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Academic Tips + Techniques

Highlighting Textbooks

When you invest time in reading text assignments, be sure to use a strategy to capture key information.  If you "just read" you will find it difficult to stay focused and will probably find that your mind wanders.  You will also have no way of going back and quickly reviewing key information before an exam.  Use an active approach that incorporates some way of capturing the most important concepts as you go.  It saves a lot of time and aggravation in the long run.

Highlighting basics:

  1. Using highlighters to mark key texts is a great idea.  Be careful though.  It is important not to mark too much.  A sea of color is not very helpful.  You will get it right if you read a paragraph or a section, think about what you've read, then mark it.  Aim for no more that 20 - 30 percent highlighted.  Pay special attention to terms, definitions, & examples; topics & lists; and main points.  If you only focus on the boldface print or definitions you will end up missing a lot of important details.  It is pretty typical to find a term with a definition at the beginning of a section, followed by a number of paragraphs of additional explanation.  If you skip from term to term you will miss all of the information on how those terms fit together into the overall chapter topic.
  2. It really helps to use more than one color when you highlight.  Use a simple system of highlighting headings and boldface in a contrast color first before you start to read.  When you are working through the assignment use your main color.  Keep in mind that if you read and highlight at the same time it is easy to end up with too much highlighted. 
  3. Check your highlighting.  When you finish your reading session go back and reread only what you have marked.  Does it make sense to you?  Does the information you have focused on make sense and give you a good shorthand version of the overall assignment?  If you can say yes to those questions then you probably have it right.
  4. Use the highlighted information, chapter graphics, and any review options (textbook websites, bundled CD's, study guides or chapter review questions) you have to check your learning.  It's an efficient way to add to your understanding when you are getting ready for an exam. 

Other Marking Options:

  1. If you really prefer not to use highlighters in your textbooks you might consider annotating the text.  This works best when there is some margin space available for writing.  It is vital to focus on the same key information you would if you were highlighting but instead if using markers you can jot down your own paraphrased versions in the margins.  Just doing the rewriting can help you retain what you have read.
  2. Taking notes on paper is a third option.  This works best for students who are good at condensing and paraphrasing.  Recopying volumes of text information is too time-consuming.  If you plan to take notes, focus on the chapter learning objectives, jotting down on paper the information in the text that matches those objectives.  If objectives are not available you can build a good set of notes by using the chapter headings as an outline and filling in with key details.