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SQ3R: A reading and study skills system that works

Tim Cart

In the 1940s, a book titled Effective Study by Francis P. Robinson was published. One of the ideas contained within was a study method he developed for college students known as Survey Q3R. The idea was to use the knowledge of how the majority of textbooks were laid out to aid in developing study skills. As the years passed, the system became known as SQ3R. And while there have been several adaptations and off-shoots since its creation, SQ3R core concepts remain in use today by many learners and educators around the world. So what is it?

SQ3R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review. This method of study can be applied to most textbook-based study activities or assignments. It also translates well to many web-based educational materials.

The first time you receive the material that is to be studied, such as the textbook. Take the time to notice the features of the book itself. Look at the size and weight of the book. Look at the way the book is set up in terms of the table of contents. How many chapters are there? What are they called? Is there a glossary? An index? Does the book have lots of images and graphics? Purposely doing this will help you get a feel for the overall layout of the book. Now that you have a good idea of the scope of the entire book, you can use the SQ3R method for your assignments.

1. Survey
When you receive a reading assignment, do not dive in an read it right away. You are going to survey the chapter first. Search for introduction paragraphs that describe the chapter. Then just look for the main headings and sub-headings in the chapter. Sometimes there are conclusions in a chapter or summaries. Read those too. But at this stage, stay away from reading the actual text.

2. Question
During this stage, formulate questions from your own sense of curiosity as you are surveying the introduction, headings and conclusion of the chapter. Write your questions down. It does not matter so much what the questions are, as long as they are things you genuinely want to know and are curious about. Try to think of at least one question for each heading and sub-heading. This is key. You should also ask yourself how comfortable you are with the material already. Is it information you are familiar with? If not, write that down too.

3. Read
Now, you read the entire chapter text. Only as you read, keep your questions and your curiosity in mind. You will probably notice that the text answers most of the questions you have written down.

4. Recite
This time, you are going to read the chapter again. But this time, you will read it out loud. This will engage a different part of your mind and help you retain the material. Once you have finished the chapter, summarize what you have read for each section in your own words. Be sure to write down the answers to your questions.

5. Review
You now have a page of notes for the chapter that is organized by heading (in the form of your own question) and summarized (in your own words). At this point, you can review your progress by covering up the answers you wrote and quizzing yourself. Doing this will help you decide on which parts of the text you need to focus on more.

This is a simple, yet time-tested and effective system that can help maximize your time and efforts with reading assignments. The most important aspect of this system are the questions because they do not come from the text. They come from you, the learner. Curiosity-driven learning is powerful.

This is the first in a series of learner-centered articles called Study Forward. The purpose of Study Forward is to explore ideas, resources and systems of learning and study—some new and some time-tested—presented in a way that is accessible to today's complex, technologically savvy and socially connected adult learner.

Adapted from:

Robinson, Francis Pleasant. (1946) Effective study. NY: Harper and Brothers.

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