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Study Effectively

What is SQ4R?

  • SQ4R is a method of studying textbooks. It’s an acronym for: Survey, Question, Read, Respond, Record, and Review.
  • When using this method, complete all the steps initially, then choose which are most effective for you and your courses.
  • The SQ4R method may seem time consuming at first, but once you know the steps, it only takes a few minutes.

What are the benefits of using SQ4R?

  • It’s an active learning strategy that can be adapted to suit an individual’s study preferences.
  • It provides a strategy to retain a lot of factual detail, reducing the amount of information that has to be relearned for exams.
  • It prompts the creation of study material to be used when preparing for exams.
  • It helps to identify errors or areas of confusion. 

Step 1: Survey the Textbook and Chapters

  • Read the preface and introduction to the text, and browse through the table of contents and the index.  This will describe the main topics and the basic organizational structure of the book.
  • Read the introduction and conclusion in each chapter and subsection.
  • Scan the titles and subtitles. Study the pictures, charts, or graphs.
  • Read the summary and any chapter questions.

Step 2: Start with a Question

  • Take the section title, subtitle, or the first sentence of each paragraph and turn it into a question.
  • For example: “Functions of the spinal cord” becomes “What are the functions of the spinal cord?”

Step 3: Read Actively

  • Read carefully and actively by creating a “dialogue” with the text.
  • Try to find the answer to the question you created, and ask questions as you read.
  • Be careful not to skim the text looking for the answer, as you might miss other important information.

Step 4: Respond to Your Question

  • Close the textbook and answer the question you created in your own words.
  • If you can’t answer the question, reread the section until you can.
  • If, after a few tries, you still can’t answer the question, go on to the next few sections and see if things become clearer.
  • If that doesn’t help, you may need to change your question. Try making it broader or narrower.
  • If changing your question doesn't help, get some assistance. Your instructor or TA are good places to start, or contact Learning Services.

Step 5: Record Your Notes

  • Once you understand the material and can summarize it in your own words make a record of it.
  • Common methods are highlighting and/or marking the text, or taking notes, or some combination of both.
  • Whichever methods you choose, it's critical to read and understand the material first, and then go back and record.
  • See below for the pros and cons of notetaking and highlighting.
  • See our resources for help with note taking.

Step 6: Review Your Notes

  • Do a thorough review of lecture and text notes weekly, and briefly before each class.
  • Make weekly review periods effective by starting from the beginning of the course in each review session. Though the volume of review material increases as the semester progresses, the amount of time needed to review older material decreases. After you've reviewed the first week's material a few times, it will take only minutes to skim over it and recall the key points.

What are the pros and cons of highlighting?

The Pros

  • Takes less time than note taking
  • Charts and graphs from text readily available

The Cons

  • Very easy to do badly; can fool you into thinking you're learning material when what you're really doing is colouring
  • Tendency to mark too much to avoid missing something important; experts say highlight 10-15%; students usually highlight 70-80%
  • Because fragments of sentences are highlighted, tendency is to read whole sentence for complete meaning and so most of the book ends up being re-read
  • Necessary to study for tests from heavy, clumsy textbook
  • Difficult to integrate with lecture notes
  • Textbook ends up looking very used and reduces resale value

What are the pros and cons of notetaking?

The Pros

  • Because it's time consuming, encourages you to be concise and more selective of important information
  • Information is in point form but still grammatically complete
  • Provides a portable, easy-to-manage study tool — text not often needed for studying
  • Condensed study notes can be made in margins as you go, saving time when preparing for exams
  • Easy to integrate text and lecture notes if done on looseleaf paper

The Cons

  • Time-consuming
  • Tendency to copy text rather than take notes in your own words

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