SQ3R: A Popular Reading Strategy

You may have learned the SQ3R reading strategy in High School or even earlier.  You might or might not have found it helpful.

You would not use this method to read fiction or for reading material quickly in order to get a quick overview. SQ3R  is for Serious Reading.

1. S is for Survey.  There are two steps when you begin the book.

You should start by surveying the book.  You might also think Skim. You should look at the title, and think what tells you about the book.  The Title “Sociology” tells you very little.  “Charles Darwin and the History of Evolution” would give you far more information.

Look at the author or authors. Who are they? Why are they writing this book?

Look at the back of the book: the index, bibliography, and glossary (if there is one). If the bibliography is filled with articles from technical journals, you’d expect much more information based on research rather than introductory material.

I don’t like reading books without a good index. A book with a lot of helpful information should have an excellent index. Skimming the index will sometimes help you understand what the author considers important.

Next, study the Table of Contents. How is the material organized? What does this tell you about the author’s approach and the  material in the book?

Skim the book, looking for chapter introductions and conclusions, questions at the end of the chapters, bold print for new terms, and the kind of diagrams, graphs and other illustrations.  You might choose one chapter and skim it more closely.

Now you should know the title of the book, what material is covered, how it is organized, and more. You should have an idea how difficult the material will be and how long it might take to read a chapter carefully.

The first chapter will make more sense when you reading it, knowing the organization and main ideas of the book.

The second step is to Survey the first chapter. You will survey each chapter before reading. Isn’t this a waste of time?  Absolutely not.  I sometimes learn more by carefully surveying a chapter than other students learn by reading the chapter without understanding how it is organized.

2. Q is for Question.

You now know something about the material in the first chapter and how it is organized. Write a list of good questions on the subject, questions that you hope will be answered as you read. The better your survey was, the better the questions you can ask. AND The better you questions are, the more you are likely to learn and understand as you read.  So write some excellent questions.

After you finish reading, you might try to answer your questions. For other questions, you might find the answers later in the book or you might do some independent research to find the answers.

3. The first R is for READ.

In some short, simple books, you can read the whole chapter before stopping. In most books, however, it is wise to divide the chapter into sections. If the book is divided by headings and subheading, it is done for a purpose. You might read the material under the first subheading and pause.

4. The second R is for RECITE.

We generally thinking of reciting out loud, like reciting a poem. Here, you can recite mentally. Go over the material you have just read. What was the main idea? What facts or other information was important. Could you summarize it clearly?

If you didn’t understand it or can’t remember what you read, read it again, searching for main ideas and important information. Keep thinking how you would summarize this information. Then Recite again. Continue this process until you really understand the material well. They do the same thing with the next section, and the ones after that.

5. The third R is for REVIEW.

When you finish the chapter or the part of the chapter you plan to read at that time, go over the entire reading assignment. This is like Recite, but now you will be putting it all together. You should be able to list all the main ideas and many important facts or ideas in each section. You should be able to summarize the entire reading.

While this strategy will take it a little longer, it might save time in the end. When you use SQ3R, you should be able to read once.  Students using other strategies, especially those who highlight their books, end up reading the chapter again later, and often reading it again before a test because they still couldn’t remember or understand the material.

This strategy, because you end up understanding the material, helps information move quickly into your brain. When you review for a test, you will remember much of the material and your review will take less time. You can feel rested and confident when you take the test.

The next section: SQ3R Plus  will explain how a revised version of this method will combine careful reading with study skills.  You won’t need this for all of your classes, but when you get to that difficult class, when you wonder how you can understand and remember all that material, then you will find this strategy very useful.

Read with SQ3R +

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