Why you can’t study from a textbook, and what to do instead

Last week we looked at how to get started with studying, by making a plan and getting on track to have everything done. Next, you need to start to make sure you understand the material you will use for your study by making your own notes.

This week you’ll learn why making your own study materials and notes is the best thing to do to learn and remember the information. You might not have a great set of notes from class, so starting here is is crucial to making sure you understand the material, instead of just relying on the textbook.

Using other people’s study resources means that you’re jumping straight into the learning phase without actually understanding the material. When you make your own notes you’re taking the most important parts from a larger set of information and interacting with it, which helps you to understand it. Once you have your own notes and understand the information, you can then make study resources to help you remember it.

You absolutely cannot rely on the textbook to do everything for you. If you just read the textbook over and over, you’re not engaging with the material and you’re way less likely to remember it. I’m sure you’ve experienced reading the news and then being unable to tell someone what you read about 3 hours later, so this is exactly the same.


Making study resources:

To first make sure you have the key ideas that you need to study, and understand what they are, make some notes and study resources. There are many different methods, but here’s some ideas:

  • Use the Cornell note-taking method. This involves making a table with three different sections, using the instructions below.


–       Step 2:  Record the key ideas and questions that you need to answer, and the key concepts (in just one word).

–       This is where you’re engaging with the information that you’ve just recorded in the notes section

Step 1: Write the notes

• These should be bullet pointed notes about key information, facts, ideas, diagrams, etc.

• You should take note of the things that the
teacher or textbook repeat or stress to you
are important!

Step 3: Write a summary of the information, in your own words. In this paragraph try to think about why this is important, what it relates to, how you can use it, and what you can conclude from it.
  • Make a mind map showing all the connections to the bits of information that you need to know. Put a specific topic in the centre and then brainstorm out the important concepts, in bullet point form.
  • Make an indented list, with all the key information under specific headings. Start out with the main topic, like atoms for example, then list the information under sub headings like structure, periodic table, etc.
  • Make flashcards. This is perfect for sciences and definitions in humanities as there are short, specific answers that you can put on the other side of the flashcard. Be sure to make them yourself – if you use other people’s study resources then you’re not likely to have understood the information before you go about studying it.
  • Make posters with tables or diagrams outlining all the key ideas. You don’t even have to make posters, you could just do it on your computer. The idea of a poster is that you can look at it on the wall and walk yourself through the information.


When you’re deciding which method to use, think about which subject you’re doing it for. In English, Cornell notes can be really useful, and in science making lists of the information is really good, and for humanities subjects a mind map can be great! It’s about finding what works for you and for the information that you want to study.

That’s it for this week! Next week we’ll look at how to use your resources to study. Between now and then try to make everything you need using the tips in this guide.

Originally published in Tearaway Magazine, http://tearaway.co.nz/cant-study-textbook-instead/ October 27, 2016.

Comments are closed.