How to Take Notes from a Textbook

Textbook readings

Hey guys! I’ve received so many questions about reading textbooks and taking notes on that, so I am going to share with you how I do it.

I like to write on the margins. Not highlight. I don’t use a special color coding technique to separate my comments from key terms from titles from definitions.

My system is very simple and makes sense to me. All I use are:

  • A pencil
  • An eraser
  • Small (not tiny) sticky notes

To start, I think it’s important to read actively. This means to think through the material, note things you don’t understand, complete little practice problems at the end of each section and connect new concepts with each other and the old ones.

The margins of my textbook are pretty thick – so thick I can fit a small 2 x 1.5 inch sticky note.

  • On the sticky note, I write definitions and very important concepts that go with the definition. This means that I have anywhere from 2 to 6 sticky notes per page.
  • I underline important explanations and quotes in pencil. Whatever I think is super important, I underline. I choose not to highlight in order to avoid stupid highlight-every-word-what-if-I-need-to-see-it-later kind of thing.
  • I write small comments in pencil on the margins, near the sticky notes. Usually these are longer explanations of the sticky notes, a little map of the concepts (how what I’ve just read connects to each other), and, most importantly, my own connects that I make while reading. This seems to help a lot, because if I look at this text in a few weeks, I’ll be able to remember my train of thought at the moment of reading.


That’s it.

It sounds like a lot, but come test time, I will only use the margins and skim the text part of the book for any underlined parts.

I’ll let you guys know how that goes for me this quarter: I’m taking two Psych classes (4 chapters a week, 30 pages each…..) and a Math class.

  • This is a lifesaver, thank you so much. I’m kind of just not starting to really actively read since there’s so much information in these textbooks, THANK YOU

    • Kat

      I’m glad you found it helpful :) Thanks for reading!

  • ingrid

    This really helps!