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How to Read a Textbook: The Four Steps

A four-step method for reading a textbook with greater attention, with build-in note taking and test preparation. Never read a chapter more than once.

Step 1 - Review End-of-Chapter Material

Review End-of-Chapter Material

  • Study questions
  • Vocabulary terms
  • Chapter summary


This isn’t a murder mystery. 

•You want to know what you are about to read.
•You want to know where the information is going to lead.
•You want to understand the vocabulary before you read it.

Stetp 2 - Peruse and Question

Peruse and Question

  • Review the pages of the assignment or chapter. 
  • Look at the chapter title, all headings, and all sub-headings to become familiar with the content of the chapter/pages. 
  • Create a brief a question out of each. Speak aloud (if possible) questions that occur from reading the title, headings, and sub-headings. 


Heading is:   Materials & Techniques of Lithography

Question(s): What are the materials & techniques of lithography?  What’s lithography?


Know what you don't know. 

When confronted with a lack of knowledge, it gives a small boost to motivation. “I don’t know this, therefore I am reading to learn this.”

Step 3 - Read and Summarize

Read and Summarize

  • Read a single paragraph.
  • Without looking at it (much), summarize the paragraph in one complex sentence (or no more than two).


Mindful Reading and Accountability. 

  • We can all read. But how much attention are you giving to the reading?
  • Knowing that you will have to understand and summarize the paragraph as a whole, makes each read sentence significant and focuses your attention on it.

This can be a challenge at first, but it’s completely worth it.

Step 4 - Predict a Test Question

Predict a Test Question

  • From your own summary, predict a test question that could be asked by your instructor.


Anticipated test question:  Explain how lithography differed from previous techniques.


Motivation and Mindfulness Feedback Loop 

  • Knowing your paragraph summary will feed an anticipated test question maintains motivation to write a meaty, though brief, summary.
  • Keeps your attention on the learning assessment, the test, right now while doing the reading.
  • Creates a set of notes for studying so you don’t have to re-read the chapter.

See Examples tab for more

What Next?

Repeat for each paragraph.
Including each graph or chart is an option, too.
After you take your first test, it will become more clear how your professor tests, and you can adjust.

That Sounds Hard...

It is, at first.

It takes time and energy to learn how to read with full attention and mindfulness. (It took me two chapters of a very dense history book I was teaching from.)

But once you stop fighting it, and go paragraph by paragraph, your understanding and retention will shoot through the roof.

If you don’t understand a paragraph, that is perfect for an in-class question or a visit to the professor during office hours.

Subject Guide

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Lisa Bartle