We’ve probably all had the experience where we’ve read a passage from the textbook, reached the end, and thought, “wait - what did I just read?”

It’s really easy to ‘study’ like this. It looks like you’re being productive, but on the inside you might be thinking of something completely unrelated to the text. And if that’s the case, you probably won’t get much out of your study session.

So - how can you avoid this common trap? Here are some strategies to try if you want to get more out of your textbook.


Make summaries

As a general study strategy, making summaries can be really useful. It can also be useful to employ specifically when reading through your textbook. By writing summaries of each section or chapter, you’re forcing yourself to think actively about what the text is actually saying, and which parts are most important.

"... you're forcing yourself to think actively about what the text is actually saying..."

Doing this consistently will take a little longer than just skimming through the text, but it may also give you a deeper understanding of what you’re learning. If nothing else, it can help highlight areas where you don’t feel as confident; if you can’t concisely summarise a chapter, it might be time to give it another read!


If you’re reading passively, take a minute to think

We can’t be completely focused and on the ball all the time. It’s okay to realise that you’ve been reading passively for a while, and haven’t actually taken in much (if any) of the information. But if that happens, what you do next is important.

Notice it, be kind to yourself, and give it another go. Try not to just move on without going back to the content you missed, because it might be super important!

There are some strategies you can use to try to avoid this type of passive reading in the first place.


Take consistent, short breaks

You might have heard of the Pomodoro Technique, where you typically work for around 25 minutes before breaking for five. This is something you can try when reading your textbook, particularly if you’re trying to get through multiple chapters or big sections in a single study session.

Taking short breaks where you can get up, stretch, refill your water bottle, go to the toilet etc., also means you can mentally refresh and reset. You won’t end up reading for two hours straight and then feeling completely burnt out for the rest of the day; in some senses, it’s a more sustainable study approach.

"You won't end up reading for two hours straight..."


Remove distractions

This is a pretty basic one, and a lot of past students talk about it. If you set up your study environment in a way that limits distractions - so not having your phone open scrolling through Instagram stories, for example - you’re giving yourself the best chance of success. If you are distracted, you might find that your reading becomes more and more passive.


Mix it up

If you’ve been studying maths for ages and you’re feeling tired of the content, there’s no harm in switching up your subjects. If you move on to a science subject, for example, the novelty of different content might rejuvenate your study session. And that leads us to the next major tip: being curious about what you’re reading.


Be curious about what you’re reading

If you see a word you don’t know, don’t just skip past it - look it up! If the textbook speaks about something that raises questions for you, make a note of those questions to look up later.

The idea here is to actively engage with the content, and not just let it wash over you (which is very easy to do). Try to make an effort to be curious about the content, even if it seems boring on the surface. Once you adopt a lens of curiosity, you might surprise yourself with where your questions can take you!

"Try to make an effort to be curious about the content, even if it seems boring on the surface."


Make connections

Most content at senior high school level doesn’t exist in a vacuum; subjects are designed in a way where different parts of the course interrelate and overlap. Being able to make connections between different parts of the subject promotes a more holistic understanding of the syllabus, and this may benefit you come exam time.

You can also make connections to the types of exam questions that might be asked. For example, if you have just read a chapter or learnt a new formula, ask yourself how you think that content/knowledge might be assessed. This switches your focus from learning content, to thinking about how that content might be applied.

To be clear, I’m not saying there’s no place for casually flicking through the textbook - I liked doing this sometimes as a method of very low-key study. But if you’re trying to learn content for the first time or really hone in on specific content or skills, you might find that passive reading offers limited utility.

Best of luck with your study!


Q: How can I ensure I'm actively engaging with my textbook while studying?

A: One effective strategy is to make summaries of each section or chapter as you read. Additionally, you can highlight the text and add sticky notes with your key insights. This forces you to actively process the information and identify the key points. Additionally, taking short breaks and removing distractions can help maintain focus and prevent passive reading.

Q: What should I do if I realize I've been reading passively?

A: It's important to notice when you've been reading passively and take steps to correct it. Be kind to yourself and give it another go, making sure to actively engage with the content. Don’t be afraid to reread a section multiple times if you feel you weren’t engaging with it the first time. Taking short breaks and employing strategies to limit distractions can help prevent passive reading in the first place.

Q: How can I maintain focus while studying for long periods?

A: The Pomodoro Technique, where you work for around 25 minutes before taking a short break, can be effective for maintaining focus. Additionally, taking consistent short breaks allows you to mentally refresh and reset, making your study session more sustainable.

Q: What can I do to stay curious and engaged with the content of my textbook?

A: Actively engage with the content by looking up unfamiliar words, making notes of questions that arise, and making connections between different parts of the subject. For science/maths subjects, you should try and do the practise questions at the end of the textbook chapter so you can test how much information you’ve absorbed.  Cultivating a sense of curiosity about the material can help keep you engaged and deepen your understanding.

Q: How can I make connections between different parts of the subject in my textbook?

A: Look for connections between different chapters or topics within the subject. Consider how the material might be assessed in exams and think about how different concepts relate to each other. Making connections promotes a more holistic understanding of the subject and can aid in exam preparation. To help with this, you can try creating mind maps that encompass information from multiple chapters of the textbook together.