How to Read a Textbook

71 points11
porknubbins9 hours ago

This kind of meta reading strategy never worked for me. My real strategy 1) be deeply curious and motivated about what you’re learning. If you cannot do that, trick yourself into caring, if that fails ask yourself why you are learning it in the first place.

jacobmischka2 hours ago

Same, they always seem to basically reduce to rereading it multiple times which I just can't really stomach. I'll reread a paragraph if I don't understand it the first time, but I'm not going to set out to read a thick textbook three times at once.

jacobmischka2 hours ago

Certainly, this comment mostly applies to undergraduate and below education. If I'm actually interested in a topic that is my passion and career then the benefit from rereading something a few times may actually be worth it. In school, people for some reason expect you to do this for 4-8 textbooks at once when frankly the subject matter is not that difficult, which is what soured me on the idea.

kseistrup3 hours ago

There's also the classic “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler:

iamcreasy4 hours ago

Advice from Paul N. Edwards has been very helpful for me in this regard:

smckk1 hour ago

Time to do this - a minimum of one week. Learn all the contents of a chapter over a period of one week. This includes answering the questions at the end of the chapter. If you happen to finish the contents before the end of the week, rest and start the next chapter the following week.

lacker4 hours ago

I think this really varies by subject. If you are reading a math textbook with exercises, you can just read the chapter however you want, and do the exercises. Anything you don't understand, you'll be forced to understand by solving the problems.

Similarly, if you're reading a computer science textbook, you really need to be writing code that puts your learning into practice, or solving algorithmic problems that use the subject matter.

This advice is better when you're just trying to remember stuff that you read in a textbook, rather than gaining a deeper understanding.

nefitty5 hours ago

Wow, this site has a lot of self-study resources. I've been sort of chicken pecking at books about learning to try to extract ideas, like stuff by Barbara Oakley, etc.

Even the Wikipedia page on "evidence-based learning" only discusses three things: spaced repetition (Anki), n-back training and some weird ambiguous behavioral thing called errorless learning.

I've also continually scoured HN and Reddit for tips.

Does anyone have any hidden knowledge to share? My current experiment is a tweak of memory palaces. I take a route in my city that I know well, that I can picture myself traversing. I then mark monuments on the path. I then mentally attach items to the path. Finally, I take a screenshot of the path and manually label each milestone with the associated piece of information.

So far I've managed to memorize 19 items related to Javascript proxies this way, after a single session.

porknubbins4 hours ago

I have experimented with memory systems some and used SRSs extensively to learn foreign languages. I also use SRSs for more obscure programming stuff. The hardest thing is knowing what you need to remember. I have not had any success with memory palace techniques with programming as they are for memorizing lists in order and programming requires understanding concepts more at random.