Reading actively and effectively

Use the SQ4R (survey, question, read, recite, relate and review) technique to help you read effectively.

What is the SQ4R reading technique?

This technique helps you engage with every part of the reading process: thinking before, during and after reading.

Diagram of the SQ4R (survey, question, read, recite, relate and review) technique.Skim-read the whole of the text quickly before you start reading. You are aiming to get a general idea of what ideas the text covers and how it is organised.

Look for:

  • Title
  • Any heading and sub-headings
  • And leading questions at the start or end of a chapter or section
  • All visuals and their captions
  • First paragraph
  • Last paragraph (or summary if there is one)
  • The first and last sentences of paragraphs

See Survey the text for more detail.

Ask yourself questions before reading and while you read to improve your focus and understanding of the text.

Before you read:

  • Note what you already know about the topic.
  • Write down some questions to guide your reading. These may be around what you want to find out for your assignment or research.

While you read, continue to question the text while you read in more depth. Use the four levels of questioning:

  1. Summary and definition questions: e.g., Who? What?
  2. Analysis questions: e.g., Why? What are the reasons for …?
  3. Hypothesis questions: e.g., If … occurs, then what happens?
  4. Evaluation questions: e.g., What are the advantages or disadvantages?

See Question the text for more detail.

Scan the text as you read for the main ideas and supporting arguments.

As you read:

  • Practise fast reading techniques.
  • Ask the four levels of questioning stated in the ‘Question’ tab.
  • Be engaged in your reading, set a clear purpose and ask critical questions about the material, your response as a reader and how the writer has expressed their ideas.

See Read the text for more detail.

After reading a section of the text, restate what you have learned in your own words. This lets you check your understanding and helps you remember what you have read.

  • Tell a friend what you have learned from reading the text.
  • Make notes on the main ideas and look up any words you think might be important.
  • Without looking at the text, try to answer the questions you posed in Question the text.

See Recite the text for more detail.

Relating the text is about making connections about what you have learned with:

  • What you already know about the topic.
  • What you need to use the information for in your assignment.

To relate the text:

  • Check if the text fulfils your purpose for reading it.
  • Select the information you need.
  • Check the references for any further useful resources.

See Relate the text for more detail.

After you have finished reading, review the text by skimming back over it or reading your notes. Ask yourself:

  • Has the text answered your questions?
  • Are there any concepts you don’t understand?
  • Can you scan the text quickly to answer specific questions about it?

Try writing a summary or flow chart of the text so you can see at a glance what the text was about. This can help you when you revise for exams.

See Review the text for more detail.

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