SQ3R System

Active reading strategies such as connecting new information with your own background knowledge, skimming, predicting, questioning, annotating, and more may be used in any combination as you read.  One traditional and long-standing reading system combines aspects of active reading into a specific process: SQ3R.

SQ3R is a reading comprehension method named for its five steps:

  1. Survey
  2. Question
  3. Read
  4. Recite
  5. Review

The method was created for college students by Francis Pleasant Robinson, an American education philosopher in his 1946 book Effective Study. SQ3R offers an efficient and active approach to reading textbook material, but also can be applied to other types of reading as well.

  • Survey –Skim the text to gain insight before reading that text fully. Skim the title, first paragraph, headings, subheadings, graphics, and any highlighted information to establish some useful context for thinking about the text. You’ll get a sense of the text’s organization of information, to help you predict the type of information you’ll be reading. You can also start to make connections between the new reading and knowledge you already have, which is another strategy for retaining information. Survey the document by scanning its contents, gathering the necessary information to focus on topics and help set study goals.
  • Question – During this stage, jot down any questions you have, based on your survey. You can also jot down questions based on the Learning Objectives at the beginning of a chapter and/or the Chapter Summary or Key Points at the end of a chapter. These questions will help you actively search for information as you read, and recall and study after you read.
  • Read – Read the text thoroughly, keeping your questions in mind. Find and jot down answers to your questions as you read, along with additional main ideas, key examples, and your personal connections and reactions as you read. Mind Mapping as or after you read is also a way to correlate all the information.
  • Recite – Try to answer the questions out loud without looking at your notes. Make sure you can answer and explain information in your own words.  Answering the questions out loud activates another way of anchoring the information in your brain. [1] At this point, you may also want to summarize the article, or write short summaries of major sections of a longer text to aid recall. The recite stage is one in which you consolidate knowledge, so make sure you can recall the core information of a text.
  • Review – Review your questions and answers, review all of your notes, expand your notes, discuss the topic with colleagues or other experts. Pretend you are responsible for teaching the ideas in this text to someone else. Can you do it? If not, you may need to circle back for more “survey, question, read, and recite.”

Oregon State University’s handout on the SQ3R Reading Strategy offers additional tips and explanations of why each of the R’s is useful to you as a learner.

Note that there are versions that add another R to the 3R’s. The fourth R varies according to the author; sometimes it’s “Relate” and sometimes it’s “Reflect.” Know that if you want to add one or even two more R’s, it’s fine.  Relating the information to your background knowledge and reflecting on your reading experience to understand what you need to focus on are both valid and useful strategies that promote fuller understanding of a text.

The following video provides an overview of the SQ3R system.


[1] “A recent Waterloo study found that speaking text aloud helps to get words into long-term memory. Dubbed the ‘production effect,’ the study determined that it is the dual action of speaking and hearing oneself that has the most beneficial impact on memory.” This quotation is the first paragraph of a short, interesting article at https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171201090940.htm