Yes, You Actually Need to Read Your Textbooks, Not Just Skim Them for Answers

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I get it—textbooks are weighty tomes that feel like they’re more useful as a defensive weapon than an engaging read. But it’s still important to actually read them instead of treating them as a “find the potential-test-answer” word search.

Get out those Trapper Keepers and sharpen your No. 2 pencils—it’s Back-to-School Week! Going far beyond the classroom, we’re bringing you genius tricks and ideas on how to start routines, brush up on old skills or learn something new this fall.

In college, I remember having classes where Hip Professor™ would turn their chair around and triumphantly announce “We don’t use textbooks in this class—there’s one on the syllabus, but you don’t need it.” I would be thrilled. No having to spend $200 on a book the teacher wasn’t going to source. But most classes aren’t like that. Don’t let Hip Professor™ make you think, “If one class doesn’t need a book, then none of them do.” A lot of subjects absolutely require a textbook, and that textbook needs to be read.


Over at Wired, Rhett Allain, an Associate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, cautions against using textbooks like they’re some kind of scavenger hunt. This is especially true with subject like physics, explains Allain:

There are a significant number of students that will start off with the textbook and search to the chapter on inclines. But wait, there is no such chapter! How about the kinetic friction chapter? Again, no such luck. Maybe just flip through the book until there is a problem with a block on a plane—oh, here’s one, but it’s static friction. OK, well maybe that will work…

But the same can be said for other science and math subjects, or even subjects in the humanities, like history. What good does highlighting a bunch of places and dates do if you don’t know really understand the context—the why the how? You get some of that information from lectures, yes, but are you really under the impression you’ll grasp everything you need to in a couple of hours of one person talking? What if that lecture is at 8 a.m. and you’re usually up late the night before? Remember, textbooks are not a source for answers, they’re where you’re partially taught to develop your own. Some students think of textbooks as a last resort, and that’s the wrong way to go about it.

Block out some time, grab a snack if you need to, sit down, and read. While you read, take notes, highlight passages, and write down your own personal thoughts you have in the moment so you have topics to bring up in class. Intentionally study the subject, don’t just study for the test. You’ll be much better off in the end. Besides, you were forced to spend a fortune on the damn things. You might as well get something out of them.

from Lifehacker