SQ3R

Studying More Effectively 

Learn how to understand
and retain written information better.

Nowadays, it's easy to access new reading material. You can read on a smartphone, tablet, or e-book reader, and you can order traditional media such as books and magazines for next-day (or same-day) delivery.

However, it's not so easy to remember everything that you've read. SQ3R helps you do this. It helps you think about what you want to get from a document, study it in an appropriate level of detail, and remember information well. As such, it makes your reading both more efficient and more effective.

In this article, we'll look at how to use the tool, and we'll see how you can make it a routine part of the way you learn.

Overview

Francis Pleasant Robinson developed SQ3R, and published it in his 1946 book, "Effective Study." He created the technique for college students, but, even now, it's suitable for learning in almost every situation, including at work.

SQ3R is an acronym that stands for five steps that you should use when reading something that you want to remember. These five steps are:

  1. Survey.
  2. Question.
  3. Read.
  4. Recall.
  5. Review.

By following these steps, you ensure that you spend your time reading the most appropriate document, you study the right parts of that document in the right level of detail, you integrate new knowledge with existing knowledge, and you fix information in your mind, so that you can remember it in the long term.

Applying the Tool

To use SQ3R, follow the five steps below.

Step 1: Survey

Start by skimming through the material you've identified, to decide if it will be useful and to get an overview of the topic.

For example, if you've selected a book, scan the contents, introduction, chapter introductions, and chapter summaries to pick up an overview of the text.

For a website, look at the "breadcrumbs," which indicate the relative location of pages within the site. (If breadcrumbs are used, they're usually at the top of the page.) Also use the menus or the site map to see where the article sits within the overall structure of the site.

Then, look at typographical elements of the text, such as italics, bold words, subheadings, and boxed text. These often point to words or ideas that are important.

Last, explore any images, maps, charts, or diagrams that are embedded in the text.

Use these clues to decide whether this text will give you the information you're looking for. If it doesn't meet your needs, look for a different information source.

Step 2: Question

Now note down any questions that you may have about the subject. These could be the questions that led you to read it in the first place, or ones that you thought of during your survey.

Also, think about what else you want to achieve from this reading. What do you need to find out from this material? What are you most interested in learning? And how will this information help you?

When you question the material, you engage your mind and prepare it for learning. You're far more likely to retain information when you're actively looking for it.

Step 3: Read

Now read the document, one section at a time. Make a note of anything that you don't understand – you can use these notes later on, when you explore related materials.

You may find that this read-through takes more time than you expect, especially if the information is dense or complex.

Keep yourself focused by turning every subheading or chapter title into a question that you must answer before you move on. For example, you could turn the subtitle, "The Advantages of Using Freelancers" into the question, "What are the advantages of Using Freelancers?" and run through the answer in your mind before you move onto the next part of the text.

Tip:

While you're reading, use Mind Maps®   or Cornell Note Taking   to take notes on important concepts, and to record your reactions to what you're reading. Alternatively (and if you own the document) you can "read actively" by underlining important passages or by using a highlighter pen to show key points.

Step 4: Recall

Once you've read the appropriate sections of the document, run through it in your mind several times. Identify the important points, and then work out how other information fits around them.

Then, go back to your questions from Step 2, and try to answer them from memory. Only turn back to the text if you're unable to answer a question this way.

Step 5: Review

Once you can recall the information, you can start to review it.

First, reread the document or your notes. This is especially important if you don't feel confident that you've understood all of the information.

Then discuss the material with someone else – this is a highly effective method of reviewing information. Explain what you have just learned as comprehensively as you can, and do your best to put the information into a context that's meaningful for your team, organization, or industry.

Finally, schedule regular reviews of the material to keep it fresh in your mind. Do this after a week, after a month, and after several months – this helps to embed the material into your long-term memory.

Tip:

If you don't have the chance to discuss your learning face to face, consider keeping a blog or creating fact sheets to outline what you've learned.

Making SQ3R a Habit

At first, applying the approach may feel time-consuming. However, the more you use it, the less you'll have to think about the process.

To turn this reading technique into a habit  , use it each time you need to read something in detail. At first, allow extra time to get into the habit of using the five steps, and look for opportunities to discuss what you've learned with colleagues.

Key Points

SQ3R is five-step technique that you can use to learn more effectively, and to increase your retention of written information. It helps you to focus what you need from a document, and to create a clear structure for the information in your mind.

The step are:

  1. Survey.
  2. Question.
  3. Read.
  4. Recall.
  5. Review.

You can use it whether you're reading online or on paper. It can take extra time to follow the five steps at first, but you'll find that if you make the effort, you'll learn and retain significantly more.

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Comments (9)
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi all

    I just love this article!

    As a child I really struggled to sit down and study - only much later did I realize that my preferred method of studying isn't sitting behind a desk and trying to learn. I value all the steps in this article, but step 5 refers to explaining to someone else what you've learned. To me, that is the most powerful way of learning.

    I'd like to hear about others' experience with learning and methods they use?

    Kind regards
    Yolandé
  • James wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Everyone

    We’ve given this popular article a review, and the updated version is now at
    http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/newISS_02.php

    Discuss the article by replying to this post!

    Thanks

    James
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Ronald

    Mastering a new skill or tool may take a while and all I can say is keep it up - at some point it will start paying off!

    Please remember that we are always here if you need help or just a shoulder to lean on.

    Kind regards
    Yolandé
  • ronben wrote Over a month ago
    Yolande,

    Thanks for writing. I have just started using SQ3R as a tool to prepare me for a rigorous reading examinination. It could be that I have not master the skills of that tool and as a result I am not getting the result that I am looking for in my preparation. Since I don't have any other tools to help me prepare for this exam, I will continue to use SQ3R and see what happens.

    Thanks,

    Ronald
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Ronald

    When I read your posting I was wondering how long you've been using this method and if it isn't perhaps just really getting to know the technique very well? You also mention mind-maps - do you find using those easy or not?

    Regards
    Yolandé
  • ronben wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Brynn,

    I hear your point. Unfortunately, SQ3R is the only tool or technique that I have in dealing with reading and comprehending dense information that I must answer questions about.

    The method of SQ3R seems good-especially when it is applied with Mind Map. Again, it is unfortunate for me, I am yet able to use it and achieve the success that I am looking for.

    My goal is to master a dense reading passage and able to correctly answer questions about it. At this point, I will continue to use SQ3R and hope the tide to change soon.

    Any thoughts.

    Ronald
  • ladyb wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Ronald,
    I'm of the opinion that the best tool to use is the one that works. If this technique isn't clicking then it's not the right one. There is no point banging your head trying to use a certain tool if it's not natural or doesn't fit the way your mind works. I personally like SQ3R. If I were to offer any advice I'd suggest you look at mind maps as a key study tool. When you create a mind map you make connections between what you know already and what you are learning. And once this connection is made it's so much easier to recall and it makes sense in a practical way instead of just a random fact or idea that you have to remember.

    Brynn
  • ronben wrote Over a month ago
    Hello,

    I am attempting to learn and practice SQ3R to prepare for the Reading Section of my Medical School Entrance Exam. I am having lots of difficulty with SQ3R. It is not working for me at this point. I am wondering if I should continue to use it or let it go. These reading passages are pretty difficult for me at this point and I want to learn a system that can help me master this section of the Exam.

    Any thoughts.

    Ronald
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    These five steps will help you really learn what you are reading and not simply retain the information for a short period of time. It involves scanning the document for relevant parts, noting down questions you have while reading, reading the most relevant sections in detail, running through the essential facts and ideas in your mind and making connections with what you already know so that you can recall it later,and then finally reviewing the document by making more notes or going over it with someone else.

    It may seem like a lengthy process but it really doesn't take much longer to read a document using this process and the long term benefits are significant.

    Try it and let us know how you do.

    Dianna

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