Saint Louis University

Strategies to Improve Reading Comprehension and Retention

Ever wondered why it takes a while to read through your textbook?

Begin by viewing our reading comprehension online workshop.


Wanting to improve your current reading comprehension and retention?

Try the SQ3R system!

Are you thinking, "What does SQ3R" mean?

Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review!

The SQ3R is a textbook study system that may sound like an intricate and time-consuming process. However, in the long run, using such an approach to text reading will save you time. Even better, you will retain more of what you read. By learning and following the SQ3R system each time you read, you'll find that you can review rather than relearn when preparing for exams.

Survey: Glance quickly at the key parts of the book or chapter to get an overview of how the material is organized and developed. This helps you to grasp the main ideas before you begin actual reading and mastery of the details.

  • Read the preface or introduction to the book and scan the table of contents.
  • Scan the title, headings and subheadings. These give you an outline of the chapter.
  • Read the author's summary if one is included. If not, read the introductory and concluding paragraphs.
  • Study any pictures graphs, charts, etc. which are included. These can provide a visual summary of an idea.
  • Quickly scan the entire section by running the eyes rapidly down the page.
  • Key in on topic sentences and repeated words or phrases.

Question: Formulate questions about the chapter content based on your preview reading.

  • Turn headings, subheadings, and titles into questions. When reading each section, you will read to find the answers to these questions.
  • Remember the six classic questions, who, what, when, where, how, and why.
  • Jot these questions down to use later when reviewing.

Read: Read actively with the questions you just formulated in mind.

  • Look for the answers to the questions you posed.
  • Try to summarize and restate ideas as you read.
  • Keep in mind the overall organization of the chapters as you incorporate details.
  • Read with the intent to stop periodically and reconstruct what you have read.
  • Mark key words and phrases after you have read, using the suggestions on the following page.

Recite: Stop at the end of a section or chapter to test your recall. Half of your study time should be spent on this step because this is where the real learning takes place. Most forgetting occurs soon after learning, so immediate recall is important.

  • If you can't recall what you've read as soon as you've read it, you've wasted all the time you spent reading it.
  • Immediate recall is the first step toward continued retention - this step will save you time when you review for an exam.

Review: Review the material periodically. This helps to fix the material in your memory, eliminating the need for last minute cramming and test anxiety. The most effective review comes soon after your initial learning.

  • Reread marginal notes, underlining and questions posed at the beginning.
  • Review class notes on the same topic.


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