How to Take Notes from Textbooks

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Have you ever finished a reading assignment only to realize that you have retained no information from it? Are you at a loss for how to create useful notes from your textbook? Never fear, we are back with another guide to help you get through school. This time, we are zeroing in on how to take excellent notes in school.

Imagine you have been assigned to read five chapters of a Marketing textbook. After getting through the first two chapters, you look down at your notes only to realize that there are none there. In a complete panic, you begin to jot down everything you see in bold letters. Although you get excited that your notebook is filling up quickly, you’re taking all the wrong notes.

There are several methods you can use for notetaking. These methods include mind mapping, boxing, and many more. We will even give you some tips on the best way to take notes electronically. If learning about effective note-taking methods is your goal, then you are in for a treat. All you have to do is keep reading for more information.

Why Taking Notes When Reading Your Textbook is Important

Why Taking Notes When Reading Your Textbook is Important

Why Taking Notes When Reading Your Textbook is Important

Taking notes from your textbook is an essential task. Being that many high school or college-level courses require a significant level of reading, you must be able to understand the information that you are reading. Ultimately, note-taking is a large part of your academic success.

Handouts do not contain all the information you need.

Many times your teacher will not give you all the information you need in your class handouts. To ensure that you are reading the material, they will often leave information out on purpose. Never rely solely on class notes to give you everything you need.

Information is more natural to retain when it is written in your own words.

The act of writing works as a way of training the brain to remember something. Handwriting also provides students with more retention than typing. Re-writing your notes in your own words not only allows you another opportunity to grasp the information, but it also allows your brain to process it in a way that you will remember.

Taking notes while reading allows you to generate your questions from the text.

When you read a passage, likely, you may not understand everything. As you read, you may question the events or validity of parts of the text. If you are simply reading and only making a note of these items in your brain, we can guarantee you will not remember all of them when you finish reading.

While reading, you can identify areas you do not understand.

As you read through your text, it can be extremely beneficial to write areas down as you become confused by them. This allows you to place markers in the book for areas and pages you know that you should go back for further review and potential tutoring.

5 Methods to Use When Taking Textbook Notes

5 Methods to Use When Taking Textbook Notes

5 Methods to Use When Taking Textbook Notes

Every person does not take notes the same. Unfortunately, we are not robots and therefore do not know everything there is. We learn at different paces and by utilizing different tactics. There are several note-taking methods you can use when taking notes. There is no one method that is perfect for us all; it is merely a matter of preference. This section will briefly give you an overview of 5 different note-taking styles and how to apply them.


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The Cornell Method

Though research has proven that the Cornell notetaking method is one of the most efficient ways of taking notes, it may not be the best for you. The Cornell Method also makes your notes easier to review later. Professor Walter Pauk created the Cornell Method in the 1950s at Cornell University.

Using the Cornell Method is extremely simple. With this method, your page will be divided into four sections. The top section, which is divided by a horizontal line towards the top of the page, is the area used for the title. A vertical line will separate the middle section. This line should not be directly down the middle of the page. Instead, it should be at a point which divides the page at a 30:70 ratio. There should then 5-7 lines at the bottom or 2.5 inches from the bottom, separated with a horizontal line.

All of the actual notes would be placed in the more massive column on the right side of the page. The left column is used to hold any questions, keywords, or comments you may have about the text. The bottom portion of the page is meant for a summary of that page of notes. The Cornell note-taking method allows students to go back and reflect on their notes to create the summary at the bottom of the page.


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Mind Mapping

The Mind Mapping method is perfect for more visual learners. It can be used during presentations, lectures, while reading or during class. Mind mapping emphasizes one subject at a time. This subject can be that of a talk or the topic of reading. Traditional lined paper is not needed when mind mapping. Using a blank sheet of paper will be more effective than using lined paper. Using paper without lines allows your subject to be clearly visible, without distraction.

On a mind map, you should not use full sentences. Instead, you would write down keywords or short phrases that are connected to the subject in the middle of the map. These lines can easily show relationships, connections, or even hierarchies.

Mind maps do not allow users to take extensive notes. Instead, your notes should be shorted but more purposeful. Mind maps can include images, icons, words, or phrases. They help your brain draw a connection and memorize information easier. Overall, mind mapping should be enjoyable.

Mind mapping generally starts with the main subject in the middle of the page. That subject will then branch off into multiple topics. These topics will then branch off further into notes, ideas, or keywords. There is no set template for how your mind map should look. However, if you would like a more polished look, several models can be found online.

