The SQ3R Study Method: All You Need to Know

In this guide, you’ll learn all about using the SQ3R study method, together with its strengths and weaknesses.

SQ3R Study Method

“Seeing much, suffering much, and studying much, are the three pillars of learning.”

Benjamin Disraeli

Today, I’ll be covering one of the oldest self-regulated studying strategies in the world: the SQ3R study method.

It’s a learning strategy that has stood the test of time better than almost any other, despite facing criticisms from its inception. Even Walter Pauk, the inventor of the famous Cornell method of note-taking, said in 1974 that the SQ3R study method is too complex for students to use.

Complex or not, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the study method to see what it’s all about and whether it’s still relevant in the modern era.

Here’s what you’ll learn in this article:

What is the SQ3R study method?

SQ3R is a study method designed to improve the reading comprehension of students. SQ3R is an acronym for the five steps of the system: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. The SQ3R study method is based on the information processing theory of learning and it was originally developed by Francis P. Robinson, a pioneer in literacy theory, in 1941.

Advantages of the SQ3R study method

Throughout the years, various studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of the SQ3R method. The science behind other popular methods such as the Pomodoro study method is more conjectural, and we can say with relative certainty how and why the SQ3R is effective due to the bigger (albeit still small) amount of research conducted on the topic.

These are the reasons why the SQ3R study method can be considered effective:

There are many excellent reasons to consider using the SQ3R method as a student. Yet, despite the big catalog of benefits, the SQ3R technique is not without its drawbacks.

Disadvantages of the SQ3R study method

Many researchers question the reliability of the SQ3R method, bringing attention to disadvantages such as:

Many of these disadvantages arise from the fact that the method is becoming close to a century old. At present, the field of learning psychology is much better understood and that is why some consider other techniques such as the SOAR study method to be superior to the SQ3R. 

Indeed, the SQ3R method is not perfect. But, in my opinion, SQ3R still has its fair share of uses and for comprehending textbooks, it continues to be one of the most effective study methods out there.

Now, let’s dive right into how the SQ3R should be used.

How do you use the SQ3R study method?

These are the five steps to using the SQ3R study method:

  1. Survey
  2. Question
  3. Read
  4. Recite
  5. Review

Survey

The first step of the SQ3R study method is surveying the learning material. Surveying is beneficial to reading comprehension as it prepares the brain’s processing system for what is coming. If your brain knows what to expect from the material, it can store the information much more efficiently.

To survey the material, begin by glancing over all the headings and subheadings in the chapter to activate your existing knowledge. Also take attention to any other noteworthy components such as tables, figures, or diagrams. This will help you create a mental outline of all the available information.

Then, once you have glanced over the material, continue by skimming through the first sentence of each paragraph. Once you’ve done that, you’ll want to read the introductory paragraphs and summary paragraphs, before finally going over the study questions.

By following all these steps of surveying, you can assure that your brain knows what type of information to expect from the material, where that information is located, and what bits of information to take extra attention to. 

All this may sound like a lot to do, but the survey step should only take three to five minutes for an experienced SQ3R method user.

Question

The second step of the SQ3R study method involves generating study questions.

This is done by turning all the headings and subheadings inside the material into questions. This is done so that you have a clear purpose for the reading stage and so that you know what type of information you should be paying the closest attention to.

Just like the previous step of surveying, questioning forces you to tackle your uncertainties head-first. Without a doubt, generating your own study questions is more difficult than simply following instructor-generated questions. But, the reward is that these kinds of questions also guide the reading process much more efficiently.

Read

The third step of the SQ3R study method involves reading the material and it’s the most important event of the method.

Here is where all the preparation done in the previous two steps comes into play. In this step, you start reading the text while answering both the chapter questions and the self-generated questions created in step #2.

As a reader, you’ll have to carefully choose the information you need to answer all questions and this process requires strong concentration to be effective. The SQ3R technique forces you to read actively rather than passively, and while it’s more engaging, it’s also considerably more demanding cognitively.

Recite

The fourth step of the SQ3R study method is recitation.

This is the most time-consuming step of using the SQ3R and it involves putting all the information you’ve processed until this point into your own words. Make sure to take your time with this step, as skipping over it will ensure that the SQ3R system will not achieve its full efficacy.

It’s important to always use your own words for recitation rather than someone else’s, and it’s also crucial that you cover all major points and questions generated in step #2.

By reciting the information, you can slow down the information input speed and give your brain more time for processing. Doing so will help you transfer the information from your short-term memory into your long-term memory.

Review

The fifth and final step of the SQ3R technique is reviewing the information.

This involves checking all the same headings you identified in step #1 once more and summarizing all the information into answers in your own words. This helps you lock in all the information that you have processed until this point.

As the human brain forgets information very quickly, the reviewing process is most effective if started early. By conducting an immediate review, you’ll interfere with the forgetting mechanism and this will help you achieve the best possible retention.

With the reviewing step done, you’ve completed one cycle of the SQ3R study method – nice job!