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.
From this process, the individual discovers two more theories relevant to employee motivation. They then strive to understand these theories and the similarities or differences between each.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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