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How to read: SQ3R

What is it?

Many writers on essay writing and study skills recommend something called SQ3R. SQ3R is a reading tool specially designed to help you absorb information from books and articles. It is designed to increase your retention of what you read by setting study goals and giving you techniques to help fix information in your mind.

What does it mean?

SQ3R stands for ‘Survey’, ‘Question’ and three Rs: ‘Read’, ‘Recall’ and ‘Review’. These are five sequential techniques you can use to read a book or an article:

  • Survey
    Look through the book and try and get a sense of whether it’s useful or not. Look at the index, the contents page, the chapter titles and the introduction.
  • Question
    If the book looks useful then examine it in more detail. Ask yourself questions about it. Where are the relevant sections? Who is the author? Have you heard of her and are therefore already aware of her ideas or viewpoint? Is she someone your tutor mentioned in last week’s seminar? What are the aims of the book? To sum up, ask yourself the five Ws about what you are reading: Who, What, When, Where and Why.
  • Read
    Let’s imagine there is one section that’s particularly relevant. Read that section but read it in two ways. First, read quickly, making sure you get a good general sense of what is being said and what’s relevant and what isn’t. Second, read the section again but this time make notes of the important points.
  • Recall
    Once you have finished reading the relevant section, go over it in your mind several times. Can you summarise the key points without referring back to the book or to your notes?
  • Review
    Now go back through the text again. Make notes of anything you missed out in your original reading. If necessary, expand your existing notes and make them more detailed. Ask yourself questions at this stage too. Has the book told you everything you needed to know? If not, what else do you need to read? Has the book pointed you towards any other books? What do you need to do next?

SQR together

To get maximum benefit from the SQ3R reading technique, practise it with a friend. Two people will see different things in a text and discussing what you’ve read with a friend will be invaluable in the ‘Review’ part of the process. There’s no better way of testing if you’ve understood something than having to explain it to someone else.