How to Outline a Textbook: How to Take Notes from Textbook Effectively

Keys to Learning How to Outline a Textbook

Outlining a textbook isn’t something that everybody does, but it can be tremendously helpful when it comes to exam time. Pretty much everybody takes notes during lectures, but if you really want to excel in a class, one of the ways you can go above and beyond is to also make outlines of your textbook (or at least the relevant chapters). Taking notes during class can be difficult – anytime you’re taking notes in a lecture, you’re basically being forced to multitask – you need to listen to the professor/teacher and try to take notes at the same time.

Textbooks, on the other hand, will always be there. You don’t need to worry about missing out on portions of a textbook because it’s speaking too quickly – you can take as much time as you need when creating textbook outlines. That’s why we think its advisable that you learn how to outline a textbook on top of whatever process you already have for note taking in classes or lectures.

If you want to learn how to outline a textbook in a way that encourages learning and retention, it’s no good just copying passages from the textbook directly into your notebook. In order to produce useful textbook summaries, you need to do the following:

  • You should be breaking down textbooks into textbook chapter summaries
  • You need to organize your textbook notes well so that you can easily find what you’re looking for when you’re studying – use headings and subheadings, and try to clearly indicate what you feel are the key points
  • Your textbook summaries should in your own words, not just word for word copies
  • You need to try and distill the information in the textbook down to bite-sized bullet points as much as possible
  • You need to maintain a consistent format throughout the textbook outline

The goal of creating textbook outlines are two-fold – firstly, it’s a good, straightforward way to go over what you’ve learned, and secondly, it’s an extremely useful study-aid because you can refer back to textbook summaries without needing to go directly to the textbook (textbooks are often pretty long-winded and disorganized, whereas hopefully your outlines will be clear and to-the-point).

Now that you understand some of the keys to creating a great textbook outline, here’s a step by step guide.

How to Outline a Chapter in a Textbook – A Step by Step Guide

Step 1

Get a notebook and choose a format to write in – create a ‘draft’ of your format and stick to it. Create distinct headings and subheadings (with special markings, colors, or indentations) and also decide on a clear, straightforward way to mark Key Points.

Step 2

Take a quick glance over the chapter you’re outlining. Pay particular attention to headings and any areas or words that are emphasized (bold, italic, bullet points, etc). Get a general idea of what the chapter is about and what the absolutely essential takeaways are.

Step 3

Read over the chapter properly. Don’t begin your outline yet – use a separate piece of paper or notebook to jot down key points and important pages.

Step 4

Start working on your outline. Usually, at the end of a chapter, there will be a summary or conclusion along with key points. Pay particular attention to this. Also make sure that you’re adhering to the format that you decided on previously. Do your best to be concise – use bullet points and shorthand, include only useful information, and throw out all the fluff. Textbook authors in most cases are forced to write in full sentences, with proper grammar and punctuation. You don’t have to. Try and write the minimum amount possible while still encapsulating the information presented in the chapter. Leave a little bit of space after each section so that you can go in and add anything that you might miss on the first go.

Step 5

Once you’re done with the chapter, go back over your textbook chapter outline (without looking at the textbook itself) and see if it makes sense. Now go over the textbook chapter again and put the blank spaces you left to use, adding any important information that you missed.

Step 6

If you’re so inclined, you can show your textbook chapter outlines to a friend or study partner to see if he/she thinks its clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Step 7

Repeat this process with every chapter in the textbook that’s relevant to the class you’re taking. At the end of this process, you should have access to most of the information in your textbook in the form of organized, easy to understand textbook chapter outlines. These will prove exceptionally useful to you when it comes time to study for a quiz, test or exam.

Great! Now you’re a pro at Textbook Outlines!

Hopefully this post helped teach you how to take notes from textbooks successfully. Remember this though – even if you’re not as organized or concise as we suggest in this post, working on textbook outlines is still extremely useful – if for no other reason than it’s basically a form of revision/studying in and of itself!


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