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Highlighting and marking

Marking in a college textbook helps you become an active learner and keeps your attention focused on the information in the text.

Create a simple system

Develop a marking system that does not interfere with your textbook reading. Both pencils and highlighters can be used to signify important information. The advantage of using a pencil is that additional written information or questions can be included on the page. A highlighter will illuminate information for later review. The markings in your textbook should be easily followed and should serve as a summary of the chapter material.

Underlining suggestions

Use your pencil for the following tasks:

  • Write notes in the margin.
  • Create questions in the textbook for later discussion and review.
  • Apply the SQ3R method of reading a college textbook. (For more complete explanation of the SQ3R reading method follow this link.)
  • Create summaries of the information at the end of chapter sections.
  • Enclose information in boxes or circles to signify topics or material to be emphasized.
  • Make stars by important examples, graphs or diagrams.
  • Create lists in the margins of items that should be recalled in sequence.
  • Draw arrows to connect similar information found in separate paragraphs.
  • Write out explanations for abbreviations or unfamiliar vocabulary.

Highlighting suggestions

  • A common pitfall for many college students is excessive textbook highlighting. Excessive highlighting signifies that more work is needed in selecting essential information. To discover the essential information or main ideas of the passages, refer to the link, Finding the Main Ideas in College Textbooks.
  • Approximately 10 - 15 percent of each page should be highlighted. That means a page containing 40 lines of text should have the equivalent of four to five lines highlighted. This task is accomplished by selective highlighting of essential information.
  • Use a yellow highlighter to illuminate crucial information, such as the main idea to make this information stand out.
  • Use a contrasting color highlighter to signify new vocabulary.
  • To accentuate key words in the main ideas use an additional color.


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