This One Simple Method Will Make You Remember What You Read

How to use this method to improve your learning

Derrick Harris
Mar 18 · 8 min read
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Over the years various methods of learning have surfaced — methods brought about by experts, researchers, and psychologists in the learning sphere. All these diverse methods are designed to make learning easier, interesting, and faster.

Learning might seem difficult, especially if it’s something new. For college students, the textbooks to be studied for a single academic year is quite voluminous to cover in a short period of time — I can relate.

My college life is basically 80% of intense study and 20% of extracurricular activities. With a lot of psychology books and materials to cover, I needed a method to aid in learning and also swift understanding.

It’s been six months since I discovered the SQ3R method, and those months were filled with lots of reading. But here is the catch: over the years I had a problem with reading, understanding, and retaining information, due to my slow learning ability as a kid.

After I discovered this learning technique from the book Effective Study written in 1946 by education psychologist Francis P. Robinson learning became remarkably swift and interesting.

Robinson’s book greatly influenced and positively change the way I retained knowledge. Over the countless number of learning methods out there, the SQ3R is the one with the greatest impact in my life.

It doesn’t take much to learn this study method, but to get the most out of this simple method you need to effectively apply it in your future learning and projects.

What is the SQ3R Method?

The SQ3R method (survey, question, read, recite and review) is an active reading method that was postulated by Francis P. Robinson in 1946 to aid students to read and understand information effectively.

Over the years the SQ3R method has been seen as the most vital reading and research method proven to aid maximum understanding.

This method entails learners to improve and maximize their memory’s potential due to the fact that the SQ3R method deals with visual and auditory styles of learning. It is also proven useful to learners (students and general individuals) to write notes in their own words on a plain sheet instead of highlighting them.

The SQ3R method was created basically to assist students who struggle with reading and understanding educational texts.

Although it lays emphasis on educational texts, it has also been proven that the SQ3R method can be applicable to anyone who in their work, side hustles, or just leisure activities depend on written information and wants to have a deeper understanding of it.

How You Can Remember What You Read

In a recent study published in the journal Reading Literacy, Stahl and Armstrong (2020), define Robinson as a pioneer in the development of postsecondary literacy theory, research, and pedagogy who, despite his enormous and various contributions to the field of reading and learning, is most widely known by SQ3R.

For most people, while reading through an article, a self-improvement book, or just some random information bulletin, we tend to highlight the key points we want to memorize and retain later. While that is not a wrong method — it works for some categories of learners.

However, if you are looking for quicker retention and easy understanding, you will have to use a method that that is enhances learning capacity, you’ll have to use the SQ3R method.

The SQ3R method focuses on 5 core principles and also where its abbreviation was drafted: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review.

Below is a comprehensive explanation of each of the five steps so you can apply the method yourself and learn better.

Survey

The first step in the S3QR method is surveying. Originally, Survey means to observe the layout of something and get an idea of how it is constructed.

However, the meaning of the survey remains the same in this context. This is the preliminary phase of the S3QR method therefore the idea here isn’t to jump in on any piece of information. Rather, you need to understand the concepts used by the author in buttressing his important points.

While reading a book, resist the temptation to carelessly dive into information, rather get an understanding of the chapters, layouts, headings, subheadings, tables, marginal curves, pictures (if any), and the words/sentences that are written in special characters.

This survey takes only 3–5 minutes, and provides you a mental depiction of what the subject is all about as well as acts as a foundation to understanding the vital points in the text.

Question

Now that you have had a quick scan of the text, you would be intrigued to know more about the topic. The foundation you have laid in the first step is a major player in this step. Remember those chapter titles and subtitles you identified in your text? It is time to get more comprehension of them.

Ask yourself questions and then look for answers inside the text. Turning the titles into questions is a good way to start. Ask yourself what you previously know about the topic and identify your goals and objectives. These are some of the questions I ask myself:

What is this chapter about?

What concept is the author trying to build on?

What question is this chapter trying to answer?

I read something similar weeks back, are there any fresh perspectives the author is offering?

How could the content of this text be beneficial for me?

