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Being able to comprehend, remember and recall what you’ve read is key to successful online learning, so it’s important to learn the basics of academic reading. If you’re new to academic reading, learning the SQ3R technique is a great place to start.


SQ3R stands for five steps that help you think about the text you are reading, while you are reading it. These five steps are: Survey – Question – Read – Recall – Review. 

SQ3R is designed to help you read faster and retain more. It might seem like it takes more time to use the SQ3R method, but once you master the process, you’ll find you will remember more and have to reread less often. 

Step 1 - Survey

Woman searching in a book

To succeed in life, we usually prepare before we do something – like planning before taking a holiday, or thinking about our route before driving a car. We also need to prepare ourselves before reading an academic text if we want to understand and remember it.  

Conduct a survey of the text in order to get the best possible overall picture of what you are going to read (before you read it) by doing the following: 

  • Read titles and subtitles 
  • Study pictures, tables and charts 
  • Read anything in bold, underlined, or in italics 
  • Look for key words 
  • Read the introductions and conclusions 
  • Look for margin notes 


Step 2 – Question

Man asking a question

People seem to remember information better when it is learnt in answer to a question compared to things they just read. Trying to find answers to questions as you read forces you to pay attention to the text – they give you a reason to read. Choose the first block of text, which hopefully has a heading. Make up a question you want to find the answer to as you read. Use the heading to create the question using starter words like: What, Where, Who, When, which and How. Write the question down somewhere.  

Also, before you read, ask yourself some other questions.  

  • What do I already know about this subject? 
  • What can I expect to learn from this section/chapter


Step 3 - Read

Man sitting on a pile of books

As you have given yourself a purpose for reading, by trying to answer your question, you will be more engaged with the text, therefore having a greater chance of understanding and retaining the information. Read the material, looking for the answer to your question.  

  • Read in short bits. Stop when you need to think about what you have been reading. Ask yourself questions about what you have read.
  • Vary your approach and speed. Read the easy bits faster and slow down for difficult new material. 
  • Talk to yourself, highlight important points/words, write notes, draw pictures, make a mind map.  
  • Keep at it! Successful students read difficult passages again and again.

Step 4 - Recite

Man asking a question

Reciting helps to transfer information from your short-term memory to your long term memory. Once you’ve read a section, run through it in your mind several times. Identify the important points, and then work out how other information fits around them.  

Look away and try to recite the answer to your question, using your own words and examples. If you can do this, it means that you understand the material. If you can’t, skim over the section again. Once you have the answer to your question, write it down, or say it out loud.  

Note: The answer to your question may not be there. However, by looking for it you should have a better understanding of what you have read, and a better chance of remembering it. 

Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4

For each block of text you should repeat the process of creating a question, reading, and then reciting, until you get to the end. 

Step 5 - Review

Woman with an idea

The greatest amount of forgetting things happens right after learning. Reviewing material helps to lock information into your long term memory. Once you’ve finished the entire text using steps 2,3 and 4, go back over all the questions from all the headings. See if you can still answer them. If not, look back and refresh your memory, then continue. If you are making notes, review them for accuracy. Ask yourself (and answer) the following questions.  

  • What is the material’s significance?
  • What are the implications or applications of this material? 
  • What questions are you left with? It is also a good idea to discuss the material with someone else. Try to explain what you have just learned as thoroughly as you can, and do your best to put the information into a context that’s meaningful for you. 

Make SQ3R a Habit

At first, going through all 5 steps may feel time-consuming. However, the more you use it, the less you’ll have to think about the process. To turn this reading technique into a habit, use it each time you need to read something in detail. At first, allow extra time to get into the habit of using the five steps. Take any opportunity to discuss what you’ve learned, forgotten, or not understood, with classmates. Start by using the worksheet on the next page until you develop a system that works for you. 


The content on this page was created by Learning Support@Student Success, Otago Polytechnic