How To Study

Reading Your Text

A textbook “tells” you nothing. You must ask it questions in your mind as you read. Get questions from your instructor, from the end of a chapter, or by changing the headings from statements to questions (i.e., “Causes of the Civil War” to “What causes led to the Civil War?”).

The author most likely worked from an outline when the book was written. It is your job to distinguish the original main points. The system is: Whole—Part—Whole

  • Begin with the assigned chapter.
  • Break the chapter down to the original outline.
  • Tie the main points together.

Finding the Main Points

Briefly outline the reading assignment on paper in your own words. Underline the most important elements.

If there’s a summary, read it first, then keep the point that it emphasizes in mind as you read the assignment. Notice the paragraph headings. In fact, scan the chapter and read the paragraph headings before you read the text.

Check for new vocabulary. Learn to use the words.

Taking Notes

Lecture notes can be effective study aids. To take notes well, you must be able to select the main points being made and express them in your own words or, at least, condense the lecturer’s words to insure a short, clear understanding of what’s being said.
Review your notes often. Just before class is a good time because it helps connect the lecture you’ve heard with what you are about to hear. Look at your notes frequently enough to let you see how each lecture relates to the lectures before it and to the larger course units.


Take notes in an organized way to make their meaning clear.

  • Usually, an outline form works best, i.e., conventional outline method.
  • Put a definite headline over a group of notes.
  • Read or listen until you understand before you put anything down.
  • Write complete statements, not topics.
  • Don’t try to take down everything.
  • Choose thought units by noting paragraph heads or the speaker’s statements of subjects and subtopics, introductory remarks, and summary statements.
  • Observe a speaker’s changes in voice and gestures.
  • Remember that most lecturers outline their material in their opening remarks.
  • Show relationships of statements to each other when arranging your notes.
  • If you miss a point, don’t stop then to find out what it was. Check it out later.
  • Take notes in permanent form the first time so you don’t need to copy them over.
  • Listen carefully.


You can speed up and simplify your note-taking by staying aware of several “easy-to-fall-into” traps.

  • Don’t try to write every word a speaker says.
  • Leave out unimportant details, examples, statistics (unless the lecturer repeats them specifically for your accuracy.)
  • Re-word your notes neatly before the facts get “cold”.
  • Don’t use abbreviations that you’ll forget later.
  • Cross out mistakes and underline vital points as you go. Don’t erase.
  • Don’t take too many notes. Select, evaluate, and summarize on the spot. Outline in terms of your understanding and needs.