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SQ4R: A Top Reading Strategy

by edgab

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The SQ4R Textbook Reading and Study System is a great reading strategy to use with your textbooks! Research proves this strategy helps increase your understanding of the content, interest in actually reading an assignment, and retention of info. The SQ4R also provides you with a structured, organized approach to completing your reading assignments. For a detailed background of the SQ4R, check out this article.

The Steps in SQ4R

  • S: Survey – Scan the Chapter
  • Q: Question – While Surveying the Chapter, form questions
  • 4R: Read – Read one section at a time
  • Record – Write notes & the answers to your questions
  • Recite – Speak out loud a summary of each section & answers to questions
  • Review – Highlight/underline review end-of-chapter questions & complete summaries


The first step is to survey the chapter(s) or sections you’re assigned to read. It’s a means to understanding the new info, so don’t skip it! This step:

  • Increases your ability to use the content to its maximum potential
  • Helps you see the material as important and interesting
  • Encourages concentration
  • Helps you set a reading focus

Surveying the chapter also gives you time to relate the presenting content to information you already know– a vital step in the learning process! The more connections you can make between the new information and the info you already know, the better your chances to learn and recall the new content.

How to Survey the ChapterSQ4R-466x350

  • Scan the objectives and/or outline at the beginning of the chapter
  • Review the key terms
  • Glance at the visual aids, such as graphs, charts, images, & tables
  • Skim the Chapter titles & boldfaced subtitles
  • Review the chapter summary at the end of the chapter

Survey Tip: Keep an eye out for things in BOLD, such as section titles, subheadings, & key terms.


While scanning the chapter, create questions based on what you see. Its best to write the questions in a notebook designated for this specific class. A goal of the questions is to have the important facts and information jump out as you read. These questions also establish a foundation for understanding the material.

Create Prep Questions

Prep questions prepare you for reading and understanding. Some examples include:

  • What will I learn in this chapter?
  • What are my previous experiences with this information?
  • What do I already know about this information?

Question Tips

  • Ask open-ended questions using How, What, When, What, Where, Who, Why, etc.
  • Use your course syllabus to connect your questions to the presented course learning objectives.

Create Questions Using Titles & Subtitles

Use the chapter titles, subtitles, and section titles to form questions. Keep an eye out for bold words or phrases too! These items are emphasized for a reason. Use them to create more questions. For example:

  • Section Title: “Normative Behavior”
  • Question: What is normative behavior? How does normative behavior relate to (insert next section title here)?

Create Questions about Terms & Visuals

As you survey the chapter, use the key terms with definitions, concepts, & visual items such as tables, figures, graphs, and images to create questions for each section. For example:

  • What does the graph represent?
  • When would this (insert key term) be applicable?
  • What does (insert new concept) mean?


Break your reading assignments into chunks based on headings or sections. Focus on and think about what you are reading in each section. Read each section as if it’s your only reading assignment. Remember, a bold heading tends to indicate a section.

Reading Tips

  • If you have difficulty focusing for long periods of time, divide the assignment up over the next few days. For instance, read 2 sections one day & 3 sections the next. Do what works for you!
  • Include page numbers in your written answers & notes for quick reference.
  • Look up words you don’t know in a dictionary.

Read & Write

As you read each section:

  • Write down the answers to the questions you developed in your notebook
  • Take additional notes on the information

Did you know? Writing about what you read is a form of processing which helps increase your ability to remember and understand the information.


After you read each section, say the information out loud. Speaking the points below reiterates the information for you. Here’s what to do:

  1. Glance away from the text & summarize out loud what you just read
  2. Grab your questions & recite aloud the answers, definitions, and terms without looking at the book
  3. Speak the answers in your own words & give examples
  4. Try answering your questions aloud again without using your notes

Remember to do this after reading each section


The review step is two-fold. First, you’ll review each section and then the entire chapter. Reviewing the section involves highlighting important information. When you review the entire chapter, you review your questions and those listed at the end of the chapter.

Review the Section

After you read a section, immediately go back, read it again, and draw attention to important words or phrases by highlighting, underlining, starring, or circling – whatever you need to do! Use a pencil if you plan to sell your textbook at the end of the course.

When marking the pages, be selective. A highlighter is a reading tool that helps you to focus; it is not a study tool. Drawing a yellow or blue box around unfamiliar words will not help you to remember the information.

Chapter Review

Once you have completed the entire reading assignment:

  • Review all key terms
  • Read through all answers to your questions
  • Review the end-of-chapter questions

If you cannot answer a question, review its corresponding section again until you know the answer or contact your instructor for help.

  • Write a summary of the entire chapter

Remember, writing about what you read helps you retain the information!

Sounds like a lot of work, I know! However, the SQ4R is proven to help students of all ages understand and recall the information. Try it out and let us know how it works for you in the comments!

Hey! Any thoughts?