For many, having to learn from a textbook or college issued study manual can be a daunting experience. Today we look at a study skill specifically aimed at textbook reading / studying.

SQ3R are the initials of the five pivotal steps in this study method:



The purpose of surveying is to gain a quick overview of a chapter as a whole, it’s orderly development, and the relationship of main ideas in relation to each other, before reading. To survey properly, you will need to spend 1 – 2 minutes surveying in the following manner:

  • Fix the name of the chapter in your mind – it is in essence the main idea you are trying to get from the chapter.
  • Quickly read the introduction, outline and objectives of the chapter – they supply background information needed to recognise the purpose of the chapter; secondly they may provide the mode of development that the author intends to follow. Both are important for faster reading speed and greater understanding of how ideas fit together.
  • Pay attention to the headings and sub-headings – well-written textbooks and course manuals are divided into sections: each headed by large, bold print. The title names of the major topics to be presented and indicates that the author thinks this ideas is very important. There may be several sub-headings under a main heading, these signal the important details in the chapter.
  • Look at other clues to important ideas – authors indicate which points are important for you, frequently by the use of bold print, italics, numbered items, colour coded passages, marginal notes, glossaries, outlines, questions, lists, charts etc.
  • Read the chapter summary – to see which ideas the author restates for special emphasis or what conclusions are drawn. A summary contains only the main ideas in a chapter.
  • Look over the words in the list of important terms – at the beginning or end of chapters. These are key ideas that you must understand in order to learn the material in the chapter.


Make questions out of headings and sub-headings. For example, if the first heading in a chapter is “The Judiciary and the Constitutional Court”:

  • Skim the details as a guide to the kinds of questions you can make.
  • If the details include words that can be defined, use them in a question – “What is the Judiciary?” “What is the Constitutional Court?
  • If the details explain characteristics of a relationship, use them in a question – “What are the characteristics of the relationship between the Judicial and the Constitutional Courts?

Remember: Details always dictate the format of a question.


With the question in mind, read the details in the chapter in order to answer the question. By doing this you create a clearly defined purpose for reading namely, to answer the question.

Reading with a purpose helps increase concentration and reduces “blank mind syndrome”, which happens when you cannot recall what it is you have read. Making up questions and reading for the answers increases memory at exam time.


Reciting correctly is an important part of not forgetting:

  • Look at the question you have come up with.
  • Without looking, recite the answer aloud. Answer fully, as if you were lecturing a class. The key is to recite the answer out loud or alternatively writing it out. Another way of increasing learning and recall is to write the answer down in the form of an outlines, short paragraph, chart, diagram, mind map etc.
  • Check your answer by referring to your notes or the textbook.

Reciting is a good way of finding out whether an answer has been learned. Many students “feel” that they understand an answer but never test the state of their actual learning. Thus, many students enter an exam “feeling” they know their work but don’t know for sure until they are faced with a question they thought they could answer.

Recitation involves mental activity rather than the mindless reading and re-reading of words without necessarily taking in any of the information. Reciting promotes and speeds up learning whereas passive reading slows down learning.


There are very few people who are able to remember the entire content of a chapter by only reading it once. By using the Question – Read – Recite method, a chapter is divided into sections that can be assimilated individually, piece by piece. This allows the student to move at a pace that is best for them. Regular review allows the student to put the chapter back together again. By reviewing you are answering the question that was made up from the chapter’s title e.g. “What is the Judiciary and how does it work?”

Reviewing refers to regular recitation of the material that needs to be learned. It is an excellent way of checking for learning and understanding and will eliminate the “feeling” of knowing the material.

A common complaint about the SQ3R method is that it is slow…and it is! But it is the answer to the often heard student complaints: “I can’t remember what I just read!” and “I thought I knew that!”


Worcester Polytechnic Institute. (n.d.). Academic Resources: SQ3R Textbook Study System. Retrieved from:  http://www.wpi.edu/Images/CMS/ARC/SQ3R_Textbook_Study_System.pdf [Accessed on: 23 October 2014].