Be sure to write down your questions legibly on a clear piece of paper. The focus of this step is understanding the author’s approach, how the points are delivered, and the takeaways.

You may also add more questions to your list as you advance. Note down your questions in the left margin, at a later stage, you can fix the answers in the right margin.

Formulating questions creates a purpose for reading, therefore, helps increase concentration and learning speed.

Read

After all that is set up, you must have gotten a glimpse of the opinions the author is conveying and identified your objectives for reading the text.

Now let’s get this straight, a major problem most learners face is reading — they take reading as “pretty straightforward” while ignoring the basics.

While reading, don’t get too carried away, keep the structures you mapped out in step one, “S” and the questions you asked yourself in step two, “Q” in the back of your mind.

Pay attention to texts that are printed in bold, italics, or special fonts. Do not overlook the explanations embedded in graphs, charts, and pictures (anything visual). They will assist you in learning.

The first sentence in a paragraph usually presents the main points. Read actively. That means writing down the answers to the questions you previously asked yourself as you read along.

Don’t stop there, if you find anything that fascinates you write it down — create new questions and provide answers to them.

To get a proper understanding of the questions and key information you wrote down, write them in your own words, do not verbatim copy texts from the book.

Usually, I find it difficult to grasp words in a single read. What I do is take my time and read it all over again until I get maximum understanding. While doing this I pay less attention to what I already know to avoid misperception.

Recite

The second “R” refers to the step known as “Recite” This step is meant to evaluate your memory — your understanding of the topic and points conveyed in the book.

Most times after reading, we think we have fully memorized all the information in a particular book, some people get it right while some don’t.

To prevent the risk of forgetting, the best technique is to recall what you’ve read.

Provide answers to the questions from the “Q” step, but this time don’t write it, say it aloud, without looking at the book as well as providing new perspectives from your memory.

You can try explaining what you’ve read to someone, your partner, family, or friends — anyone that can give you profitable feedback and corrections.

Explaining to yourself also works well, just be disciplined and look back to the book when you need help.

Note: Spend more time on reciting than reading.

Review

The final “R” and also the final step of the SQ3R method is to review. It is normal to forget but the review process reduces forgetfulness and fosters longer retention. Reciting and reviewing might look similar, but it’s not.

Reciting paves the way to test and build up your memory when reviewing puts the cherry on the cake by reminding you of the questions, points, highlights, and entire topic.

Regardless of what kind of book you are reading, college material, or a personal growth book, it is important that it is reviewed and revised multiple times.

Without review, what is stored in short-term memory will gradually fade away.

Read through the important parts of the book again, fall back to your notes, review the answers you presented and try to improve them again by paying extra attention to the aspects you found tedious to grasp.

Try to repeat the questions and answers, check if you can answer them without doubt, if not fall back on the book and refresh your memory.

Expanding your knowledge is pretty easy if you follow the right steps judiciously. This step is more effective if you do it a day after doing the previous four steps.

The Takeaway

The SQ3R method is a super-easy way to optimize reading time and derive maximum understanding from books and other text-based materials. By concentrating on the structure of the text, you lay a solid foundation on which you can effectively build up new information.

The SQ3R method can be summarized as follows:

  • Quickly scan the text and grasp the concepts
  • Ask vital questions based on the topic and write them down
  • Read the text actively, with the aim of answering the questions you wrote down
  • Summarize in your own words what you’ve read
  • Review the texts and your notes

By using this method you will be able to understand the basic concepts of reading and improve your complete comprehension of a text. Instead of consuming unnecessary texts, the SQ3R method filters out the information you need and fosters productive retention.

Sources/further reading:

Robinson, Francis Pleasant (1978). Effective Study (6th ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Johns, J. L., & McNamara, L. P. (1980). The SQ3R study technique: A forgotten research target. Journal of Reading, 23(8), 705–708.

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Derrick Harris

Written by

Life coach/positivity therapist and mental health advocate. Princeton. Learning and history fanatic. The ascent, Age of awareness, SkillupEd, PGSD.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

Derrick Harris

Written by

Life coach/positivity therapist and mental health advocate. Princeton. Learning and history fanatic. The ascent, Age of awareness, SkillupEd, PGSD.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

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