The SQ3R strategy is the most powerful tool for active reading and comprehension. Have you ever read so much for a class, but then realized you forgot everything by the time of the exam? If you’re a student in elementary school, middle school, high school (or even college!), you probably experienced this for a class before. Reading (and remembering what you’ve learned) can be a lot easier if you use the SQ3R Method.
This article is a helpful step by step guide on how to use the SQ3R Strategy to improve your reading comprehension, note-taking skills, and exam grades. By the time we’re done, you should know what SQ3R is, how it can benefit your school performance, and how to apply it to classes or personal study habits.
What is the SQ3R Strategy?
The SQ3R Strategy is a 5-step approach that can improve your reading comprehension and memory retention for exams.
SQ3R stands for:
Classrooms across the country are using SQ3R for more efficient learning and understanding of textbooks, articles, or other reading assignments with a variety of grade levels.
Why is SQ3R Important for Reading Comprehension?
Active reading and comprehension are critical for school success. SQ3R is important for reading comprehension because it helps you process information better and can be a great way to take notes for longer memory retention. The SQ3R strategy requires you to personally engage with the material, ask your own questions, and rephrase difficult concepts into your own words.
You want to use SQ3R for better grades on exams and to cut down on the time you spend studying for those exams.
Not sure if this is right for you?
Let’s quickly walk through the pros and cons of SQ3R.
Pros of SQ3R:
– Includes active reading and thinking about the text, which helps retain and understand new concepts and information better
– Helps create study guides to prepare for exams
– Helps predict and prepare yourself for many exam questions. Sometimes you will even find your own questions on the exam!
Cons of SQ3R:
– Takes some time to master. You’ll want to make sure you’re hitting every step efficiently, so it may take time to get the hang of SQ3R at first; it will get easier and faster with practice!
– Not a quicker way to get through readings. If you want to run through readings quicker, then this might not be the best approach. But, if you want to spend less time studying materials before an exam by retaining longer memory of that information, then SQ3R is definitely your best option!
How to Use SQ3R for Reading
Now, you know what the SQ3R Strategy stands for and why it’s important for reading comprehension.
You’re probably wondering: How do we use SQ3R?
Remember that SQ3R stands for: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review—these are also the five main steps that we will walk through below.
1. S = Survey (~10-25 min)
Think “bird’s eye view.” You’ll want to skim the reading to understand what will be discussed or presented. For each chapter:
- Read the title
- Read the introduction
- Read boldface headings and subheadings
- Review visuals (tables, graphs, maps, etc.)
- Review additional information presented in the chapter, such as guides, discussion questions, or glossary
Other tips: Don’t just read, ENGAGE. Summarize what you just reviewed by describing what you’ve read in your own words. Create an outline in your head.
Why am I doing this?
You want to collect as much information as possible to focus on the general idea that the readings will present.
2. Q = Question (~3 minutes)
Create questions to give purpose. Go back to your main headings. Turn those headings and subheadings into critical questions. Think about what you already know and what you need to know about the material to fully understand it. Write these questions down.
Examples of questions can ask who, why, when, compare, or describe.
Other tips: Ask the right questions, experiment with shorter questions, or create flashcards with your questions.
Why am I doing this?
Your mind is engaged with the material and learning process. This is what will help you remember and understand the readings better.
3. R = Read
Let’s pause for a minute.
After completing steps 1 and 2, you’ve already become more engaged with your readings. You’ve surveyed the material and created questions about what you would need to know about it.
Now, you can begin to read.
Actively read each section under the headings. To do this, try answering the questions you’ve created in step 2. Your goal is to read each section to find the answer to your questions.
- Answer 1-2 questions for each section
- Answer any other questions in the chapter or study guide
- Write answers down in your own words
- Highlight key words to refer to later
- Read more difficult sections slower
- Reread sections that were unclear the first time
- Read one a section at a time and summarize it to yourself after you’re done reading before moving on to the next section.
Other tips: Don’t get caught in the details – prioritize main ideas and concepts to minimize time spent on each section.
Why am I doing this?
You’re filling in information around the general idea you’ve surveyed. This process will help you understand each section quicker and makes ideas and concepts stand out.
4. R = Recite
Recite answers to each question and other related information to yourself. After you’ve read a section, step away from the book and ask yourself about what you learned. Rephrase answers and details into your own words aloud. You want to make sure that you can recall the information you’ve just reviewed.
- Ask yourself questions
- Take notes from the text that you’ve rephrased into your own words
- Annotate important points or key words
- Recite what you’ve learned
- Repeat these steps for each section
Other tips: If you’re struggling to recall details, reread the sections to process it better.
Why am I doing this?
Recite helps put this information in your long-term memory by having you think about what you just read. Using more senses, such as seeing, hearing and saying, actually increases memory retention. So, you will want to do this to remember what you’ve learned by the time of the exam.
5. R = Review (up to 30 min a session)
Review your questions and notes about the reading. After you’ve recited what you learned AND have mastered it, brush up on material you may have forgotten. Review should be an ongoing process applied after the chapter is read and recited.
