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Textbooks play an important role in undergraduate mathematics courses and have the potential to impact student learning. However, there have been few studies that describe students' textbook use in detail. In this study, 1156 undergraduate students in introductory mathematics classes were surveyed, and asked to describe how they used their textbook. The results indicate that students tend to use examples, instead of the expository text, to build their mathematical understanding, which instructors may view as problematic. This way of using the textbook may be the result of the textbook structure itself, as well as students' beliefs about reading and the nature of mathematics. Although many instructors may not clearly convey how they want their students to use the textbook, students do report using it more productively when they believe they are asked to do so. This suggests that instructors should carefully choose text materials to promote mathematical reasoning, and actively encourage their students to read the text in a way that supports the development of this reasoning.


This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in PRIMUS: Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies. Copyright ©2012 Taylor & Francis, available online at:

DOI: 10.1080/10511970.2010.509336