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It’s Not Impossible: How to Read a Textbook Without Falling Asleep

how to read a textbook

Do you find your mind wandering or your eyelids closing when you read your textbooks? Whether you’re using ebooks or traditional textbooks, concentrating on the words isn’t always easy. 

Learning how to read a textbook effectively saves you time and helps you better understand what you’re reading. Simple changes to your reading habits can help you comprehend the text the first time so you don’t have to keep rereading it.

Try these tips for how to study effectively while reading your school textbooks.

Time It Right

When do you feel most focused and mentally sharp? Time your textbook reading to align with those times when possible. If you wait until you’re sleepy or easily distracted, you’re setting yourself up to struggle with your reading.

Sometimes the timing comes down to completing other tasks first. If you have chores to do or other tasks that weigh on your mind, you’re more likely to get distracted when you try to read. Tackle those things that are distracting you, and then sit down with your textbook.

Choose a Suitable Location

The best location for studying or reading a textbook varies based on your personality. Evaluate how you can concentrate best. Do you like quiet and no distractions, or do you prefer the busy atmosphere of a coffee shop?

Reading in public can make concentration difficult because of the noise and action around you. Some people find it more appealing, and being in public means you’re less likely to fall asleep to avoid judgment. Test out different locations to see where you can concentrate best.

Your position is also important. Settling into your bed to read may feel comfortable, but you may get too comfortable and doze off. Sitting at a table or even standing with your book on a higher surface helps you stay awake better.

Grab Everything You Need

Collect everything you’ll need for your textbook reading session before you crack your book. This might include a pen, highlighter, snacks, beverages, and paper for taking notes.

If you start reading without everything you need, you’ll interrupt yourself multiple times when you get up to grab those items. Breaking your concentration for forgotten items can make it difficult to remember what you read.

Scan the Chapter First

Instead of diving into the chapter and reading from start to finish, do a little pre-reading work. Scanning the chapter gives you a framework for the information you’ll read. It readies your brain and helps you understand what you’re going to read.

Look for discussion questions or key points at the end of the chapter. These questions usually cover the main ideas from the section. Reading them helps you know what information to look for to get the most from the chapter.

Read any summaries or key points throughout the chapter. Check out pictures and captions, charts, graphs, and other special text features. Read the subheads to get an idea of the topics covered.

Jotting down some of those key points and questions in your notes reminds you want the information to look for as you read.

Use Active Reading Skills

Sitting and reading without doing anything else can cause you to doze off or lose concentration. Actively engage yourself as you read to stay alert and better remember the content. An easy way to do this is by taking notes.

Rewrite the information in your own words to engage your brain and ensure you understand the information. Write down the key points as you read them, and include page numbers or other key information so you can reference the original if you need to. If you have questions or don’t understand sometimes, make a note of those topics so you can research them later.

If you have a physical textbook instead of an ebook, highlight the key passages you want to remember. This makes it easy to spot those important details when you study later.

Take Breaks

By the end of one long reading session, you’re less likely to remember what you read. Read smaller passages with short breaks between them.

You might read one section of the chapter and then get up and do a few jumping jacks or take a quick walk around the block. Doing something physical helps wake up your body so you can concentrate when you come back.

Don’t take too long of a break while you’re reading. Choose your break activities carefully so they don’t make you forget what you read. 

Eat and Drink

Sipping a cold or hot beverage while you read keeps you hydrated and can keep you alert. Water hydrates your brain most effectively, which helps your concentration. Drinking soda or other beverages that are full of sugar and caffeine can actually hurt your cognitive performance.

Snacks can also help you stay alert. The food fuels your brain, and the action of eating keeps you engaged so you don’t doze off while you read.

Read Out Loud

This option doesn’t work if you’re reading in a coffee shop or library. But reading a textbook out loud in your apartment or dorm room can help you stay alert and focus on what you’re reading.

When you read silently, your mind can start drifting off more easily. When you read the words out loud, you have to focus more on what you’re reading.

Reading aloud may also help you commit the information to your long-term memory. Saying the words and hearing yourself say them helps make the information easier to remember. It also keeps you active in the reading process, which can help you retain the information better.

You can also record yourself reading to create your own audio book. When you want to review the textbook information, listen to the recording.

Consider partnering with one or more of your classmates to read the textbook together. Create a study group where you read the text passages out loud and discuss them. The group setting encourages you to pay more attention, and the discussion helps you process what you read.

Learn How to Read a Textbook

Knowing how to read a textbook without falling asleep doesn’t come naturally. Making strategic choices about how and where you read helps you stay focused and better absorb the material so you don’t have to reread the text 10 times.

Check out our textbook buying options to save money on your studies. When you’re done with your classes for the semester, sell your textbooks with us to recoup some of your costs.

About the Author

Christopher Manns

I was born in the UK, grew up in Canada and have lived in the USA since the 90s. I love my family, water sports, ice hockey, skiing and soccer. When I'm not helping people save money on textbooks, I'm travelling with my wonderful family and playing sports.