What is the SQ3R method? SQ3R method In A Nutshell

The SQ3R method is a reading comprehension strategy that promotes enhanced learning. The SQ3R method was first proposed by educational psychologist Francis P. Robinson in his book Effective Study. The method was originally designed for college students as a more efficient and active means of absorbing textbook information. However, it is useful in any scenario where the retention of information is important. This allows the reader to learn effectively and make the best use of their time.

SQ3R MethodKey ElementsAnalysisImplicationsApplicationsExamples
DefinitionThe SQ3R method is a structured reading and study technique designed to enhance comprehension and retention of written material. The acronym SQ3R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review.Analyzing the SQ3R method involves understanding each of its components: – Survey: A preliminary overview of the material. – Question: Formulating questions to guide reading. – Read: Actively reading the material. – Recite: Summarizing and recalling key points. – Review: Revisiting and reinforcing understanding.The SQ3R method improves reading comprehension and retention by promoting active engagement with the text. It encourages readers to approach material systematically and with a questioning mindset. Effective implementation leads to better understanding and memory retention.SQ3R is applicable in educational settings, professional reading, research, and any context where effective reading and comprehension are essential. It helps students and professionals extract key information from textbooks, articles, reports, and other written content.– Studying textbooks: Applying SQ3R to understand and remember key concepts in academic textbooks. – Research reading: Using SQ3R to extract relevant information from research papers and articles. – Professional development: Enhancing comprehension of industry-specific reports and publications.
SurveySurveying involves a preliminary examination of the reading material, including headings, subheadings, captions, and visual elements. It provides an overview to prepare the reader for what to expect from the text.Analyzing the survey phase entails scanning the material to gain a broad understanding of its structure, topics, and organization. It helps readers set expectations and identify the main ideas and sections. Surveying is a critical step to assess the material’s relevance and focus.Surveying promotes proactive reading by creating an initial mental map of the content. It helps readers identify key sections and topics, enhancing focus and comprehension. By setting expectations, readers are better prepared to engage with the material effectively.Surveying is beneficial when approaching lengthy or complex documents, such as textbooks, research papers, or technical manuals. It allows readers to preview content and determine how to allocate time and attention effectively.– Textbook reading: Quickly scanning a new chapter to understand its structure and content. – Research paper evaluation: Reviewing the abstract, introduction, and headings to assess relevance. – Document assessment: Previewing reports or manuals to determine their significance.
QuestionThe question phase involves formulating questions based on the material’s headings, subheadings, and the reader’s objectives. These questions serve as a guide for focused reading and help the reader actively engage with the text.Analyzing the question phase requires generating relevant questions that the reader aims to answer during the reading process. Effective questions should address the material’s main points and support the reader’s learning objectives. Formulating questions enhances reader involvement and critical thinking.Questioning promotes active reading and information retrieval. It directs the reader’s attention to specific aspects of the text and encourages critical analysis. By posing questions, readers become more engaged and seek answers, resulting in deeper comprehension.Questioning is valuable when seeking specific information or when preparing for assessments, exams, or research. It helps readers set clear learning goals and stay focused while reading. Readers can tailor their questions to suit different reading purposes.– Exam preparation: Generating questions related to textbook content to prepare for an upcoming test. – Research review: Formulating questions to guide the reading of research papers and gather relevant information. – Information retrieval: Using questions to find specific data or details in a document.
ReadDuring the Read phase, the reader actively engages with the text, paying close attention to content, details, and key points. The reader should attempt to answer the questions formulated in the previous phase, seeking understanding.Analyzing the Read phase involves examining how the reader processes the material. Active reading requires focus, comprehension, and note-taking as needed. The reader should aim to grasp the material’s main ideas, supporting details, and any answers to the formulated questions. Effective reading techniques enhance comprehension.Reading actively enhances understanding and retention of material. It allows the reader to extract key information, identify relevant examples, and connect concepts. Engaging with the text promotes learning and facilitates the recall of information when needed. Effective reading habits are essential for success.Active reading is a fundamental skill in education, research, and professional development. It supports knowledge acquisition, critical analysis, and information synthesis. Readers can adapt their reading strategies to various types of content and objectives.– Academic reading: Actively engaging with textbooks, research articles, and academic papers. – Research synthesis: Reading multiple sources to gather information for research projects. – Information analysis: Absorbing and understanding complex documents such as legal texts or technical manuals.
ReciteThe Recite phase involves summarizing and recalling key points from the reading material. The reader should attempt to answer the questions posed during the Question phase and articulate the material’s main ideas and concepts in their own words.Analyzing the Recite phase focuses on how effectively the reader recalls and summarizes the material. It requires the reader to express their understanding of the content, emphasizing key points and concepts. Recitation promotes active learning and helps solidify knowledge.Reciting information reinforces memory and comprehension. It transforms passive reading into active learning, promoting information retention and recall. By summarizing and articulating key ideas, readers reinforce their understanding and can identify areas that require further review or clarification.Recitation is particularly beneficial for students studying for exams, professionals preparing for presentations, or anyone seeking to consolidate and remember information. It serves as a self-assessment tool to gauge one’s grasp of the material.– Exam preparation: Summarizing textbook chapters or lecture notes to prepare for tests. – Presentation rehearsal: Reciting key points and content for effective delivery during presentations. – Knowledge consolidation: Reinforcing understanding of complex concepts through verbal or written summaries.
ReviewThe Review phase involves revisiting the material shortly after reading and reciting. It serves as a reinforcement step to consolidate learning. During the review, the reader can evaluate their understanding and identify areas that may require further attention or clarification.Analyzing the Review phase focuses on the reader’s approach to revisiting the material. It includes assessing the timing of the review, the depth of examination, and the effectiveness of reinforcement. Effective review enhances knowledge retention and identifies areas for improvement.Reviewing material shortly after reading enhances long-term retention. It helps solidify understanding and identifies any gaps in comprehension. By reviewing, readers can reinforce key concepts and improve memory recall. Effective review strategies contribute to long-term learning and mastery of subjects.Reviewing is valuable for exam preparation, ongoing learning, and knowledge retention. It supports the transfer of information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Regular review intervals and effective techniques enhance recall and mastery of the material.– Exam review: Revisiting textbook content and notes to reinforce knowledge before an exam. – Continuous learning: Periodically reviewing reference materials or resources for professional development. – Skill acquisition: Revisiting training materials and practice exercises to retain and improve skills.

