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Textbook Note Taking

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Copyright @ 2011 by 

Tom Siebold

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Textbook Note Taking

The textbooks you buy for class are tools for learning.  Unlike television, textbooks are not passive instruments, they require active manipulation.  When you sit down to read, have a pencil in your hand ready to respond to the author.  Take notes in your texts.

The purpose of book note taking is really twofold: 1. It will serve as a process to keep you actively involved in your reading, and 2. It will serve as a valuable review/study aid for tests.

When taking textbook notes, keep the following pointers in mind.

Respond. Your margin notes are your reaction to what the author is saying.  This means that you must question, speculate, disagree, agree, highlight, list, and emphasize key ideas.  The simple motor response of marking your text will serve to reinforce your mental involvement with the reading.  

Economize.  Be sure not to over mark your book.  Too many notes, symbols, and graphics in the text will not only junk up your book, it will clutter your review later.

Focus.  Economically zero in on the author’s main points.  Highlight key phrases, jot down pertinent facts, write a brief statement of purpose for a paragraph or a section, number lists of facts or ideas; in short, do what you have to do, but remember that your notes are used to jog your memory later.  They do not have to restate all that you have read.  A cluttered text will result in cluttered study later.

Create.  When you take notes don’t simply paraphrase the author.  Use your own words.  This will intensify your thinking about the reading.  Moreover, when it comes time for review, you will know what your notes mean because they are yours.

Systematize.  Develop a symbol system for text notes and use it consistently.  This means constructing a meaningful system of graphic codes: brackets, parentheses, arrows, stars, underlines, quotation marks, etc.    

Note: The simpler and more consistent your system is, the easier it will be to utilize later.

Conceptualize. Whenever feasible develop a diagram or flow chart to help put information together.  Often the visual inter-relationships that a diagram provides will help you understand the material

Reminder. When you develop your system of textbook marking remember to keep it simple, consistent, and easily decipherable. The whole purpose of this kind of process is to get you involved in the reading so your comprehension level is high.  Be careful that book marking doesn’t become an end unto itself.  Don’t allow it to serve as a substitute for good thinking and reasoning.  Textbook marking is only an aid to help you learn and later review.  If your notes reflect your comprehension of the text, your study process later will be much more meaningful and efficient.

Below are some suggested symbols for textbook marking.

Sample Textbook Marking Symbols

1. ________________

Underline important information.


2. [   ]

Use brackets to highlight longer sections of text.  Brackets replace lengthy underlining.

3. ==============

Double underline very important information



Use arrow to connect or tie together ideas:  “This belongs to that,” or “this causes or results in that.

5.  1. 2. 3.

Number lists or series of things, concepts, facts, etc.


Circle key words or phrases.  Hint: you might try using a double circle around words that you need to define or investigate further.


Box in words or phrases that organize important information: “Two factors play…”

8. * and **

Use an asterisk to indicate conclusion or generalizations.  Two or three asterisks mean conclusion of greater importance.

9. + and ++

Use a plus to mark material that appears in your text and is also in your lecture notes.  Use a double plus to refer to material that was emphasized by your instructor.

10. ?

Note problem areas with a question mark.  These are items, facts, or ideas to look up, ask about, or research.

11.  !

Use an exclamation mark to indicate your won reflections or thoughts about the material.  These statements are written in the margins.

 Tip: different colors can mean specific things in your system of textbook marking.