Study Tips

How to Read Textbooks: SQ4R

Reading a textbook for comprehension is not as simple an act as it seems like it should be to people in a literate society. Of course we all have the capacity to look at the letters and call off the words that we see before us. But that is not adequate for reading a textbook. Unfortunately, this is all too often what students do. How often have you read a chapter or part of a chapter and then looked up from the text with no idea what you’d read. Here is a six-step technique to prevent that from happening again.

S – Survey
Before you read a chapter, glance through all the headings in the chapter, and read the final summary if the chapter has one. Don’t worry about looking ahead. This is not a mystery that you will spoil by reading the summary first. This survey should not take more than a few minutes, and it will show you the core ideas on which the reading is focused. This survey will provide a framework around which you can organize the ideas as you read them. This is especially necessary in survey or introductory courses where you will encounter unfamiliar information.

Q – Question
Ask questions of the text that you are about to read. Turn headings into questions. Doing so primes your mind for the information and gives purpose to your reading. Thus, it will increase your comprehension when you do read. The more you practice asking questions the better your questions will become and the more they will make important points stand out from additional details. Remember that learning is asking and answering questions.

R1 – Read
Read so as to answer your questions, but only read a short section at a time. Reading should not be a mere “calling off of the words,” but an active attempt to answer your questions and to understand the material. Read and reread paragraphs until you find out what the most important point is.

R2 – Recite
Having read the first section, look away from the book and try briefly to recite the material. Use your own words.

R3 – Review
You will need to look back at the text from time to time as you recite in order to get the information that you cannot recite or to clarify the things that you can’t put into your own words.

R4 – Write
Now that you can briefly state in your own words the meaning of each paragraph go back and highlight key words, phrases, and topic sentences. You might also write brief notes in the columns of the pages of the textbook or in a separate notebook. Remember that “the pen is the best eye.” We may fool ourselves into thinking that we know something until we have to carefully write it out. If necessary review some more in order to make accurate marginal notes.
This may seem like a lot of work but it is better than spending your time gazing at the book and learning very little and you will be amazed at how much time it will save you when you go back for a final review before your test. You might also be pleasantly surprised at how readily you recall the information at test time.

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