By Timothy Le
Many students think the best way to study for quizzes and exams is to reread and highlight textbook chapters. However, such strategies, known as passive learning, are ineffective at helping comprehension and solidifying knowledge. If you are asking yourself, “What is an effective study strategy I can use,” you are in the right place.
SQ3R is a study method that can help you process and retain information, especially when dealing with tough material. The acronym stands for the five steps: skim, question, read, recite, and review. Compared to the previously mentioned passive learning strategies, this active learning approach is proven to be more effective at increasing retention.
Step 1: Skim
Before you dig into the reading, take a few minutes to scan the material and note the headings, subtitles, bolded words, pictures, graphs, tables, summary paragraphs, and other features. Doing so can help you identify key ideas and get a feel for the reading.
Step 2: Question
After skimming over the material, formulate and write down a few questions to guide your reading. Examples of questions include:
- What is the central dogma of biology?
- What are some pieces of evidence for the existence of Pangaea?
- How is the Great Depression connected to World War II?
Step 3: Read
When you finish steps S and Q, decide how you want to divide your reading, whether that is by paragraphs, pages, or sections. After reading a chunk, write some notes in the margins. Examples of what you can jot down include summarizing the chunk in one sentence, connecting an idea to prior knowledge, and any questions you might have. Circle or underline words and sentences you do not understand.
Step 4: Recite
This step serves as a checkpoint to ensure you understand what you just read. After reading the section or chapter, close your eyes and recall out loud what you can remember. Try to answer the questions you wrote in step Q, and revisit any unfamiliar words and confusing sections.
Step 5: Review
If you want to remember the content in the long term, you should review what you have learned within 24 hours to beat the forgetting curve (a memory model that shows how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it). Follow-up review sessions can further consolidate your learning into long-term memory, but make sure to space them out! Studies have shown that spacing your review is far more effective than cramming the material days before an exam, so do not forget to give yourself enough time to prepare. You can read our time management guide for more tips.
Word of advice: the harder you work your brain, the better you will remember things. Reading over notes and chapters is easy, but it is ineffective at helping you retain information and make deep connections. Some more effective strategies include doing practice tests, making flashcards, and pretending to teach someone the topic on hand. These methods can help you discover what you know and need more practice.
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to studying! You do not need to complete every step of the SQ3R method every time you start a topic. Do not be afraid to experiment with different strategies to determine what works best for you.