The SQ5R Study Method

The SQ5R study method enables you to actively study textbooks and readings. This method can help you process information actively which in turn leads to higher memory and mastery of the material. SQ5R is an excellent technique to use with textbooks that provide a lot of information and require you to learn material in depth. Textbooks in many disciplines such as biology, psychology, and sociology fall into this category.

SURVEY - Before reading the actual chapter, read the introduction and summary (if given). Skim through the chapter paying attention to topic headings, bold-faced words, pictures, charts, and graphs. These can give you an idea of the general structure and content before you begin reading.

QUESTION - Set a purpose for your reading by developing questions about the material. Use the topic and heading information you gathered in the survey step to create questions to be answered. Begin asking yourself who, what, where, when, why, and how questions. Questions are most beneficial when they are general, covering main topics and important points.

READ - Break the material into sections that will take about 20 minutes to read (often the chapter is already broken into sections which will work just fine). Read the material section by section. Look for answers to your questions, key concepts, and supporting details. Study charts, graphs, tables, and pictures. These can serve to present new information as well as tie together concepts from the reading.

RESPOND - After each section, think about the material you have just read and answer the questions you have asked. This can be done at the same time as the reading step, since often response is automatic. The main point of this step is to think about the material, and take notice of what is important.

RECORD - Go back and underline key concepts and take notes. This can be done on a separate sheet of paper, on note cards, in the margins of the textbook, or any way that works well for you. (Do this after each section.)

RECITE - Next, look away from the material and try to recite the key information and ideas. Put the material in your own words and go back and re-read until you feel comfortable with it. This may be frustrating at first, but it will lead to better understanding and save you review time in the long run. (Do this after each section.)

REVIEW - After completing the entire chapter, scan back over the reading and review the information aloud or in your head. Talk about the material with a classmate if possible. Try to identify overall themes and relationships between concepts. Make any necessary revisions of your notes or markings so they can be easily understood later.

Now that you know about the SQ5R method for reading text books, the next step is to use this strategy while reading your next assignment. You may want to begin by selecting one class for which you will use SQ5R to read every chapter prior to your next test. Below are some additional strategies you may want to implement along with reading the chapter using this method:

  • Plan ahead and start early. SQ5R takes time and is not a strategy that can be employed or used effectively the night before a test. 
  • Plan to read each chapter before it's discussed in class. Doing this will make the class lecture a review. It is also likely to help you to understand the material that is presented in class at a deeper level.
  • Identify information in the chapter you don't understand and plan to talk with the professor after class or during his/her office hours if you still don't understand the material after it's covered in class.
  • Make an appointment with an academic coach in the Harvey Center for individualized instruction.