Textbook guide: How to read them

Finding new ways to read textbooks can make studying more enjoyable. Students can utilize resources on campus such as the Academic Performance Center or the Writing Center to help better understand textbooks. Graphic by Emily Wight.

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Reading from a textbook can seem like a daunting task for students, but it doesn’t have to be.

Entering college means that students will have to adjust to the world of reading textbooks. Completing assignments and studying for quizzes and exams — for most classes — is done through a textbook.

Students may struggle to find effective methods to help them remember what they read from their textbooks. Here are some tips and tricks to help students read and understand the material in their textbooks. 


According to The Learning Center at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, students should look at sections of the chapter to get an idea of the main topics and important information before reading the chapter. Identifying vocabulary words or summaries at the end of the chapter can help students quickly recognize key pieces of information as they read the chapter. 

Actively Read

Rob Gray, director of Learning Services, said the biggest mistake students make is trying to read a textbook the same way they read a novel or a magazine. Instead, students should focus on active reading.

“Within Learning Services, we teach active reading: Making notes as students connect and relate ideas and highlighting important definitions and concepts,” Gray said. 

Take Breaks 

Attempting to plow through multiple chapters of a textbook at once can be overwhelming and might make a student feel burnt out by the time they finish reading. 

According to Education Corner, you should read in 30 – 45 minute increments then take a break to give your mind time to absorb everything you read. 

During your break you could have a snack, go for a walk, listen to music or talk with a friend. Stepping away from your textbook can help you return feeling recharged and refreshed. 

Use the THIEVES Method

Gray recommends students use the THIEVES method when reading textbooks.

“Students read Titles, Headings, Introductions, Every first sentence in sections and paragraphs, Visuals and vocabulary, and End-of-chapter questions,” Gray said.

After utilizing the THIEVES method, Gray said students should try to summarize the concepts outlined in the chapter of the textbook.

Gray said summarizing concepts allows students to identify topics they are still unfamiliar with and return to those sections to review in greater detail. 

Utilize Resources on Campus 

The Academic Performance Center and Writing Center are two resources on campus to help students strengthen their knowledge of course material or develop stronger study habits, Gray said. 

“We also tutor study skills such as effective note-taking, stress management, syllabus reading, exam-taking tips, time management and effective textbook reading,” Gray said. 

Students who need extra support with reading textbooks, learning course content, or writing essays can make appointments on the Academic Performance and Tutoring Center website or the Writing Center website

It is normal for students to have difficulty when learning new course material through their textbooks. When students become frustrated or discouraged, they should turn to the strategies mentioned above or reach out to tutors on-campus to help them be successful in reading and retaining content in their textbooks.