Critical, Active Reading Strategy

To say, “Yes, I did the reading assignment” has to mean more than you read every word on the assigned pages.

Many students, even students who are strong readers, do not take a strategic approach to reading. One of the more popular methods of careful, comprehensive reading, especially of textbooks, is the SQR3 method: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. SQR3 is a rigorous reading regimen, and you can read about it here. The Internet is full of similar pages and also YouTube clips about SQR3.

The approach outlined below is a somewhat condensed variation on SQR3 that entails eight steps in all (possibly fewer). As you’ll see when you review the steps, some of them do not apply to all kinds of texts. You can expect, however, that most of the steps will apply to most kinds of texts, especially textbook chapters and scholarly articles. Consider investing a little extra time in this reading method, or your own variation on it, in exchange for better overall comprehension and retention.

1. Read the text’s title.
2. Read the text’s editor’s note or abstract if there is one.
3. Read the introduction or overview in full.
4. Read all subheadings.
5. Read the first sentence of each body paragraph.
6. Read the concluding paragraph in full.

N O T I C E   S O M E T H I N G : All of the above six steps are pre-reading steps, and they will require a fraction of the time that reading the entire text will require. This small time investment, however, will establish in your mind the text’s context, improving your ability to organize the information in the text as you read through it. This will make taking notes much easier when you read the text in full (see the two steps below), as you’ll have a general sense of the text’s main ideas. The above six steps, combined with the two steps below, may also significantly improve your recall of the text’s information for potential quizzes and class discussions.

7. Read the entire text from the beginning to the end.
8a. Stop reading to highlight a section and take notes when an idea jumps out at you as being important.
8b. Section breaks, often signaled by subheadings, are another perfect time to make notes to yourself about the main idea that you just read and to write down any questions that came to mind while reading.

More College-level Reading
Reading Guide
Note-taking and Active Reading Form