Split Page Method

The split-page method is a simple means of notetaking. It is set up by simplifying drawing a vertical line down your page. The right side of the line should once again cover at least seventy percent of the page. Another way to measure is by starting your line 2.5 inches from the left side of the page.

The left side of the page can have two uses. These uses can include writing down keywords or jotting down questions you may have as you are reading. However, traditionally, the left side of the page is used to create an outline of the text. This structure of notetaking can be accomplished by using the outline method of notetaking. The outline method will be further explained below.

The split method allows you to study notes from multiple areas. Most times, the left side would include an outline of the notes from the textbook, and the right side would consist of notes from the lecture.


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The Outline Method

The outline method of note-taking is extremely common. College students most often use it. It is categorized by the formation of a skeleton structure of a chapter within a textbook. It is often best used when preparing for a test.

The outline method should not be used when taking notes for classes, which are far more quantitative, and figures need to be drawn. Examples of these include courses like chemistry, math, or even some engineering courses.

The Outline method is highly organized and allows users to see the connection between the content. This method also reduces the time which you will need to edit the notes.

When using the outline method, the most critical points are placed on the left side of the page; these are generally main ideas. The less essential items are typically the supporting items of the primary purpose. Each set of points is further indented to the right until you come to another main idea. You will then start your main point back on the far left. Items are generally divided by main ideas, supporting ideas and details.

There are several advantages that come with utilizing the outline method. One significant benefit is that outlining will require you to listen attentively to the lecture as you will need to listen carefully enough to be able to break out the main ideas and their support.

The Boxing Method

Many students are generally unaware of what the box method of notetaking is. However, the boxing method is popular among individuals who may bring a laptop, iPad, or tablet to class. This method is excellent for use with learning a new language.

Within the boxing method, related notes are grouped together within the confines of a box. A box is assigned to a specific category of notes. The boxing method is another one that is good for visual learners.

The boxing method can also be combined with other note-taking styles. One style may be used to take notes in class or within the lecture, and the box method would be used shortly after. For some students, rewriting their notes in the box method makes them easier to understand.

After your lecture has concluded, you then have time to create the needed subjects on your box template and revisit your notes. Having each topic separated can be extremely beneficial when preparing for exams and quizzes. You are also able to use the space on the page more effectively.

What Should You Copy from Textbooks When Notetaking

What Should You Copy from Textbooks When Notetaking

What Should You Copy from Textbooks When Notetaking

Don’t forget the page number.

When taking notes in any format, it can be beneficial to mark down the page number or even the chapter and section name in your notes. This annotation allows you to refer back to it quickly without having to waste time searching for it.

Where & when?

Events are another area of notes that will generally remain concrete and are safe to copy from your textbook. No matter how you write it, the date of WW2 will not change, or the date an item was discovered.

Can you define it?

Definitions are an essential thing to copy directly from the text. Though you should be able to paraphrase them, knowing the textbook definition can also be necessary for referencing later.

I remember him.

One thing you should never forget to write down is the names of people. These will be important when taking quizzes and for retaining information about a specific person or group of people.

What Shouldn't You Copy from Textbooks When Taking Notes

What Shouldn't You Copy from Textbooks When Taking Notes

What Shouldn’t You Copy from Textbooks When Taking Notes

Everything is not needed.

When taking notes from your textbook, do not try to write everything. Rewriting the book is not the same thing as jotting down key points. Identify the main idea and write it in your own words. Your notes should be more like a water fountain than a fire hose.

Textbook Jargon.

Another thing you should not copy from your textbook is its formal language. Write your notes in words you will understand later when the book is closed. Paraphrasing the notes help you to memorize them better.

What's the Best Supplies for Taking Notes from Textbooks?

What's the Best Supplies for Taking Notes from Textbooks?

What’s the Best Supplies for Taking Notes from Textbooks?


Your use of notebooks or notecards all depends on your personal study methods. Notecards are a versatile study option because they give you the flexibility to create flashcards about any given topic. If you are really organized, you can use colored notecards to organize flashcards by topic, information type, or subject.


If you’re using a textbook that you plan on selling at the end of the semester, or you simply do not want to use ink in your book, pencils are always a great option. They allow you to make annotations that you don’t want to be permanent. Things that you may wish to erase include questions you may have about the text.


Highlighters are an ideal tool for use when studying. They allow you to emphasize important dates, events, people, vocabulary, or quotes that you may need to reference later. They can also be used for underlining information within the text.

Highlighters keep notetaking exciting. You can even use them in an array of colors, including green, yellow, pink, orange, blue, or purple. Using smear-proof highlighters also keeps you from creating a mess within your book.

