What Is the SQ3R Method, and How Can It Help You Write Better Essays?

If you’re thinking the SQ3R Method is a new iPhone QR code scanner app that allows you to scan your essay for grammar errors, you’d be wrong. (Though that would be pretty awesome, wouldn’t it?)

sq3r method

The SQ3R Method is actually a reading method that will help you:

These are all wonderful, but they’re not as flashy as a new iPhone app, are they?

But because not everything can be an app, and because you have to do some things on your own, let’s get to work learning about the SQ3R Method.

What Is the SQ3R Method?

The SQ3R Method is a reading technique that will help you become a better reader and thus a better writer.

SQ3R stands for survey, question, read, recite, review. I know that sounds like a lot of work just to read something, but if you follow these steps, you’ll soon realize you remember more of what you read.

Here’s a little more about each step.


Before you begin reading, take a few moments to survey the text. Look at headings, subheadings, and any vocabulary in bold print. Preview opening and closing paragraphs. If you’re reading a textbook, look at the study questions or chapter summary.

In other words, skim the text, but do so with the purpose of getting a sense of the focus and general ideas presented in the reading.


sq3r method

The questions you ask in this step will depend on your purpose for reading. If you’re reading strictly for comprehension, you might turn headings into questions. Or you might ask questions about the arguments you’re reading.

If you’re reading to study for a test or to answer questions about the topic or chapter, look at study questions before you read. Look at the study guide your professor may have given you or at the questions at the end of the chapter.

If you know what you’re looking for, you can spot the information as you read.


This one is pretty self-explanatory, but remember, you’re not just reading the words to read them. You’re reading with a purpose in mind. You’re actively seeking information.

You might look for answers to chapter questions, for answers to your own questions, or for information suitable to use in your research paper.

If you’re analyzing an article, you might look for even more information, such as how the author uses language or how the author structures and supports arguments.

As you read, don’t forget to take notes on key content to help you not only understand the text more effectively but also help find information when studying or citing information in a paper.

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Ever ask a friend to help you with a problem, but as you talk through your issue you realize you’ve worked through it on your own? That’s because talking out loud and talking through a problem can help you understand it in new ways.

The same is true for reading. Talking about what you read can help you understand the information more completely.

Here’s a chance to do some thinking (and talking) out loud about your reading. Remember those questions you asked at the beginning of SQ3R? Run through them again to see if you can answer them.

Try summarizing out loud or listing key vocabulary words and their definitions. Talking about what you’ve read will allow you to explore the topic and perhaps even answer any lingering questions.


Review your notes, questions, and answers, and maybe even skim through the text again. Complete the review process a day or two after your initial reading. This will help you keep the information fresh in your mind and help you retain more of what you’ve read.

This means no more reading five chapters the night before the test or reading all of the assigned articles just before you start writing your paper!

Need a review? Here’s a graphic for reference:

sq3r method

How Can a Reading Method Help Me Write a Better Essay?

At this point, you might be saying, “Learning to read and remember information is all well and good, but what does this have to do with writing a better paper?”

The answer: a lot.

I’m sure you’ve heard that in order to be a good writer you need to read (and be a good reader). So how does reading help you become a better writer?

sq3r method

If you read a lot, you see how…

Seeing these strategies in practice helps you learn to use them in your own writing.

Learning to read more effectively also means that you’re better prepared when you begin writing. Take, for example, the argument essay.

Using the SQ3R Method for an argumentative essay

In order to write an argumentative essay, you’ll likely need to support your argument with credible sources. If you use the SQ3R Method as you read your sources, you’ll preview content, ask questions, and talk through the information as you read.

Because you know you’re writing an argumentative essay, you can look for main arguments, key phrases, and information you’ll paraphrase or quote in your paper.

When you’re ready to complete your outline or graphic organizer, you’ll already have an idea of information you can use to support your own arguments.

That’s a heck of a lot easier than trying to write an outline and search through a stack of sources looking for something—anything—that might work to support your arguments, isn’t it?

Using the SQ3R Method for a literary analysis

The SQ3R Method even works if you’re writing a literary analysis.

Because you don’t read research articles the same way you read literature, you should probably skip the survey suggestion of reading the introduction and conclusion first.

After all, you don’t want to spoil the ending of an awesome story or novel.

You can, however, practice the other steps in SQ3R when reading literature. Let’s say you know you have to write an essay about the symbolism in The Tell-Tale Heart.

If you look for examples of symbolism as you read, you can practice the SQ3R Method by asking questions and taking notes throughout the story.

Again, you don’t read literature the same way that you read a science report, so you may not want to stop to take notes during a suspenseful story. You might need to take notes during the second read instead.

Practice Makes Perfect

sq3r method

Whether you’re an athlete, a musician, an artist, a welder, or a writer, you need to practice in order to be good at it. In order to be a good writer, you need to be an active reader.

With that in mind, here’s a chance to practice what you’ve just learned.

Use the SQ3R Method as you read How to Make Connections Between a Text and Your World and Why Avoiding Bias in Writing Is So Important and How to Do It.

Look at the headings, formulate a few questions, and jot down notes as you read. Notice how practicing this reading strategy improves reading comprehension.

Want a longer piece of writing to practice with? Try one of these essays about reading strategies:

Don’t forget: Kibin editors have lots of practice helping writers, so if you need some useful feedback on any of your essays, let an editor review your writing.

Happy reading and writing!

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