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How To Read Textbook for Nursing School Success

There is a right way of reading textbooks. But unfortunately, very few know about it, so most students read it incorrectly. The wrong way of reading is simple but time-consuming and doesn't ensure long-term memory retention.

Hence, in this article, we will cover how your way of reading a textbook may be wrong, what is the right way, and how to ensure you remember what you read in the long term.

A Textbook Isn't A Novel:

When you read a novel, you need to go through it from the first page to the last page, word for word, to understand the story. But your textbook is not a novel. And you are lucky it isn't.

Because the amount of reading you are expected to do in nursing school is overwhelming. Finishing and understanding all the textbooks is challenging for most students with an average reading speed. But then, how do some students read everything that is assigned?

The secret is, they don't! Successful students never read the textbook from the first to the last page word for word. Because they know with the amount of work assigned and their other personal and social responsibilities, it will not be possible for them. And it isn't needed either.

How To Read Your Textbook?

Rather than reading everything, top students use these 2 step methods to succeed in exams.

Step 1: Skim before going to lectures.

Skimming the topics that will be covered by the professor in the next class is a great way to prepare yourself. Scanning before the class will let you know what will be covered, get the gist of the topics, and mark the confusing topics. This way, you prepare your mind to understand the concepts. A few tips that you can employ to skim are as follow:

  • Read the intro to the chapter.
  • Read all the headlines and sub headlines in the chapter.
  • Read the first few lines under each headline and sub-headline. This will give you a basic idea of what the concept is.
  • Read and understand the concepts that have been italicized or bolded. These are essential concepts that you need to know.
  • Go through the chart, images, or any other visuals that may be present in the chapter.

Step 2: Use textbooks only to fill your knowledge gaps.

Now that you have skimmed through the textbook, sat actively through the lectures, and understood the topic. You can now use your book to fill gaps or expand your knowledge.

For this, you will only have to go back to some specific topics and not read through the whole book.

Following these steps will save a lot of time, along with a good understanding of the concepts to ace your exam.

Reading Once Isn't Enough:

If you want to ace your exams, only reading the material once or twice and then giving the exam is the worst way of studying. As soon as you read and understand the material, a forgetting curve starts, and your brain starts forgetting the info.

After a day or two of attending a class or reading something, you will have forgotten more than 75% of it. And after a month, you remember very little of what you have initially read as the forgetting curve keeps going downwards.

Source: csustan.edu 

But you can solve this issue by breaking the forgetting curve by reviewing the material after certain intervals. According to research, after a class, you should immediately go over the material, review it within 24 hours, then again in a week, and finally, after a month. This will ensure the highest level of retention.

Reading Isn't The Best Way To Study:

Reading and re-reading a topic is the weakest type of study method. Rather than re-reading material, you should take practice tests for the topics.

When you test yourself on the knowledge, you have to retrieve the information from your brain. Therefore, when you repeatedly take the test after a specific interval (spaced repetition), your brain recognizes the knowledge as necessary because you use it frequently. This leads to solidifying that information in your brain, and you will be less likely to forget it.


Now that you understand how to read your textbooks and review the material, you will be able to remember what you have read in the long term. This will help you ace your finals and pass the NCLEX on your first attempt.

Suppose you are preparing for NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN. In that case, you should check out our ArcherReview courses and Qbanks, which are specially designed while keeping the forgetting curve, practice testing, and spaced repetition in mind. They will make your NCLEX prep super simple.