Book Tabs

Using book tabs allows you never to lose your place within your textbook. These small sticky flags will enable you to write topics, keywords, and more to remember them later.

Tabs also come in a variety of types that allow them to be used in a multitude of locations include within the passage itself. Using transparent tabs will enable you to see still the information you are reading through your marker. Tipped tabs can even act as arrows and point you to important material.


Pens are another great option when notetaking in your textbook. Sometimes pencils can be too light and easily erased. If you are looking for something that will stand out on the page and are perfect for writing flashcards and in your notes, pens are ideal. BIC pens come in an assortment of colors and even with grips to allow ease when writing.

Ballpoint pens are also an excellent option to buy as they dry quickly. Therefore, when you close your textbook, you do not have to worry about your pages now having blotches of ink in the middle.

Post-It Notes

Post-It notes allow you the ability to jot down ideas and takes notes virtually anywhere.  Use Post-Its to emphasize key information or in your text as notes for reminders to yourself.  There are several different ways that you can take notes with your post-its. Buy various colors to be used with different subjects or ideas.

By the way, we go over the best school supplies lists here:

> The Best 8th Grade School Supply List

> The Best 9th Grade School Supply List

> The Best 10th Grade School Supply List

> The Best 11th and 12th Grade School Supply List

3 Tips for Active Reading When Note Taking from Your Textbook

3 Tips for Active Reading When Note Taking from your Textbook

3 Tips for Active Reading When Note Taking from your Textbook

If you’ve got to this section and you’re at a loss for what active reading is, don’t worry, you are not alone. To explain it plainly, active reading is essentially, reading for comprehension. Active reading is a type of “involved reading,” which allows the reader to retain and learn new information. Active readers aim to think critically and understand what they read on a deeper level.

Active reading encompasses an abundance of effective reading techniques that allow you to zero in on what you’re reading for better understanding. We have included three tips that will help you become stronger at active reading and gain a firmer grasp on the material you are studying.

1. Annotation is the key to comprehension.

Annotations are one of the most essential skills that you should take from this guide. They are not the only key to active reading but critical to success, in and outside of the classroom.

Annotations force readers to determine what is really important within a section of reading. They force you to interpret what you read thoroughly. Annotations also force students to practice close reading.

From now on, whenever you are reading a passage, there are four things that you should always attempt to annotate. These things include the main idea and the topic sentence of a passage and the audience. Another item consists of the purpose of the passage. This can be in the form of a thesis or identifying the writer’s goals. The last thing you should attempt to annotate is the tone or the mood.

2. Consult a reference text.

How many times have you been reading something and completely changed the whole meaning of the passage because you didn’t understand a single word? It’s okay; you don’t have to answer aloud. Consulting a reference text is an easy way to ensure you are interpreting a passage correctly.

They can also be essential in providing context on the subject you are reading about. Wouldn’t it read differently if you read a word as ‘sea’ instead of ‘see’? A dictionary can be a powerful tool. Other references include thesauruses, glossaries, anthologies, or reference charts. Write words in the margins that you are unsure of. This will allow you to remember to come back and define them later.

3. Nobody likes a speed demon.

You should not be reading everything at the same pace. If you are reading for comprehension, you will not read with the same vigor you would if you were skimming to keep words. Be sure to adjust your rate based on the task that you are performing and their purpose. As a rule of thumb, you should slow your reading pace for taking in new information. If you are skimming for information or scanning for keywords, you can generally see the speed at which you are reading.

Wrapping Up How to Take Notes from Textbooks

We hope this guide was able to give you some direction on how to take notes from your textbook. There is no wrong or right answer. You should take notes in a manner that works best for you.

When taking notes, there are several methods you may opt to utilize. One of the most efficient ways happens to be the Cornell note-taking method. This method is categorized by having a four-section format.

The main sections are used for keywords and questions, whereas the smaller parts are used to hold the title and a brief summary of the notes. Another excellent note-taking method is the mind mapping method. This method is perfect for visual learners who want to see the relationships between a topic rather than read them.

Taking notes may be a difficult task, but as long as you have the right supplies, you can conquer them. Notecards, highlighters, and ballpoint pens may be beneficial when looking for note-taking supplies — all of these items aid in making things more comfortable and more efficient.  They also allow you to place emphasis on a variety of areas within the text.

After you have determined which note-taking style is perfect for you and you have the supplies you need, it’s time to start. Use the active reading tips in this guide to beginning reading and notetaking with a purpose.

Did you enjoy this post? Then you’ll love our other study tips here.

You may also want to learn what the best textbooks are for the classes you’re taking here or our guide on how to read a textbook here.

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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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