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How to better understand texts using the SQ3R method

SQ3R method
The SQ3R method is a way of getting a better understanding of a text. The goal is not to read a text faster, but to get a better grasp of the content of a text and to be able to retain the information. SQ3R describes the order in which a reader must work on a text or book to understand it.

The acronym SQ3R stands for: survey, question, read, recite and review.

1. Survey

Firstly, you need to get an overview of the text or book you want to understand. To do this, you need to look at everything which isn't actually part of the text itself. For example the title, sub-headings, the synopsis, the table of contents or the biography of the author. It's also helpful to look at any pictures, tables or diagrams and to read descriptions. If there are any technical terms which keep popping up that you don't understand, you should look them up in a dictionary or check the index.

The objective of this step is to get an idea of the structure of the text, its content and how it should be approached.

2. Question

The second step is to ask questions about the text. What do you want to get from the text? For example, if you have to write an essay and you're going to use the text as a source, you can come up with some questions that the text will answer for you. If you're stuck, think about the 5 Ws: who, what, when, where and why.

3. Read

The third step is to get to the heart of the matter; reading the text. To do this, you can use different techniques or methods that help you understand and comprehend the text. You need to read actively and try to understand what every word and every paragraph is telling you. If you get lost or find your focus wavering, try taking a short break and recharging before you continue.

The questions you came up with in step two should be kept in mind as you read the text. It's not necessary to answer the questions in this step, but bearing them in mind can help identify what is really important. You can use a highlighter to pinpoint key passages or relevant terms and jot any notes you need to in the margin of the text.

It can also be useful to write some key words or a short summary after each paragraph. This shouldn't be very long, just enough to remember what you have read without having to read it again. One sentence is usually enough.

4. Recite

Once you have read the whole text, the next step is to rework the information in a different format to practise and consolidate what you've read. There are several different methods you use to do this. For example, making a colourful mind map, listing keywords or writing a structured summary. Rephrasing something in your own words makes it easier to retain concepts and store information in your long-term memory.

To check if you have understood everything, you can try explaining it to someone. If you have to read the text for one of your classes, you can try explaining it to one of your classmates. It's helpful to speak about a text in your own words and the other person can ask questions to improve your understanding.

If you don't have someone to explain it to, you could explain what you've leant to a cuddly toy or you could record yourself on your phone. If you record yourself, you are then able to listen back to the recording in the future, perhaps when you're out for a walk or on the bus.

5. Review

The final step is to get an overview or retrospective of what you've learnt from the text and to put it into context. To do this, everything you've done so far must be reviewed. Have the questions you came up with in step two been answered? Are there any points that are unclear? How can this information be used?

If you haven't found answers which adequately answer your initial questions, look at the bibliography of the text. This will give you additional texts to supplement your reading. If you are preparing for an exam, it could be useful to summarise the text on one sheet of A4. You can then use this to skim over the concepts and definitions every day to consolidate your knowledge.

Advantages and disadvantages of the SQ3R method

The SQ3R method is particularly suitable when you have to understand texts in detail, for example, for an essay or if you're preparing for a big exam. If you read the texts early enough, take notes and make summaries, you won't have to read and prepare a huge amount right before the exam. You'll simply be able to refresh your memory with the relevant information from the summaries you've made.

However, this method is relatively time-consuming and not very effective when it comes to saving time. Therefore, if you need to revise lots of texts in a short time, another method may be more appropriate. Like most learning methods or techniques, it's better to get used to the approach and practise it in good time, not right before an exam, so it's worthwhile and effective. If you can master this method, it can be useful when preparing for your exams and consolidating knowledge.

Check out our blog to get other tips for revising for exams, or read about different methods for studying, such as the Pomodoro Technique.


Although the SQ3R method is quite time-consuming and seems demanding at first, it is worth trying at least once. Thanks to the progressive and structured approach this method uses, information is stored in your long-term memory and you can build on your existing knowledge.
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