EP8: How to mark and highlight text books for review.

We cover how to highlight, what to highlight, how much to highlight, and how to review highlighted material.

Hello, everybody, and welcome back to the show. This is Episode 8, Season 1 of The Autodidactic Podcast. Today we’re going to discuss textbook highlighting.

If you’re new to the show I would like to welcome you and if you are returning, I’d like to welcome you back. As always, I really enjoy getting feedback for this show. So if you’re interested in giving me some feedback, you can email me at rick@autodidactic.info. You can make comments on the website as well where I will be uploading the show notes for this show as well as others.

Why should you mark up your text books?

When done correctly, text marking promotes active reading, condenses the

material for later review, increases your comprehension, and serves as a mini

comprehension-monitoring system.

Active reading

By marking your textbooks as you read, you can achieve a high level of concentration and knowing that you should mark specific sections as you read helps keep you alert. It gives you a purpose for

reading. To mark your text effectively, you have to think about the content of the chapter. You constantly need to make decisions about what’s important and what isn’t.

Condense Material

Because you are highlighting the important areas, there is not need for you to read the entire section again for review. You only need to review the highlighted areas.

Increased Comprehension

Identifying and marking the main points and then looking for supporting details help you understand the text. When you highlight you’re effectively reading twice, because your eyes will follow the marker and reinforce the reading.

Feedback on comprehension

Highlighting also monitors your comprehension because it gives you feedback on if you are paying attention. If you’ve highlighted everything, then it means you have not been looking for the important information and making decisions about what is or isn’t important. If you haven’t highlighted anything in a large section it means you’ve not understood well enough, or that you were distracted while reading.

So how do you go about marking up your textbook? The main two methods are underlining or marking with a pencil. You can use either, but I would recommend that you use a highlighter, since this forces you to read a second time. You might think you get the same effect with underlining but studies have shown that people tend to look at the pencil like rather than the words. Highlighting doesn’t have this disadvantage.

Before you underline or highlight anything, you need to have completed the reading of the section. After you’ve read the section, have a little think about what parts were important, then go back and find those areas and highlight them. Don’t mark anything until you complete the section. If you start marking right away then you might mark something important which actually isn’t. In addition marking while reading interferes with comprehension.

When you do mark, make sure to highlight in the direction of the text to force a second reading. Don’t highlight the text backwards. You also should you a soft shade like yellow or pink, this is because highly fluorescent colours tend to cause eye-strain when you go back to do your reviews.

When marking, markup sentences where possible. If you ‘re highlighting keywords, then you need to use linking to connect them together. While marking just try to remember to mark things in a way that they’ll make sense when you review a month or six months later. This is why it is better to mark meaningful phrases instead of just words.

I recommended you only do highlighting, but don’t throw away the pencil just yet. While you’re marking up the textbook use your pencil to make notes in the margins. Mark margin notes about areas where you disagree with the author, or put a question mark if you need more information about this particular point. You can use margin notes to make a summary of the keywords and creating a link between them.

But don’t over use the margin notes. You defeat the object of highlighting if you’re creating huge summaries in the margins.

Keep It Simple Stupid – The kiss principle.

Diversity is great, but not when it comes to text highlighting. You’ve probably seen people who have 10 different colour highlighters and they have one colour for facts, one for opinion, one for keywords, another colour for examples, etcetera. I would advise against this. It makes you think more about the colouring than the content. Using two colours is really the maximum.

One thing about colours however. If you’re using a used textbook which has already been highlighted make sure you get a different colour for your highlights. This might be difficult if the previous owner was a multiple-colour highlighter.

Another time consuming exercise in futility is the multiple symbol method. This is where people underline, double underline, circle, bracket, use asterisks, etc. The idea being you have a set of symbols you use to encode the review material. This is very time consuming, and often leads to over-marking the text. You spend too much time thinking about the system instead of the content.

A simple system will help focus on the important information without the distraction of remembering various symbols, or colour combinations.

