Read Everything In Your Textbook

Reading everything you have been assigned may sound obvious, but whole industries have been created for cutting corners in college – including reading textbooks. Kids often try to gloss over their textbooks.  There’s a lot to read and they want to save time. Big mistake.  Don’t worry, we’ll show you how to make that effort pay off.  You are going to read every word assigned to you.

Don’t plan on using any Cliffs Notes or websites or other shortcuts of any kind. I’m sure that there is every kind of summary for about every textbook ever published by now. Don’t bother looking for any of them.

Look, I realize a lot of guys play sports or have jobs.  Maybe you just can’t read everything, but if you aren’t, you’re selling yourself short.  I had a job and I read every last word of every book that was ever assigned to me in both college and law school. Ever see the size of the average law book? I read them all and so can you. No problem. You’ll have time.

You HAVE To Highlight

In high school kids weren’t allowed to highlight their textbooks. That’s a big mistake. Nice for saving money, but bad for learning. In college, they have to. Here’s why:


Let’s face it, students have all kinds of distractions. It’s hard reading new and often complicated material. When you highlight, it forces you to concentrate. It forces you to think and find the most relevant material in each and every paragraph. You have to ask yourself each and every sentence if what you are reading is critical and likely to appear on the exam. You start thinking in terms of your exams.


Concentration improves retention. You are trying to LEARN new material. You want to force it deep into your brain so you can build on it. If you aren’t concentrating, you aren’t learning.


The most important reason to highlight your books is to speed review. This is where hours are saved. Remember, studying in college is all about time management. You need to save time wherever you can find it and textbooks can consume a huge amount of your time.

If you didn’t highlight and isolate the critical concepts in your textbook, how do you know what to review for your exam? You will waste literally hundreds of hours during your college career reading and re-reading irrelevant material. You will be skimming back through page after page trying to identify the key points that you already covered days and weeks before. Hundreds of pages and paragraphs of text.

Sooner or later you’ll find it. It will just take you 3 times as long. Why not just identify the good stuff the first time through?

You need to be focusing on the concepts that you DON’T know. Isn’t that what’s important for the test? Highlighting by definition will key you in on only those points that your brain tells you that you need to review the most. You’ll automatically ignore the rest.

Isolate What Matters

I know those textbooks are expensive and you want to trade them back in looking like new, but it isn’t going to happen. Kiss them goodbye. Unlike high school, you are going to destroy them. You paid a fortune in tuition. They’ll need to be sacrificed to get you that A.

So what is highlighting? It doesn’t necessarily mean a yellow highlighter. You can use a pen, a pencil or a yellow highlighter. Some use multiple colors for different things.

I always used a mechanical pencil. I recommend it because you can’t remove pen or marker. Many times you start reading and highlighting only to find out that the very best stuff was in the next paragraph. I also like a pencil because you can write notes, question marks or other comments without stopping.

To those of you used to highlighting, this is going to sound simplistic. However, bear with me here again because the fact is that most students just don’t highlight their books. They simply read them. That isn’t going to work in college. You can’t possibly remember what the key points are and you most certainly won’t find them again in that sea of words when it’s time to review.

You have to be very diligent about clearly identifying the most relevant content in each paragraph. This is the tough part. There are several ways you can go about doing this. I won’t detail them all here.

Most books contain way more words than you are ever going to need for the test. They are filler. I am not saying they aren’t important, because they are. That is why you must read everything that is assigned to you. However, most words in a paragraph give context – they are background info, explain the reasons for something or set the stage for the central point that the paragraph is trying to make. Most sentences need a lot of extra words just to be grammatically correct.

You don’t care about that. You are looking for the salient and most critical points in each paragraph and each sentence. Yeah, sometimes you just have to highlight the whole thing, but usually you can pick key words and phrases and highlight them to understand and remember the concept without having to underline the extraneous stuff. With practice you’ll make whole sentences that make perfect sense using words spread across the paragraph. There is an art to pulling the most from the least words and still making it readable. I am not going to cover it all here, but sign up for my mailing list and I’ll show you how. You’ll get better and better every week.

Highlight every page of every textbook. No exceptions.

Understand Everything.

Reading it is good. Understanding it is better. You need to understand everything that you read in college. Everything. That includes the definition of every word and every concept in every book. I know this may be stating the obvious, but I am always amazed by how many people just read over things that they don’t really understand. They hope they’ll get it later or they think it is too insignificant to worry about. If it is in the book, assume it is on the exam.

The first thing I did when I sat down in the library was pull a dictionary off the shelf and put it on the table next to me. If you see a word you don’t understand – stop and look it up. If you don’t understand a concept in your textbook, put a question mark in the margin and then….

Talk to the professor!

You pay a lot of money to learn from these guys, so take full advantage of them. Professors like talking to students. They also like students who care and who take initiative. If you don’t understand something in your book, go to the professor’s office and meet them. Don’t email them. Go and see them face to face.

I can’t count the number of times when talking to a professor over a concept where they say ‘you won’t need to worry about this’ or conversely ‘you’ll need to know this’ or some other hint about what you need to focus your attention on. They are there to help you learn and guide you over the next 4 years. You need to meet them as soon as you can. You’ll have an advantage that others in the class won’t.

Write The Test Questions.

OK, so you have read every word. You have highlighted the salient points. You have clarified everything with your professor. Think this stuff might be on your exam? You are smart, aren’t you?

So now, just like with your notes, it is time to write some test questions. I can’t emphasize this enough. This is where your highlighting really pays off. Writing the test questions is one of the most useful study techniques you can use. Go back over each page of your textbook and look at each of your highlighted paragraphs. If you thought it was important then, you can bet the professor will too. Ask yourself how they would likely ask about this content on the exam and WRITE THE QUESTION.

If you have done a good job of highlighting, you’ll have it pretty well narrowed down. Write the test questions sideways in the margins if you can. Some books don’t have room. If you don’t have room in your book, open your class notebook and use it.

Use a page that is near your related class notes or flip the notebook over and upside down and start at the back page. Write a reference – Chapter 1, Page 3: Test Questions…. Just like from your class notes. You won’t need a line down the page. Just write the question and reference your highlighted textbooks for the answers. We’ll talk about how to review them later.

Writing test questions will dramatically reduce the time that you need to study for the real thing. Form a test question for every concept in your textbook and write it down.

Lets talk about WHERE you do this stuff.