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The Ultimate Guide To The SQ5R Active Reading Technique: Can This Help You Get Better Grades? | Best Study Tips

The Ultimate Guide to Cornell Notes: Can This System Help You Get Better Grades? | Best Study Tips

This blog post is dedicated to the SQ5R active reading technique. It should serve you as a go-to guide, talking you through what the SQ5R technique is, why it is effective, how to use it and more.

Table of Contents

- SQ5R Summary
- Why is SQ5R Effective?
- How to use the SQ5R reading technique
- SQ5R examples
- References

SQ5R Summary

SQ5R is a reading technique and stands for Survey, Question, Read, Respond, Record, Recite, and Review. So let’s discuss what these actually represent.

  • Before you start reading your text, say a textbook chapter, you want to survey the text. This means skimming through the chapter, reading the introduction and conclusion first, if available, looking out for definitions and parts of the text highlighted in bold. Also, pay attention to drawings and graphs illustrating the text. This will give you an idea of what ideas and themes will be important.
  • After identifying the main topic of the text, and before actually reading it, ask yourself questions about the topic. Essentially, you will ask yourself what you want to find out about the items identified in the survey. As you have not read the text yet, your understanding might be too limited to ask specific questions. Instead, focus on broader themes and questions to guide your reading.
  • In the next step, you will get to actually read the text. Don’t be afraid to break it down into more digestible sections if needed. Depending on where you are studying you might also want to read the text out loud.
  • After reading and learning about the themes, think back to the questions you asked yourself at the beginning. Respond to them and apply what you have just read.
  • In the next step you will get your pen and paper out and underline, scribble, take notes - whatever works for you. You’ll use the text as a tool to record your understanding of the topic.
  • Without looking at your notes or the text, go over what you have learned and try to reproduce the content - explain to someone else or to yourself what the text covered. When you do this for the first time, you might not remember all the crucial information. You will go over the text until you feel comfortable with the material learned.
  • After completing these steps, go over the text again and skim through it. Ideally, try to find someone to explain the material to. At this point, you might want to go over your notes as well to fill in any missing information or to edit them in a way that will make them more accessible for later revision etc.
There is a very similar technique called the SQ6R technique that follows the same principles as the SQ5R. SQ6R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Reflect, Review, Rehash, Rethink, and Re-evaluate.

Check out the video below to learn a little more about this reading technique in general.

Why is SQ5R Effective?

The SQ5R is effective because it combines multiple study techniques that are known to enhance learning and memory retention of information.

By actively engaging with the material, asking yourself questions and by finding answers, you support the encoding of the information.

Similarly, multi-modal learning has been proven to be more effective than sticking to one mode of learning.

By reading the text out loud, explaining concepts to someone else, engaging with drawings and graphs as well as the text, you enhance your understanding of the material.

Another method that has been found to be helpful for memory retention is self-testing, especially as part of the process of learning.

Here, you don’t wait to be tested on the material when it comes to your exam. Instead, by reciting the material you will have a chance to test your knowledge as well as a chance to get immediate feedback.

Moreover, explaining the material to someone else will be a chance to test your knowledge as well.

Spacing out learning, rather than cramming it into one session works better.

Thus, if you have some heavy reading to do, why not break it up into chunks and go through the different steps for each part of the text.

By being organized like that you will be able to break up the reading over multiple days.

This will be especially useful because a significant amount of forgetting will occur right after learning. So going over the material again the next day and the day after for example, will help you retain the knowledge acquired.

How to use the SQ5R reading technique

When following the steps mentioned above, you might want to think about combining the SQ5R technique with two other study techniques - the Pomodoro technique and the Cornell note-taking system - to get the most out of the learning experience.

The Pomodoro technique works by following a time schedule of 25 min that you spend on a task.

If you need to read a long text and find it difficult to get through it, try to split it up into tasks that can be accomplished in 25 min.

Each Pomodoro cycle consists of 4 of such 25 min long Pomodoros.

After doing this technique for a couple of times you will get an understanding of how long it takes you to complete the steps.

Make sure to take short breaks between the Pomodoros of one cycle and longer breaks between the cycles.

If you are mainly struggling to get started on the work, then you could stop using the Pomodoro technique after you feel like you are 'in the zone'.

Equally, the Cornell note-taking system could be of benefit when working through the steps of the SQ5R.

This system works by dividing your note-taking paper into 4 parts.

There will be a small part on the top and bottom and on the left side and a large part on the middle right.

You will put the topic, date, main theme etc. on the top part of the paper.

Then you will start taking notes in the bigger right part.

Here, it is crucial to not copy down exactly what you are reading.

Instead, think of the concepts and how ideas relate to each other.

Leave space between the lines so you can fill in the information later.

You might want to include drawings or graphs or a mind map to illustrate the themes covered.

This would be done in the recording step of the SQ5R.

After the next step, reciting, you will have filtered out the main ideas and concepts that relate to the notes you have taken.

These will go into the small left column.

After reviewing the material, explaining it to a friend and completing any notes, you will fill in the bottom part of the paper.

This will be your concluding point, summarising the theme mentioned at the top.

Since this technique works well to make sense of complex ideas and theories it is widely used in fields such as biology, history, and psychology.

However, SQ5R can be applied to almost any academic reading.

If you’d like some more guidance for how to use this technique in combination with the Cornell note-taking system, check out the below video.

This video references the SQ4R technique (Read, Respond, Record, Review), but the general workings remain the same for SQ5R.

A bit more detail on the actual note-taking is covered in the below video where a history text on slavery is covered.

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    • Butler, A. C., & III, H. L. R. (2007). Testing improves long-term retention in a simulated classroom setting. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19(4-5), 514-527.
    • Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2008). The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning. Science, 319(5865), 966-968.
    • Krätzig, G. P., & Arbuthnott, K. D. (2006). Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: A test of the hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 238-246.
    • Larsen, D. P., Butler, A. C., & Iii, H. L. R. (2013). Comparative effects of test-enhanced learning and self-explanation on long-term retention. Medical Education, 47(7), 674-682.
    • Newton, P. M. (2015). The Learning Styles Myth is Thriving in Higher Education. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.
    • Roediger, H. L., & Butler, A. C. (2011). The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(1), 20-27.
    • SQ5R Study Method | Harvey Knowledge Center (HKC) | Radford University. (n.d.). Retrieved 21 February 2019, from

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