Implementing the SQ3R method

To increase understanding of a text and engage in the reading process, follow five steps that loosely represent the SQ3R acronym:

S – Survey

Begin reviewing the text by noting its most obvious elements, including charts, diagrams, headings, and bolded text.

This “skim read” gives context to what will follow.

Q – Question

Generate questions about the context of the information. To begin with, turn headings and subheadings into questions.

Alternatively, ask yourself more general questions such as “What is this chapter about?” or “How might this paragraph be beneficial to me?” 

R – Read

Search for answers to your questions, making notes or highlighting core ideas.

Do not copy verbatim from the textbook, it is instead better to paraphrase.

As a rule, core ideas are found in the first couple of sentences in each paragraph.

These ideas are also supported by phrases such as “for example”, “in addition,” and “in contrast.”

R2 – Recite

Can you answer your original questions without referring to the answers? If not, go back and re-read the relevant sections and take notes.

Recital can be oral or written.

R3 – Review

After 24 hours or so, it’s important to review the learned information to maximize comprehension and retention.

Some find that creating a mind map is a good way to review information.

Others find discussing the information with someone else beneficial. Whatever the method, do not skip this step.

Studies have shown that without a proper review, up to 80% of learned information is forgotten.

Once retained, move on to the next section of information to build on your knowledge. 

Six effective comprehension strategies

Retaining information is one thing, but comprehension is another thing entirely. 

Individuals who are trying to retain complex information can bolster the SQ3R method by considering the following best practice strategies:

Monitor comprehension

While reading, be mindful of your thinking. When does the subject matter make sense? When does it not?

