Getting the Most Out of Your Nursing Textbooks

Because of the ridiculous price of textbooks these days, it is critical that you use your books in the most effective way.  Does that mean you should read your textbook cover to cover, line by line? Actually, using your textbook in a highly effective way involves skimming the chapters. Skimming your textbook is a valuable skill that will serve you well in your nursing school career, especially when you have multiple chapters to read for several classes. Some nursing students shy away from skimming their textbooks and devote hours to reading entire chapters for fear of missing something important.

We believe that when skimming your textbook the right way, you won't miss any important information.  In fact, you will save time by skipping over all the nonessential facts because you will know where to identify the main ideas.  

Reading your nursing textbooks word for word, line by line isn't just unnecessary, it's a HUGE time waster! In order to use your textbook effectively to complement your studies, you should be skimming instead! Click through to learn how to skim so you don't miss any important points AND breeze through the chapters in half the time!

Skimming your textbook either before or after class is entirely up to you, and will probably be influenced by the teaching style of your instructors or your own learning style.  Whether you decide to skim before or after class, your awareness of the main ideas will strengthen your focus during your study sessions and lead to higher grades and increased comprehension. 

Read the summary at the end of the chapter

Really? Start at the end of the chapter? Yes! The summary at the end of the chapter is a valuable section to read because you can usually find the main points stated here concisely and simply.  Reading the summary first also gives you an idea of what to expect in the chapter so that you can focus your reading.  It is easier to get carried away and fall into the trap of reading every line when you haven’t identified the main point. You may be wondering what to do if the summary is too short or you have trouble gathering the main ideas from it.  Move on to step 2!

Flip to the front of the chapter and read the objectives

Nursing textbooks love to list objectives at the start of each chapter that can be used to your advantage.  Think of the objectives page as a cheat list of the main ideas of the chapter.  So why start with reading the summary instead of the objectives?  Honestly you could start by reading the objectives first, but we preferred to start with the summary because sometimes the objectives can be worded vaguely and not reveal exactly what you need to know.

For example, a typical objective is written in some fashion like, “Identify the top 3 factors contributing to obesity in children under age 10.”  This is a nice roadmap that tells me what I need to look for, but I may find the exact answer to this objective in the summary.

Whether you choose to read the summary first or not, the main thing is that you do not ignore the objectives!  The objectives list is your roadmap to the chapter and will help you identify which sections of the textbook are worth your time.  Another reason why you should never ignore the objectives list? The objectives frequently appear on professors’ study guides.  If you notice your teacher pulling objectives onto their study guides for your exams, then you truly can’t afford to ignore them.

Read the headings to determine which paragraphs are worth your time

The reason why you should pay attention to the objectives is because they will guide your reading.  Analyze what the objective wants you to know and find the corresponding heading that has the information you need to address that objective.  Some paragraphs in your textbook will be completely irrelevant to the objectives, so don’t waste time on those sections.  Instead, use the headings to determine which paragraphs may have the answers to an objective.

Pay attention to charts and graphs

Any sort of visual presentation in your textbook is worth glancing over because typically, significant information is depicted as a graphic.  Also, the more unique exposures you have to a concept or fact, the more likely you are to remember it. Within your textbook you can find line graphs, pie charts, tables, bar graphs, images, cartoons, etc. that will complement the text.  Pay attention to these graphics to break up the monotony of reading boring text from your book. Why else should you pay attention to the graphics in the book?  Sometimes professors will make test questions from the captions of these graphics because they are easy targets to see if you actually opened your textbook. 

Great, so now you know how to skim your textbook, but you're probably wondering when to preview your reading.  We don't have a clear cut, this-is-how-it-should-always-be-done-approach for previewing your text, as it will likely vary with each course that you take.

If you have an instructor who welcomes you to class with a pop quiz (Gosh, don't you just love that?), then it may be in your best interest to skim before class.  Not only will you perform better on those reading checks, you'll also be able to understand what your instructor is teaching.

If, on the other hand, your instructor does not impose any sort of reading checks throughout the course, you may find it helpful to skim after class.  When you "preview" your text after you've already attended a lecture on the material, you save even more time because you can skip over any sections that your instructor mentioned absolutely nothing about.  Having heard the lecture takes out the guesswork of wondering what your instructor believes the main/important content is.

And if you have time (we know that is scarce in nursing school), you may even want to skim both before and after lecture, just for good measure.  Only you know what will fit into your schedule and ultimately work best for you.

There you have it! We this guide to previewing your text and getting the most out of your textbook has been helpful to you!  Have we convinced you to skim rather than read your text word for word?  Let us know in the comments below!