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Using the SQ3R Learning Method to Help With Studying

Updated on March 12, 2012

The SQ3R learning method is a way of reading and studying text that will help students learn and remember materials for tests or exams. SQ3R stands for "Survey", "Question", "Read", "Recite", and "Review", the five steps in the method.

The SQ3R Learning Method

1. Survey

The first step is to survey the material that you are about to learn. This will give you an overview of the material. Read the chapter introduction, look at the chapter summaries, read the headings the sections of the chapters, and browse through any charts and graphs in the chapter. A few minutes doing this should suffice. Don't spend too much time on this step. You just want to know that you are about to learn.

2. Question

Now that you have some idea of what the material is about, are there any questions that was raised in your mind? Come up with some questions that you think might be answered in the material that you are studying. Always a good question is to ask what the chapter is about. Active questioning helps you maintain interest and focus. This aids in the remembering process.

3. Read

Okay, now it is time to read the material carefully. Do not start underling text when this is your first time reading the material. Otherwise, you will end up underlining too much, be distracted by the act of underlining, or not underlining the important points. If you are going to do underlining, do it after you have finished reading the section, and then go back and underline the important points. The same is true when taking notes. Do it right after you have finished reading the section.

4. Recite

Recite means to repeat to yourself what you have just read without actually looking at it. Try to recall as much information as you can from memory alone. Studies have shown that the act of practicing memory retrieval is a key in solidifying one's memory. Recitation also involves active participation in the learning process. Some people end up watching TV while reading. But when you are reciting, it is pretty difficult to recite while watching TV or doing something else. So recitation forces you to pay attention.

See how much you can remember without looking. This gives you positive feedback on your learning. Then you can go back to the text and see what you have got correct and what you have missed. Half your study time should be in this step of the process.

5. Review

Memory fades when it is not actively used. That is why it is necessary to review in order to keep the memory in place. Review the material several times at spaced out intervals. This is better than one big review session. When you are just learning the material, keep the spaced intervals close together. As your memory's hold of the material gets stronger, you can increase the time between reviews.

It is also a good idea to review just before the test. Note that reviewing just before the test is not "cramming". Cramming is trying to learn it just before the test. Review means repeating what you have already learned in the previous four steps.

It is true that the SQ3R method does take work and effort. But it is a way to learn materials so that you can best remember it. Many students are not familiar with all 5 steps of this method. Some will do only step 3 (reading) and that's it. But if they do all 5 steps, they might find that their retention of material will be greatly increased.

More Information about the SQ3R method

This information presented is based in part from the following ...

  • Chapter 6 of the book "Your Memory: How It Works and How to Improve It" by Kenneth Higbee PhD.
  • SQ3R on wikipedia


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