What does the subject matter make you think about? Mindfulness is an effective way to start thinking about your thinking.

Activate and connect

Comprehension occurs when we connect something we read to something we already know.

To learn, we must develop the ability to connect the old with the new – and update our thinking accordingly.

Ask questions

Comprehension is enhanced by curiosity.

Questions open doors to understanding and encourage us to formulate answers.

They also help us develop critical thinking skills.

Infer and visualize

Inferences occur when we take our background knowledge and merge it with the clues from the text.

Inferential thinking helps us draw conclusions, make predictions, and develop interpretations that are not immediately obvious.

Determine importance

What is worth remembering? No-one can retain every piece of information they come across, so be selective.

Important information is generally any information that supports or expands the personal understanding of a topic.

Summarize and synthesize

Effective readers are acutely aware of the bigger picture as they read.

Their thinking evolves with new information which can lead to the development of a new perspective or unique insight. 

SQ3R method example

Since it is difficult to describe the entire SQ3R process, we will devote the last section to explaining how a practitioner may move through the first three steps. 

To set the scene, consider the example of someone who is reading a chapter on need-based theories of motivation in a textbook about organizational behavior. 


The individual starts by skim reading the chapter to get a sense of its core ideas. In this textbook, as in many textbooks, a set of learning objectives preface each chapter.

These should be read with more purpose.

There are also chapter summaries that can be found at the end of each chapter that clarify the most important points.

Note that there is no requirement for the individual to read each page in sequential order. 

The individual then returns to the start of the chapter and skims the content while simultaneously noting key diagrams and headings.

Perhaps they notice that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or the two-factor theory is mentioned more than once.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy, often depicted in the shape of a pyramid, helped explain his research on basic human needs and desires. In marketing, the hierarchy (and its basis in psychology) can be used to market to specific groups of people based on their similarly specific needs, desires, and resultant actions.

The individual discovers two more theories relevant to employee motivation from this process.

They then strive to understand these theories and their similarities or differences.


In the second step, the individual formulates a list of questions based on key headings and sub-headings.

The first section is titled Two-factor theory, so some example questions may include:

Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.
  • What is the two-factor theory?
  • Who developed the theory, and why?
  • What are the factors that cause job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction?
  • How do these factors combine to produce four possible motivation scenarios?
  • Are there any limitations or criticisms of the theory?
  • What other theories or academic work underpin the two-factor theory?


The answers to these questions should then be found in the text, recited in the individual’s own words, and written down to ensure the theory is well understood.

Ideally, the answers should contain bolded or italicized terms that the textbook authors consider important to comprehending the theory.

This may include terms such as hygiene, motivators, dual-factor, industrial mental health, gratification, and job satisfaction.

It is important to also leave space in the notes for questions, images, or additional thoughts that may arise (or be clarified) in a classroom setting.

Resist the temptation to copy notes from the textbook verbatim as this will not facilitate learning of the key ideas.

This process should be repeated for each of the questions posed in the second step and indeed for the three other theories of organizational behavior in the workplace.

Once the individual feels comfortable with their level of comprehension, they can then move to the fourth and fifth steps in the SQ3R method to test their assumption and determine whether there are still concepts that require additional study.

To increase the likelihood of retention, the individual must remember to be selective about the information they choose to retain and ensure that it either supports or expands on the topic in question.

Key takeaways

  • The SQ3R method is a reading strategy that promotes comprehension and retention of written text.
  • The SQ3R method is named after the five steps that every individual should undertake while reading: survey, question, read, recite, and review.
  • The SQ3R method can be strengthened by six effective comprehension practices. For most people, there is no point in retaining information if it is not understood.

