student life

Why you should read a textbook backwards

Written by April Fergus

It’s approaching exam season for most which means hard core revision, note taking and all-round stress. For a substantial amount of my revision, I’ll be flicking through my textbook reading page after page of information. Of course, the logical way to go through any textbook is from the first to the last page.

With any book we read, it would be senseless to start from the back. Not only would it be really confusing, but it might give away key plot twists and ruin the suspense. But unfortunately for us, textbooks aren’t a novel, there’s no twists and turns, and nothing unexpected (if you’ve been paying attention in lectures.)

There are benefits to this

Two years at university has made me think of the benefits of reading a textbook back to front. Here’s my soundproof logic:

1. Easiest chapters are at the beginning as they tend to be more of an introduction into the topic and basic concepts. When we go through the textbook repeatedly it’s always the initial chapters we read first which makes us more confident on those.

This, of course, is great but easy tends to mean less marks and it’s content which we probably would have been able to do the first time we read it.

2. ‎If it’s anything like my textbooks, you lose the will to live towards the end of the book. This is coupled with the fact that the content inevitably gets harder as the chapters go on.

This means we will be less focused on the later chapters which tend to be harder and carry the most marks in exams.

Starting from the back therefore can have a number of benefits. If we keep going over the textbook starting from the back we always do the questions that are generally the hardest and become more confident in those. We’ll be less likely to make mistakes and bag lots of marks in the exam. If you get bored towards the end of the textbook it doesn’t have as much of an impact because the first few chapters do tend to be easier.

So maybe try this when you’re first learning the content go through from the beginning to the end, this way you have the basic concepts down. During revision go through back to front and see if it makes any difference when you’re doing past papers.

If you’re current revision technique doesn’t work for you, it’s not too late to experiment with something else.