Let’s be honest.
Nobody really wants to read textbooks. There are about 100,000 more interesting activities I’d rather take part in.
Sleeping on a bed of worms, watching that one sad scene from Up twenty times in a row, and eating a gallon of mayo all sound more enjoyable than reading a chapter about tectonic plates.
Professors don’t seem to understand this since they keep assigning textbook chapters. But do you have to read them? The short answer is maybe. The slightly longer answer is below.
The Three Criteria
1. Will you be tested over the textbook reading?
If your professor gives you quizzes about the reading or tests you on specific items only found in your textbook, I have bad news. You need to read your book.
The quizzes may make up a small percentage of your overall grade, and you might get away with failing them and still get a good grade in the class. But I wouldn’t try that. Reading your textbook in these situations is highly recommended. The bed of worms will have to wait.
2. Does your professor lecture on the topics from the textbook?
Here’s a tricky one.
If your professor’s lectures follow the textbook closely, you might not need to read your book. Taking detailed notes from the lessons and talking to the professor about any questions you have is often just as good as reading the textbook.
In fact, it might be even better.
Your professor will cover the essential information and avoid rabbit holes you don’t need to worry about.
3. Is it a tricky subject?
It’s usually easier to understand concepts in freshman or sophomore-level classes. In these classes, you might be able to avoid reading your textbook because you can get all the information you need from lectures and reviews. Junior and senior courses are more complex, and you’ll need to read your textbook to understand what’s happening.
Even if the textbook reading isn’t required, you’ll understand the subject better and do better on tests if you read your textbook.
By now, you know the answer to this question is highly variable. It depends on the class, the grading structure, the professor, and the subject.
The key to answering this question is constant assessment. Keep track of how your professor runs their class and how well you understand the subject.
For the first half of the semester, you might be acing every quiz without glancing at a page of your textbook. But if things get more challenging and you see your quiz grades going down, maybe add textbook reading to your routine.
It might not be the most fun, but sometimes reading your textbook is the difference between an easy A and struggling to pass a class.
Evaluate each class using the criteria above and commit to reading your textbook when you need to.
Good luck, and happy studying!