The Ultimate Guide to the SQ5R Study Method

Benjamin Martin - 30 April 2021

SQ5R study method

Have you ever been in a situation where you have been reading the same thing over and over and it just won't seem to go in your head? I'd hazard a guess and say yes, it's something that has affected all of us at one point or another.

Too many people spend hours passively reading, whether it be at work, school or university. Luckily, there's a better way to study.

This article discusses the SQ5R technique for active reading, a method that has been shown to increase retention and comprehension.


  • What is the SQ5R study method?
  • Why is the SQ5R reading strategy effective?
  • How to use the SQ5R technique
  • SQ5R: other tips

What is the SQ5R study method?

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


Before you start reading your text, you should survey it. This means skimming through the chapter, reading the introduction and conclusion first, 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. and before actually reading the text, ask yourself questions about the topic. Essentially, you will ask yourself what you want to find out about the items identified in the survey step of the technique.

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 this 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 this 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 should 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.

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 the SQ5R reading technique in general.

Why is the SQ5R reading strategy effective?

The SQ5R is effective because it combines multiple study techniques that are known to enhance learning and the 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 organised 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.

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How to use the SQ5R 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 minutes 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-minute long Pomodoros.

After doing this technique 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 25-minute Pomodoros 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, 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 the ideas relate to each other. Leave space between the lines so you can fill in the information later. You might want to include drawings, 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 your 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 on 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.

SQ5R: Other tips

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Using supplements is a great way to enhance the way you use the SQ5R technique.

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About the author

Benjamin Martin is a nootropic and brain supplement enthusiast

Benjamin Martin is a nootropic and brain supplement enthusiast who has tried every type of performance-boosting supplement under the sun. At Brainzyme, he uses his expertise to produce educational content for the Nootropics UK and Brain Supplements UK blogs.

Based in Edinburgh, Benjamin loves spending his free time in nature whenever he gets the chance.

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