5 steps to get the most out of your next reading

Are you finding academic readings challenging? Do you feel like you’re not getting the most out of them? There’s a strategy you can try to help with this. The acronym is SQ3R — it stands for survey, question, read, recite and review. Let’s take a deep dive into each step.

Survey 

This step is all about figuring out what you’re getting yourself into before you even start reading the article. It helps you get an idea of what’s to come and estimate the time you'll need for the reading.

  • Read the title and abstract to get familiar with the content
  • Read headings and subheadings to understand how the article is structured
  • Look through the introduction, outline, objectives and conclusion to see what the main ideas are
  • Skim over figures, tables and other visuals — they often provide evidence
  • Skim the text to find anything in bold or italics — this is usually something to pay attention to

Question 

Now that you have an idea what the article is about, make a list of questions.

  • Make predictions about what the author argues in each section
  • Think about how this article is related to the course topic
  • List points of interest — they could be related to your learning objectives for the course, or just your personal interest
  • Write down questions about ideas you find confusing or complicated so you can go back to them later

Read  

Read through the content actively. This means you read the facts, but also critically think about the logic of the content.

  • Pay attention to sections that are most relevant to your course
  • Skim sections that are less important
  • Actively search for answers to your questions and confirm your predictions as you read
  • Make sure you understand each section before moving onto the next one — otherwise, go back and read it again
  • Take note of main concepts, relationships and examples to help comprehend the content
  • Consider how the authors come to the conclusion and the evidence they use to support the arguments
  • Critically think about whether there are any gaps in the argument and what you can do to further research the topic to fill the gap

Recite  

To remember what you've learned from the reading, recite the information — read it out loud, write down notes and retell it to a friend.

  • Recite answers to your overarching questions about this topic
  • Recite major concepts, arguments and examples
  • Recite the conclusion and paraphrase it using your own words

Review  

We all tend to forget if we don’t review every now and then. By reviewing the content, you’re committing it to memory.

  • Reflect on your original questions and make sure your answers to them are clear and supported
  • Reread sections where your answers are not clear. If they are still unclear to you, ask your course instructor or teaching assistant for support
  • Summarize key information including visuals to review later
  • Review your notes — some articles and authors will be important for the core content of the course and your program, so you’ll review these more frequently. Others might be supportive evidence or examples that you only need to review before assignments and test.

Ready to use the SQ3R strategy? You can try it in combination with the Cornell method. When you survey the reading and make your questions, you can put them in the “cues” section of your notes. When you read, fill out the “notes” section. And use the “summary” section when you review.