Reading Science Textbooks


Sample pages from a biology textbook

The challenges of reading science textbooks

Even though textbooks are designed by experts to enable college students to use them to teach themselves, there are a few things about PSY 105 that make reading and learning from the textbook challenging:

  1. the pace of the reading assignments
  2. the density of the information in the textbook
  3. the concepts and information in the textbook may not be covered in class
  4. the fact that you are quizzed and tested on the material and must be able to recall and use the concepts and information you’ve learned to pass the quizzes and tests.

Strategies and Advice

  • Reading is an part of The Study Cycle. Always do the reading before going to the lecture where the topics covered in the reading are to be discussed. If you’re pressed for time and can’t complete the reading, at least familiarize yourself with the ideas and vocabulary of the topic by reading the learning outcomes (sometimes called learning objectives), concept or keyword listsdiscussion questions, and other materials near the beginning and ends of chapters that are meant to help you recognize what you’re supposed to learn. If you don’t do the reading or at least preview the chapter before going to class, your notetaking will suffer dramatically because your trying to hear, record, and understand the information all at once. And – as you will learn in PSY 105 – human beings have very limited working memory. Trying to hear, record, and understand the material all at the same time will surely overload your working memory.
  • Use an active reading strategy such as SQ4R
  • Use the Cornell Notetaking strategy to determine what’s important and create a study aid at the same time. Here’s a template.
  • Identify the organizational pattern of the chapter and choose a note-making strategy that fits the organizational pattern. Most textbook chapters are organized using one or more of just six common organizational patterns. When information is organized and connected, you can recall much more of it than if you try to learn each concept or piece of information separately.
  • Give priority to recognizing and learning the concepts that the chapter is trying to teach. Use effective study techniques to memorize and use these concepts to think like a psychologist.
  • Most chapters feature a story or two meant to illustrate important ideas in the chapter. Stories synthsize a lot of information and make the relationships between concepts very apparent. Human beings remember stories a lot easier than they remember lists or chunks of data. Summarize the point of the stories in a couple of sentences.
  • Tables and graphs organize data in a meaningful way – don’t get bogged down in all the data. Instead, focus on the relationships between the most important data points and use the words around the table or graph to figure out and express the point of the table or graph.
  • You must actively rehearse what you learn to retain and recall it. Use practice tests, the learning activities sprinkled throughout the chapter, and any online supplements to actively practice and “overlearn” what the chapter is trying to teach you. Without overlearning the material, you won’t be able to recall it or use it to think like a psychologist.

Reading and the Study Cycle


Courtesy of OSLIS Secondary Videos

How to Read Your Textbooks More Efficiently – College Info Geek

5 Active Reading Strategies for Textbook Reading – College Info Geek