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How to Improve Reading Comprehension with the SQ3R Method

The SQ3R reading method consists of these 5 steps: survey, question, read, recite, review.

The SQ3R reading method consists of these 5 steps: survey, question, read, recite, review.

Create a chart to help organize the notes taken during the  SQ3R reading sessions. Use one like this or create one of your own.

Create a chart to help organize the notes taken during the SQ3R reading sessions. Use one like this or create one of your own.

By Joan Whetzel

Teachers in high school and college regularly require students to read 3 to 4 chapters of a textbook or articles that are several pages long in preparation for that week's lectures and in preparation for exams taken throughout the semester. Trying to make sense of everything that is read and remember that information throughout the semester can feel quite daunting. SQ3R is a method of learning while reading textbooks and longer texts for the purpose of studying and retention of the reading materials. Simply memorizing certain key facts does little for a student's retention of the material. SQ3R is intended to help students draw links or make connections within the reading material and to make the reading mean something. If the material means something, it is more likely that students will remember it. SQ2R involves 5 steps:

1. Surveying the material in the table of contents or by reviewing the titles and subtitles in advance.

2. Questioning, which means asking questions, in advance, concerning the key topics that the student is preparing to read about.

3. Reading, which involves reading and taking notes that answer the questions.

4. Reciting, where students can record any additional facts that help them make sense of the material, help them draw links to information they already know, or help them to remember what they read.

5. Review, where the student is asked to summarize the answers to each of the questions in one paragraph of three to 5 sentences.

While the SQ3R reading method was originally designed for college level reading, it is easily adapted to high school level reading assignments and can even be taught at the Junior High school level. Creating a SQ3R Chart to use along with the reading, will help when it comes time to study. Make sure to date each reading chart and keep them in order. You don't have to follow this chart exactly, but create one that makes sense to you.


Take a minute up front to scan the table of contents in the textbook or to scan any lengthy piece of required reading. Notice the titles and subtitles and make a note of them. They indicate the general subject matter contained in the reading and the basic structure of the material, or the order in which the material will appear. Think of this step as the movie preview, a teaser, or the blurb on a book cover. It doesn't give away the whole plot, but it will give you a glimpse into what the story is about. Examine the captions under all pictures, charts and graphs, and maps. While many teachers don't include this information on exams they are helpful in understanding the material. A word of note, introductory and concluding paragraphs for each section generally summarize the material. Keep this in mind as you read and as you write out your review section at the end of the SQ3R reading exercise.


Make a list of questions to answer as you read. The basic questions you should be asking about the reading materials are: who, what, where, when, why, and how. In addition ask:

  • What is this chapter or article about?
  • What is the main question this chapter or article trying to answer?
  • How does this information help me?

This stage of the SQ3R exercise trains your mind to look for specific details in the reading material. Make questions out of the titles and subtitles. For instance, if a subtitle in your history book reads "Cause of World War I" then one of the questions you might ask is "What were the causes of World War I?" Use the questions at the end of textbook chapters to help you create questions to guide your reading.

Read (R1)

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Read one section at a time. As you read, look for the answers you wrote down in the previous section of the SQ3R exercise. Like taking notes, write the answers to the questions as you go. Try answering the questions at the end of the chapter as well. Reread the captions under the pictures, charts and graphs, and maps. If the teacher has provided any other graphic aids to go along with this unit's material, scan through those as well. Make a small pencil mark next to any part of the reading that wasn't quite clear on the first reading. Then go back and re-read that section.

Recite/Write (R2)

Either state out loud (or quietly to yourself if you prefer) or write down a key phrase that sums up the main point of each subtitled section. Use your own words here, don’t just copy something out of the reading. Using your own words helps you make connections in your brain with stuff that you already know rather than simply memorizing phrases from the book. Connect the reading material to your five senses, describing what you might have seen, heard, tasted, smelled or felt if you had been in that situation presented in the reading material. Ask yourself questions orally and try to answer them. Write down the questions you've created on index cards with the answers on the back to use as flash cards when it comes time to study for exams, you have them ready to go.

Review (R3)

Review the material immediately after you finish reading it and completing the SQ3R exercise. Make reviewing an ongoing process, reviewing the material daily or weekly. Take about 5 minutes to go over each SQ3R reading exercise. It will help you retain the material throughout the semester and help you connect each section of reading to the ones that follow. Try to recollect the main points of the reading, and only go over some of the details of those sections you are having trouble remembering or understanding.

When studying for exams, begin with the SQ3R worksheets or notes. Then go back to the textbook or articles to reacquaint yourself with the main topics and some of the details you may have missed. Next, alternate between your flashcards and the questions at the end of each chapter to help you prepare for any exam questions the teach may ask. Make yourself an outline similar to the table of contents at the beginning of the textbook. The basic outline will cover the main points. Use it to see if you can fill it in with the details. Better yet, use it to try to retell the story in your own words. This is great practice for essay questions. With consistent reviews of the materials and your SQ3R notes, you can eliminate the need for last-minute, all-nighter, cram sessions.


Chesapeake Public Schools. SQ3R Method of Study.

University of Arizona. The SQ3R Method.

Study Guides and Strategies. SQ3R Reading Method.

Virginia Tech. Increasing Textbook Reading Comprehension by Using SQ3R.

Wikipedia. SQ3R.


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