineffective and unproductive.

Here are a few tips on how to write better summaries:

  • It's not just about making the reading shorter

    The main thing to bear in mind is to try to study and summarize your textbook as you go through the topics in class and not on the last week before the exams.
    The whole point of the exercise is to work through the topics and materials to make sure you have a good understanding of them.
  • Study and summarize each chapter before class

    Studying the textbook should be something you do before the class during which that topic will be covered. The idea is to go to class with a general idea of the topic and then consolidate your knowledge with what is said during the lecture.
    You can even add extra info from your lecture to your summaries!
  • Underline important expressions or sentences

    When you start the actual reading and summarizing of the textbook, read the chapter you're studying and try to detect the most important expressions and ideas in a sentence or a paragraph. Underline those, as well as any short sentences that summarize the paragraph or the chapter's main ideas.
  • Write on the margins

    A good idea is to use the margins of the book to write your own thoughts/conclusions about what you read or even any ideas that you link to the paragraph (making connections between the material is important to be able to put it all together when you're studying for the exam).

    You can also use the margins to write a short summary of the paragraph, making for easier reference when you need to review a certain chapter, for example.


  • Use the underlined expressions, as well as the notes and summaries you wrote on the margins of your textbook. This is a good shortcut for your summaries because the information will already be condensed into the most important ideas of the paragraph/chapter and it'll be written in your own words.
  • Avoid copy and pasting when creating summaries of textbooks - you'll end up not paying any attention to what you're studying, which means you won't process the info and learn anything.
Use post-its to mark the pages relating to the topics that are relevant to your subject for easier visual reference. Plus, mark any other important pages that you need to go back to when revising (in a different color, if possible).

These are all the tips and techniques that have helped me create better summaries of textbooks and develop a better method for studying them. Even if you have a different method, the idea is to make this exercise an effective and useful one - for learning your material and to create a study-guide for your revision. 

How do you study from textbooks? Got any other tips on summarizing them?

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