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Taking Notes: Taking Notes on Reading Assignments (page 2)

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Making Notes in Your Textbook

You may have grown up with admonition to never write in a textbook or novel, but that changes as you progress through higher levels of school. And yes, marking in a textbook can affect its resale value, but it can also help you review information and note your thoughts as you read the material. If you’re adamant about keeping your textbook free from markings, consider keeping a reader’s notebook, in which you can cite the page and passage, and then record your thoughts in this notebook.

The purpose of notes isn’t so much to remind you of what the passage or paragraph says but to record your ideas and questions. What do you make of this point? Does it relate to something you learned earlier in class (or in another class)? Look for ways to connect what you’re reading to what you’ve read in other places in that textbook or in other course books or classes.

Also consider jotting down questions you have, especially if you don’t understand a word or a concept. You can then either ask the instructor for clarification or research the idea on your own.

Most instructors welcome questions; it shows that students are engaged in the learning process. So in both lecture and reading notes, you may want to record any questions you have for the instructor:

  • You may need more information to better understand the reasoning behind a concept.
  • You may wonder how one event related to another event.
  • You may, at times, even ask whether certain information is important. (Some instructors tell you that certain material will not be on the test, for whatever reason.)

On the Test?

Don’t get in the habit of badgering the instructor about each and every point you cover in class and whether it will be on a test or used in an assignment. You can, however, ask this question when the information is really detailed, seems like an aside (or extra information) from the main point, or isn’t covered in class. Instructors usually consider these questions to be legitimate clarification of what’s important on the test and what’s not.

Recording Reading Notes in a Notebook

If you don’t want to mark up your textbook with questions or you don’t have room enough in the book to jot down your thoughts and ideas, consider keeping a reader’s notebook to record your notes, questions, and comments. It’s a good idea to rework your notes from both the lecture and reading into an easy-to-scan format. Doing so organizes the information and stresses the important facts so that you can use this information for studying for tests, finishing homework assignments, or writing papers.

Even if you write notes in the book itself, you may also use a reading notebook. You’ll have more room to record your thoughts and any questions you have. You’ll also have space to draw connections from one section to another.

Like jotting notes, comments, and questions, you may also jot down the main ideas, especially to help organize the information. The headings and subheadings in a chapter can help you see how the information is related and its relative importance to other concepts in the chapter, and you can note this in your notebook. You might include the headings in the notes, or organize the notes in an outline format that follows the chapter organization. You can also flag any charts, diagrams, pictures, illustrations, or other artwork that concisely summarizes material and shows its relevance to other material. You can note the page number of the illustration or flag the page with a Post-it note.

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