Now that we have discussed how to mark, the next step is figuring out what to mark. In the past you’ve probably caught yourself thinking; “I wonder if I should mark this?” Until you become experienced at marking, it’s better to mark a little too much rather than not enough.

There is no real set of rules for what you should mark. But, headings, subheadings, main ideas, supporting details, definitions, examples, and statistics are important. Even though they’re not always identified by bold or italic print. So let’s go through some good practice guidelines for marking up information.

Mark headers. It is very likely that headings in the text are important, since typically, they are a summary of the most important idea of the section.

Mark the main ideas of the section. Main ideas are the general statements that the author makes about the topic. The main idea statement, or topic sentence, is generally found in the first or second sentence of a paragraph. Sometimes authors don’t directly state the main ideas; they only imply them. However, as you practice looking for these main ideas you’ll find the implied ones. You want to write the implied idea in the margin notes.

Focus on the supporting details. Look at definitions, examples, facts, statistics, and signal words, etcetera. You should absolutely highlight definitions, and perhaps even load them into a SRS, spaced repetition program in order to learn them off by heart.

Look through the examples and highlight where the example is illuminating the idea.

Lists or enumerations, like definitions, should almost always be highlighted. They contain itemised information.

Facts or statistics are also worth highlighting a because they will support the main idea.

Some important information is found outside the regular body of the text. You need to read and mark any definitions for technical terms, even if they’re in the left-hand margin. Don’t omit information included in charts, graphs, and other diagrams. The information under photos, in footnotes, and in boxed features is also important to your understanding of the material.

For Math or Science books make sure to highlight all formulas, as well as any problems that

you want to review. Be sure you also mark the text material that explains or discusses that formula or problem. The prose material material is as important as or perhaps even more important than the problems.

Finally it is probably worth highlighting negation words like, but, however, on the other hand, conversely, etcetera. This is because they are showing a change in the authors direction in this area. So you’ll need to highlight them in order to avoid confusion later when reviewing.

So now we know how to make, and what to mark, how much should we mark? Well, the correct answer is “just enough”. But what does that mean. Firstly, you don’t want to over mark since this will lengthen your review times, if you highlight everything, you might as well just read the book again. You need to be actively looking for important ideas and information.

However, being overly concerned about over-marking can lead to another problem which is under-marking. Marking too little means you’re probably only marking the headlines or key words. But you should also highlight related details. You may miss important information by trying to pick out only one or two important points in each paragraph or headed section. You may have heard or read that you should mark only one main point in each paragraph or that you shouldn’t mark more than 20 percent of the words on a page. This might be good rules-of-thumb, but actually you need to mark all the information which you need in order to understand and retain all the important information.

So both over-marking and under-marking are a problem. Just like Goldie-locks you need the find the one that is just right.

Remarking and review. After you’ve marked your textbook, on the next review don’t leave the highlighter behind, pick a second colour for your second review. So I recommended you only use one colour when you highlight, but this time you’re not highlighting, you are re-highlighting and therefore you need a different colour from the first time.

The idea here is if you have to remark the material you are once again engaged and actively reading the material. As you reread the marked selections, you can determine whether or not the information is important enough to review again. The first time you read the chapter, everything was new

to you. At that time, many things may have seemed important. After having completed the chapter, worked through text questions or a study guide, read or listened to other material, you should be able to reduce the text material even more.

When you review you might also want to rewrite and summarize the information into a notebooks. One really good method of review is to generate a mock examination from the information on a separate sheet of paper. Don’t make multiple choice questions however since this might lead you to remembering incorrect information. Write a broad question for each heading or subheading and then

as many specific questions as you can.

After your review, have a think about your markings.

  • Did they make sense?
  • Did you mark all the important information the first time around?
  • Does the markings retain and contain the meaning of each section?

Giving yourself feedback on your markings will help you in future markings. You’ll get better at it as you go along. For an autodidactic, there probably isn’t going to be a test or examiniation in your future. So you’ll need to review your books periodically and having a good well thought out set of markings will reduce the time you need for review.

That is all for today, thanks for listening and I’m glad you joined me. Next week, we’re going to talk about taking lecture notes. Thank you very much.