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.

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.

Connected Business Frameworks

Active Listening

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

Active Recall

Active recall enables the practitioner to remember information by moving it from short-term to long-term memory, where it can be easily retrieved. The technique is also known as active retrieval or practice testing. With active recall, the process is reversed since learning occurs when the student retrieves information from the brain.

Baptism by Fire

The phrase “baptism by fire” originates from the Bible in Matthew 3:11. In Christianity, the phrase was associated with personal trials and tribulations and was also used to describe the martyrdom of an individual. Many years later, it was associated with a soldier going to war for the first time. Here, the baptism was the battle itself.  “Baptism by fire” is a phrase used to describe the process of an employee learning something the hard way with great difficulty. 

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

Learning organizations are those that encourage adaptative and generative learning where employees are motivated to think outside the box to solve problems. While many definitions of a learning organization exist today, author Peter Senge first popularized the term in his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organisation during the 1990s.

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

The 5 Whys method is an interrogative problem-solving technique that seeks to understand cause-and-effect relationships. At its core, the technique is used to identify the root cause of a problem by asking the question of why five times. This might unlock new ways to think about a problem and therefore devise a creative solution to solve it.

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

Spaced repetition is a technique where individuals review lessons at increasing intervals to memorize information. Spaced repetition is based on the premise that the brain learns more effectively when the individual “spaces out” the learning process. Thus, it can be used as a mnemonic technique to transform short-term memory into long-term memory.

Related Strategy Concepts: Read Next: Mental ModelsBiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon EffectDecision-Making Matrix.

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