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?
It takes less time than note taking
Charts and graphs from text readily available
It's very easy to do badly; highlighting can fool you into thinking you're learning material when what you're really doing is colouring
Students usually highlight 70-80% of the textbooks, but experts highlight 10-15%
You may end up rereading most of the textbook in order to understand the parts you've highlighted
You can't combine highlighted text with your lecture notes
What are the pros and cons of notetaking?
Note-taking forces you to think about the content of the textbook and choose the most important information
It's easy to combine your textbook notes and lecture notes together to create your own study guide for quizzes and exams
Writing notes in your own words can help you check your understanding of the textbook content
If you take your notes on your laptop, you can easily change your notes into cue cards, test questions and answers, or other formats for studying
It takes more time than highlighting
It's easy to start copying text directly from the textbook instead of taking the time to write notes in your own words