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The whole point of studying is to retain information you’ll need later in life, even if it’s just for an impending test. That’s not easy when you’re taking in a bunch of unfamiliar phrases and concepts—which is why you need a quality method to structure your study sessions. Try the SQ3R technique next time you’re studying and see the difference it can make.

What is the SQ3R study method?

We’ve touched on a similar method briefly before when advising on best note-taking practices, but SQ3R has applications well beyond the moments when you’re taking notes in class. It’s actually a reading comprehension technique that was first introduced in 1946 by Francis P. Robinson in his book Effective Study. (Fun side note: The “P” is for Pleasant!)

SQ3R has withstood the test of time and is now widely recommended by academic counselors on campuses across the country. It’s named for the five steps involved in the method:

  • Survey
  • Question
  • Read
  • Recite
  • Review

How does SQ3R work?

It’s important, firstly, to chunk up your work here. The goal is not to do this with an entire textbook or a bunch of materials, but to go chapter by chapter or section by section.

You survey your materials first, skimming them just enough to grasp what the overall idea is. Look at the chapter title, intros and conclusions, headings, sub-headings, graphics, tables, and summaries, but don’t read the whole thing. Then, you come up with questions, like, “What is this section about?” or, “How will I use this information in real life?” The questions can be more specific than that and depend a lot on what the content of your chapter is. An easy trick is to turn subheadings into questions. If your subheading just says, “The assassination of Franz Ferdinand,” your question can be, “What were the immediate impacts of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand?”

Jot the questions down before moving on to the third step, which is actually reading the whole chapter or section, paying attention to anything that might answer your questions. Take notes, then go to the next step, which is recitation. Use your own words to explain the contents of what you studied and answer your own questions. Pretend you’re explaining it to someone else or even write it all down in a small essay format. Finally, review what you read, wrote, and/or said before starting the process again on another chapter.

The purpose of all of this is to get you thinking critically and help you stay engaged as you read, hunting for the answers to your questions. Recitation is also key: Describing a topic you’ve just learned about in simple terms is a proven method for effectively understanding and retaining it. Doing all five steps together will help you grasp complicated topics and break big ideas down into smaller, more manageable ones.

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