The SQ3R Method: How It Maximizes Your Learning Comprehension


Diving into the learning field, you’ll be able to quickly uncover that there are many different methods of learning and studying a subject. More methods continue to rise to the surface and gain popularity. One among them that I have yet to talk much about is the SQ3R method.

It doesn’t take much to learn this method of studying, but by applying it in your future learning, you’ll be able to make the most from this method. Below, I’ll tell you all about it.

What Is the SQ3R Method?

Whether you’re using this as a study method or for reading, this method is a method to study, understand and remember any written information quickly. The SQ3R method was first mentioned in 1946 in the book Effective Study by education psychologist Francis P. Robinson, which has since been reprinted several times over.

The focus of this method is to help learners efficiently and actively work on reading and understanding texts with a heavy emphasis on educational texts.[1] That said, this method can be applied to any kind of text out there if you’re looking to have a deeper understanding of something.

Benefits of the SQ3R Method

The main and clear benefit of using this method is the optimum use of your reading time. By using the five steps of the SQ3R method, you can actively read something and have a better ability in remembering and explaining what the text is all about.

The second benefit is that from using the first step, you’ll be reading more deliberately and focusing on the most relevant information. This will ensure that you remember the content better.

Some additional benefits include:

  • The ability to add an additional R to the method – Known as SQ4R, the fourth R can mean different things like Relate, Record, or Reflect.[2] This extra step allows you to create links of knowledge to your own personal experiences (Relate), perform a more extensive summary for understanding(Record), or getting a deeper grasp of a topic and clarity (Reflect).
  • A higher awareness of what you are reading allows you to grasp if it’s worth reading or what to be focusing on in a text – This means you’ll be reading faster and efficiently.
  • You’ll have better concentration and thought about the topic or material – This means that you’re automatically entering a mindset to better absorb information. You’re reading with a specific purpose in mind and you’re more likely to excel in that.
  • It gives you an easier time transferring new material to your long-term memory – Information we take in now is stored in our short-term memory and our short-term memory is limited and lives very briefly.[3] Having information be stored in short term and then moved to the long-term via this method is incredible as we’re more likely to retain and use that information.
  • You’ll stave off information overload – This method encourages you to stretch out information over an extended period of time. For this method to work, you can’t cram or overload your mind with information. This is crucial for many people as information is everywhere and it’s so easy to be overwhelmed and overloaded with information.
  • You’ll spend less time studying and more applying the information – Even though this method seems like it’ll take more time to study and process, research shows that people who use this study method spend less time studying for finals than those who don’t use this method.[4] Outside of an academic field, this means you can process information faster than others and thus, be able to apply what you learned faster, too.

How Do You Apply This Method?

The typical method to studying texts or self-improvement books for most people is to read them and highlight the important passages along the way. While that’s not a bad method, it’s not the most efficient and growth-inducing one. If you’re looking to be approaching texts with more efficiency and effectiveness, you’ll have to use the SQ3R method.

Where the SQ3R get’s its abbreviation is from the five steps that you’ll be doing: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review.

Below is a detailed explanation of each of the five steps so you can apply the method yourself.

1. Survey

The first step in the SQ3R method is surveying and in this case, you take a few minutes to scan the entire text. The idea here isn’t to take in any specific pieces of information but rather to get an understanding of the layout, chapters, sections, words in bold and italics as well as any pictures or graphs that are in there.

For educational texts, this preliminary scan will give you an overview, structure, and understanding of the general contents. For other texts, you can see this as getting a general summary of what the author is trying to convey to you. Regardless, this step will provide you with a foundation for when you get to reading and trying to understand the text.

2. Question

Right after you’ve surveyed the book, you’ll want to ask yourself questions based on that. One way you can ease yourself into it is by looking at the chapter titles and turning them into questions.

Be sure to write down these questions and then start by asking yourself what you already know about the topics that they’re covering. It’s also crucial you ask yourself what your goal is for reading this in the first place and comparing it to your answers. If you’re reading a book for a specific purpose, you’ll want a book to be able to answer those questions. You’ll also get an idea of which chapters you really need to focus on to understand fully.

The question step is all about understanding what it is that the author is trying to convey to the readers. Also, feel free to write on the left margin questions that you have. At a later stage, you note down answers in the right margin.

3. Read

After all that is set up, you can then get to reading but not before keeping in mind what you’ve done in the previous steps. Keep the structure you had in step 1 and the questions from step 2 in the back of your mind as you are reading.

While reading, pay attention to the chapters, sentences that are printed in bold, and explanations under graphs and images. Make a point of reading actively as in writing down additional questions as you’re reading along and actively look for answers to the previously asked questions. This also means writing down answers and explanations in the text.

Don’t be ashamed if you have to slow down either. This step encourages you to take your time on the more complex parts or parts that require more focus. Take the time to read it again if you need to. At the same time, pay less attention to the unimportant information or things you already know.

4. Recite

After reading, reciting is the next step which is taking all that information you’ve read and compiling it into your own words. You want to use this time to ask yourself questions about the text again and answer them based on what you’ve learned from the text. A few other angles you can try are things like explaining what you’ve read to someone else or someone in your own imagination. You can also consider making a summary in your own words as extra support.

5. Review

The final step of the SQ3R method is to review. While you’d think that reciting is all that you need to do, reviewing is an extra step in reinforcing everything. For information to retain better, it’s important that it’s reviewed and repeated several times—regardless of it being an educational text or a personal growth book.

In either scenario, you’re going to be having notes or takeaways from the text and it pays to be looking back at those and build on it. The first time you’ve looked at a text, there may be harder parts or parts that you don’t quite understand. But after studying those particular parts again for a second or third time, you can expand on your understanding and the notes you initially set up.

What’s also worth noting is this step can become extremely helpful if you do this final step one day after doing the previous four steps.

Final Thoughts

The SQ3R method is a structured method that can provide you with a deeper understanding of a text and overall improve your comprehension of a text. By using this method, you’ll be able to remove irrelevant information and focus on the more important information. Beyond that, you’ll be able to retain that information thanks to the various techniques the SQ3R method enforces.

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