Improving Reading

Learn how to improve your reading abilities through a few simple steps. The SQ3R method, known to educators for years, is a simple and proven way to become a better reader.

Most people's idea of reading is very linear: You start reading at the beginning of the text and finish at the end of the text. Little do they know that good reading skills include what one does before and after as well as during reading.

The SQ3R method of reading is one that teachers and other professionals have relied on for years. It doesn't take long to learn yet can offer, with continued practice, great gains in reading comprehension and speed.

The Survey

The "˜S' from the SQ3R method refers to an initial survey of the reading. Just as in a land survey, a reading survey helps the reader become orientated to his/her surroundings. Remember, everything done in the survey phase happens before any actual reading takes place. There are several parts to a good survey:

- Look at the title of the reading.

Many times the title can tell a reader much about what is to follow, creating a context for the information. Restating the title in the form of a question is another way to boost reading comprehension. For example, an article with the title, "The Problem with Teaching Reading" could be rephrased as a question: What is the problem with teaching reading? Armed with this question, the reader now knows what kind of information to expect in the following text.

- Study the pictures and their captions.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, looking at the pictures that go with a particular reading can offer a short cut to its comprehension.

- Read the first and last paragraphs.

Writers often summarize their main points in both the first and last paragraphs of a work. Therefore, skimming these portions can provide a snapshot of what is contained in the entire work. It is sometimes also helpful to look at the first and last sentences of each paragraph for more clues.

- Pay attention to questions following a reading.

Not all readings will have questions. If there are questions, like in a textbook, they can provide important clues as to what the reader should remember. Traditionally, people completed questions after they were finished reading, but looking at them beforehand can be a great help.

- Note unfamiliar words.

Although certain terms may not be familiar at first, isolating them before reading can let one know what to look for later.

- Look for boldface, italics, or underlining.

Any type of unusual print is probably meant to emphasize a word or phrase. Picking out these key sections is another short cut to understanding a reading.

- Take note of how the reading is divided up.

How chapters or segments are divided up within the reading can tell one much about what the most important points are. Be sure to also look at the title of each segment for additional clues as to its content.


The "˜Q' from the SQ3R method stands for question. Even before reading the entire work, one should pose a number of questions to answer by reading. These questions may or may not be answered by the time one is finished; that is not important. The real point to creating these questions is to gain a more active involvement in the reading. If there is a specific task to accomplish by reading - like answering some questions - it is much easier to become and stay engaged.

Read, Review, and Recite

The "˜3R' portion of the SQ3R method deals with what happens during and after reading. Believe it or not, the process already described should all happen before reading. It may seem like a lot of work, but with some practice, this method can actually shorten reading times while boosting comprehension.

Reading seems like the most self-explanatory part of the method. You just read, right? Well, not exactly. When reading, the reader should always have a book in one hand and a pencil in the other. Here are some things to work on during reading:

- Circle or underline key phrases.

Marking important portions of the reading will make it easier to find them later. Be sure not to mark too much of the text, however, or the technique will become a distraction.

- Note words that are still unfamiliar after reading the sentence in which they are found.

Unfamiliar words can usually be looked up after reading, unless that word plays a significant role in the text.

- Write down additional questions that the reading provokes.

These questions may give you an idea of what might require more study.

Once one is finished reading an entire text, it is time to quickly review it. The review is much like the survey. The reader should look at the title, the pictures, the key words and phrases as well as any notes taken during reading. This second glance will refresh the memory and put all of the information learned back into a context.

The final phase is to recite the reading. Reciting can take on many forms, but its essential goal is for the reader to express what he/she has read in his/her own language. One could write a paragraph summarizing the reading, or simply retell it orally to oneself or to others. The advantage to reciting is that it gives the reader ownership of the new information, helping him/her to commit it to long-term memory. Gaps in the reader's understanding of the information can also become apparent when reciting.

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