Key Highlights of the SQ3R Method:

  • Origin and Purpose: The SQ3R method (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review) was developed by educational psychologist Francis P. Robinson. It was initially designed for college students to enhance their textbook comprehension and retention, but it’s applicable in various scenarios where information retention is crucial.
  • Methodology:
    • Survey: Quickly review the text, noting headings, diagrams, and bolded text to gain context.
    • Question: Formulate questions, turning headings into queries or generating broader questions.
    • Read: Seek answers to your questions while taking notes and avoiding verbatim copying.
    • Recite: Test your understanding by answering questions without referring back to the text.
    • Review: Review the information after a day, using methods like mind maps or discussions to reinforce learning.
  • Effective Comprehension Strategies:
    • Monitor Comprehension: Be mindful of when you understand the material and when you don’t.
    • Activate and Connect: Link new information with existing knowledge for better comprehension.
    • Ask Questions: Curiosity and questioning aid in understanding and critical thinking.
    • Infer and Visualize: Combine background knowledge with text clues to draw conclusions.
    • Determine Importance: Selectively remember information that enhances your understanding.
    • Summarize and Synthesize: Develop an evolving perspective as you integrate new information.
  • Example Application:
    • Survey: Skim-read the text to grasp core ideas, using headings, diagrams, and summaries.
    • Question: Generate questions based on headings and subheadings.
    • Read: Find answers to questions, take notes using your own words, avoid verbatim copying.
    • Recite: Test your knowledge by answering questions from memory.
    • Review: Revisit the material after a day to reinforce comprehension and retention.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • The SQ3R method enhances comprehension and retention of text.
    • The five steps of SQ3R: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review.
    • Six effective comprehension practices aid in understanding complex material.
    • Comprehension is essential before retaining information.

Connected Business Frameworks

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Active Recall

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Baptism by Fire

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Dreyfus Model

The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition was developed by brothers Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1980. The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition is a learning progression framework. It argues that as one learns a new skill via external instruction, they pass through five stages of development: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert.

Kolb Learning Cycle

The Kolb reflective cycle was created by American educational theorist David Kolb. In 1984, Kolb created the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) based on the premise that learning is facilitated by direct experience. In other words, the individual learns through action. The Kolb reflective cycle is a holistic learning and development process based on the reflection of active experiences.

Method of Loci

The Method of Loci is a mnemonic strategy for memorizing information. The Method of Loci gets its name from the word “loci”, which is the plural of locus – meaning location or place. It is a form of memorization where an individual places information they want to remember along with points of an imaginary journey. By retracing the same route through the journey, the individual can recall the information in a specific order. For this reason, many consider this memory tool a location-based mnemonic.

Experience Curve

The Experience Curve argues that the more experience a business has in manufacturing a product, the more it can lower costs. As a company gains un know-how, it also gains in terms of labor efficiency, technology-driven learning, product efficiency, and shared experience, to reduce the cost per unit as the cumulative volume of production increases.

Feynman Technique

The Feynman Technique is a mental model and strategy for learning something new and committing it to memory. It is often used in exam preparation and for understanding difficult concepts. Physicist Richard Feynman elaborated this method, and it’s a powerful technique to explain anything.

Learning Organization

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Forgetting Curve

The forgetting curve was first proposed in 1885 by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist and pioneer of experimental research into memory.  The forgetting curve illustrates the rate at which information is lost over time if the individual does not make effort to retain it.

Instructor-Led Training

Instructor-led training is a more traditional, top-down, teacher-oriented approach to learning that occurs in online or offline classroom environments. The approach connects instructors with students to encourage discussion and interaction in a group or individual context, with many enjoying ILT over other methods as they can seek direct clarification on a topic from the source.  Instructor-led training (ILT), therefore, encompasses any form of training provided by an instructor in an online or offline classroom setting.

5 Whys Method

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Single-Loop Learning

Single-loop learning was developed by Dr. Chris Argyris, a well-respected author and Harvard Business School professor in the area of metacognitive thinking. He defined single-loop learning as “learning that changes strategies of action (i.e. the how) in ways that leave the values of a theory of action unchanged (i.e. the why).”  Single-loop learning is a learning process where people, groups, or organizations modify their actions based on the difference between expected and actual outcomes.

Spaced Repetition

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