To Highlight or Not To Highlight?

There are individuals and companies that will sell you a “Tabbed and Highlighted” National Electrical Code® book for a nominal fee. They’ll tell you that they’ve “highlighted” all the relevant sections and you could score 15-20 points more on your electrician’s exam. I say stay away from those code books!

My first code book was a 1990 National Electrical Code®. It was the loose-leaf edition with an astounding seven rings and 5¼” x 7½” pages. I couldn’t afford tabs in those days so I cut, punched and tabbed manila file folders for all nine Chapters and the Index. Looking back, I must have spent a small fortune on highlighters!



Highlighting seems like an useful study method, but it’s usually ineffective. The internet is chock-full of tips, tricks and techniques. In my opinion, there are two reasons you should think twice before highlighting your codebook.

First, the majority people (including myself!) overuse it. A perfect example is my 1990 NEC®. Article 100 – Definitions had approximately 200 definitions and I had, over the course of my studies, highlighted over half of them. Article 210 – Branch Circuits, Article 230 – Services, and Article – 240 Overcurrent Protection were the worst. There were more highlighted sections, than un-highlighted sections. The reason it gets overused is because there is no strategy, one start highlighting everything that seems important or that might be on an exam. There is a point when highlighting defeats the purpose and is no longer effective.

Second, I don’t think highlighting supports learning, especially when it comes to understanding the National Electrical Code®. I believe the best way to remember a rule is to read the entire section and visualize it, relate it to a personal experience on the job. This method improves your ability to retain and recall information, hence learning. When highlighting, you’re usually only focusing on one rule, when in fact most sections contain multiple rules that form an overall concept.

I’m not saying DON’T highlight! If you do, develop a simple strategy, use it sparingly and most importantly – DO IT YOURSELF! Get in the habit of reading the entire section when answering code question, it’s good practice. Remember, understanding the National Electrical Code® is going to take time and patience. Good luck!

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