- Quickly skim through each chapter again
- Reread your notes, questions, and written responses
- Review any material that does not seem familiar from your notes
- Write questions in the left-hand margins for main points
- Ask yourself the same set of questions you created
- Recite answers to each question
- Quickly skim through each chapter again to familiarize yourself with the material
- Ask questions written in the left-hand margins (not revealing answers you wrote from the day before)
- Recite or write answers down
Other tips: Create flashcards for more difficult questions, review until you can answer all questions correctly
- Review questions, notes, and flashcards to test yourself
- Recite answers in your own words
- Create more questions, if needed.
- Repeat process
Other tips: Take short breaks when reviewing, spending hours on studying is not as helpful as 5-minute breaks.
Why am I doing this?
Review will help you remember information and apply the concepts once you are tested.
How to Adapt SQ3R for Different Grade Levels
SQ3R can easily be adapted for different grade levels. In the section below, we describe how to adapt SQ3R for grades in elementary, middle, high school, or college.
SQ3R for Elementary School Students
SQ3R for elementary school has made it easier for students to comprehend and retain information of non-fiction texts. SQ3R for elementary school follows the same 5-step procedure: survey, question, read, receipt and review. However, elementary school teachers are expected to model SQ3R for students to use on their own and help guide them throughout the process.
There are just some slight modifications that we describe below.
Survey. Students survey the chapter, scanning each passage for important details. Teachers need to show students how to find these details and how to use them as clues to identify main ideas.
Question. Teachers will assign questions until students learn to develop some independently.
Read. Students will engage in active, silent reading in class independently or with a small group of readers.
Recite. Students will now answer their questions aloud or in writing. SQ3R for elementary classrooms have students work in pairs to discuss answers.
Review. Once questions have been discussed, students will review the material. The teacher will provide assistance to students who may be struggling to review and reread their materials.
SQ3R for Middle School Students
Active reading and comprehension are critical for the increasing academic load in middle school. SQ3R for middle school students is exactly the same as we outlined it in the section How to Use SQ3R for Reading.
To start, use this worksheet for SQ3R practice exercises for grades 3 to 12.
SQ3R for High School Students
SQ3R for high school students can take on some adaptations. For instance, there are several other versions to the last step (Review) that apply a different review process. These include: wRite, Record, Reflect, or Respond.
If interested in learning more about alternate versions, see this resource.
SQ3R for College Students
Using SQ3R for college students has demonstrated improved test scores of up to 25% across various institutions. Refer to How to Use SQ3R for Reading for the same approach and consider some of the adaptations we discussed in SQ3R for High School Students.
Two SQ3R Examples
Now, let’s walk through two SQ3R method examples to give you a more concrete idea on how it works. Make sure to try this out on your own after reading!
New Immigrants in New York (refer to Ch. 1, pp. 1-5)
1. Survey. I would skim through the title, each of the boldface headings, and any other graphs or illustrations to get a general idea about what I am going to read.
2. Question. Based on what I just skimmed through, I would create questions to ask myself. Some questions I might ask: What is this chapter about? What is new immigration? What is the background of immigration in NY? How did NY impact new immigrants?
3. Read. Now that I skimmed and created questions, I am going to read with a purpose by answering my own questions. I am reading to learn about the background of new immigration.
4. Recite. Once I have finished reading to answer my questions. I ask my questions aloud and write down answers in my own words. I may use a flashcard for this. On my flashcard, I write, “New immigrants arriving since 1965 are vastly different (by gender and ethnicity) from immigrants who arrived in NY city during the 20th century.”
5. Review. I would go back to my questions, notes and other annotations for a refresher to make sure I grasp what I’ve learned about “new immigrants” in NY.
Let’s walk through another example below.
Encyclopedia of Volcanoes (Refer to Ch. 1, pp. 1-6)
1. Survey. Skim through the title, each of the boldface headings, and any other graphs or illustrations to get a bird’s eye view. I see introduction, an outline, a glossary of terms, the milt of the earth, plate tectonics, mid-ocean ridge, and several illustrative figures.
2. Question. I am going to create the following questions: What is this chapter about? What do plate tectonics have to do with volcanoes? What are the figures describing?
3. Read. Now, I am going to read to answer my question about the chapter.
4. Recite. I’m done reading, but need to ask my questions aloud. I write responses in my own words, on a flashcard. “This section is describing the origin of volcanic eruptions”
5. Review. Now, I am going to review my questions, notes, and highlighted words for a refresher to make sure I really understand what I’ve just learned? I’ll repeat this until I feel like I’ve mastered the content.
Additional Resources for Learning SQ3R
Looking for additional resources for learning how to apply SQ3R?
This video explains another SQ3R method example in more detail (with transcripts).
Additional resources for SQ3R can be found in this student booklet to help guide your first time using the method. The booklet also provides you with some worksheets to summarize your readings. For additional tips on annotating main concepts and ideas using SQ3R, check out this resource from the Khan Academy.
Wrapping Things Up: SQ3R Method
The most important thing to remember is that you need to engage with your readings. Rephrasing difficult concepts or topics into your own words can be useful in optimizing your understanding of the material. Always review and recite what you’ve read before moving on. In using SQ3R, you’ll have a better understanding of what you’ve learned and how to apply it in upcoming exams.
We go over other topics around reading strategies as well: