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The SQ3R study method is a tool to enhance reading comprehension. It is a step-by-step process designed to introduce information to the brain and help process that information to be stored in the long term. This method lets students get and absorb as much information as possible from the required reading material.

The SQ3R method is beneficial for topics that a student may find uninteresting or challenging. However, for any learning to occur, learners must actively participate and engage with the learning material.

Following the steps of the SQ3R method will help with this so that, in the end, students can build better study habits, increase retention and understanding, and expand their learning capacity.

Related reading: What is the PQ4R Method and How to Use it for Studying?

A step-by-step process

The SQ3R method is a five-step system, which stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. These steps are meant to be followed in order—why it should be done and how. Some of these steps might be familiar already (i.e., reading, taking notes,testing yourself, etc.).   

There is a science to this system, so it’s essential to follow it in order. Keep in mind this is based on the research of educational psychologists. It’s meant to allow students to acquire and understand as much information as possible without getting overwhelmed. 

1. Survey

Browse through an assigned reading material to get the main idea and the purpose of the text. The goal is to get an overview of the text or the chapter. To do this, you can do any of the following:

  Check the headings

  Look for visual cues like pictures, graphs, text in bold or italics as these highlight the critical information

  Read the introduction and conclusion, as these usually contain a summary of the entire text

  Check the footnotes

  Look at the study questions

  Read the chapter summary if you’re reading a textbook

The point of doing this step is to get a general idea of the topic. By doing this, students can focus on what is essential. In addition, by getting a “big picture.” Understanding a text, students can relate the information to previously acquired knowledge and prepare to read the text actively.

2. Question

Students are encouraged to formulate questions based on the overview of the text. These are some tips for crafting questions:

  Ask factual questions: who, what, where, when, why,and how

  Rephrase the heading and turn it into a question

  Use the pictures and visual aids as a cue to ask how it is related to the entire text

Asking questions will set the road map for studying and reading. By doing this, it gives the study session a purpose. These questions are meant to keep the mind engaged and focused and guided when reading. In addition, asking questions at this stage can be “practice” for reviewing.

3. Read

Reading will take up a bulk of the time devoted to studying. In this step, students are meant to search for answers to their questions. In this step, students are required to read actively. Read the material while bearing in mind the information from step 1 and answering questions from step 2. Here are some suggestions on how students can read actively:

  Highlighting the main ideas and key concepts

  Taking notes 

  If the text is lengthy, break it up into sections and make sure to read each section thoroughly

  Read a passage, then try to answer at least one of the questions.

  Do not move on to the next chapter or reading material until the questions have been answered

  Take breaks in between reading sessions to allow the information to process and settle

Reading actively will help students get information from the assigned text. This is why taking notes and highlighting are helpful. In addition, this is an excellent way to prepare for tests, lectures, and discussions.

4. Recite

Reciting entails saying information out loud to yourself or to a group. In this step, students have to do so by repeating the information in their own words. Here are some tips on how to recite correctly:

  Rephrase, paraphrase and/or summarize each topic in your own words

  Say it out loud to your peers.

  If working alone, students can write a summary and write notes in a notecard

  Create a mind map of the ideas and show how each one is connected

In this step, the critical part is to not repeat sections of the text word-for-word. It’s a test of how much a student knows and understands the subject matter. Try to answer each question out loud, and students are unable to do so, they have to reread the part in question. Attempting to answer each question aloud can be a way to rehearse the answers as if they’re delivering a report in class. When doing this step, answer as thoroughly as possible.

5. Review

Before concluding a study session and moving onto the next, students have to review what they just learned. This is to ensure that they understand everything, and they will be able to remember what they studied. These are some ways to review: 

  Review the reading notes and other assigned materials to maximize memory and comprehension benefits within the same day. Studies have shown that putting off a review session can put students at risk of forgetting as much as 80% of the topic 

  Go back to step 2. Check if the questions have been answered

  Try to answer each question without looking through your notes; if not, spend some more time with it

  Make connections between personal notes and the reading material

  Take things further by connecting them with previous topics 

  Revisit the material weekly

  Quiz yourself 

Reviewing a chapter before moving on to the next helps jog the memory and test whether any information was actually absorbed during the study process. This is an excellent way to check how well students could pay attention to essential details.

Review the chapter or lesson every week, even after moving on to the following sections. As students introduce more information to the brain, it is vital to ensure that previously learned chapters “stay fresh.”

Powering through “boring” topics

Having a system like this in place is necessary, especially when it comes to matters that one may find uninteresting. Finding the motivation to study for favorite subjects and topics is easy enough, but what about other less exciting topics? 

A system like the SQ3R method is highly recommended in these situations. Instead of relying on the motivation of feelings of excitement for a topic to start studying, having this system in place just makes the whole process easier and painless. Set a schedule, go through the steps—the same process for all topics!

An organized brain 

When using a system like the SQ3R method, information is introduced, processed, and stored in the brain in an orderly way. This information then gets stored in the long-term memory.

Thus, as a student advances to more complex topics, more information is stored and connected with the previously acquired knowledge. Furthermore, because the data is organized, it is easier to access should it be needed. 

Going through the SQ3R method helps the brain stay organized. A student goes through thousands of thoughts and information in a day.

If the information is not organized, students risk getting mental blocks and getting confused about specific topics. A disorganized mind is bad for retention and comprehension; moreover, it can make things worse for those with anxiety. 

Manage test anxiety

Imagine preparing for a final exam—students have studied by reading, rereading, and taking notes but did not use the SQ3R method. Because of this, students know the key concepts, but the details are blurry. This can make any student feel anxious, especially since it’s a final exam.

So, on the day of the exam, students may find themselves struggling to remember details (names, dates, locations) instead of straightforwardly answering questions. When anxiety kicks in, the brain goes into overload.  

Some of the best ways to manage test anxiety would be to study efficiently, prepare for the test, and study early (in other words, avoid cramming).

These are some of the things that are built in the system of SQ3R. It’s a study method that allows students to learn efficiently to be well-prepared for tests. It also mitigates cramming because studying with a system introduces information to the brain in a well-paced manner.

Conclusion

The SQ3R method is an effective study strategy that involves several steps. Each of the steps is nothing new to students. Most students have already done quite a bit of reading, have taken notes, and have quizzed themselves on various topics.

The SQ3R is an active approach to learning, which puts order to these familiar study tips. It can be used by students and any person who wants to learn something new.

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Patricia Alfonso

Patricia Alfonso is an educator and researcher who earned her master's degree in guidance and counseling from Ateneo de Manila. She specializes in developing school counseling programs for schools.

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