15 Read with a Purpose: The SQ4R Strategy

Reading textbooks is not the same as reading a novel, magazine, or a website for fun. To achieve your course goals, you’ll want to read with an effective strategy. One helpful and popular strategy is called SQ4R. The S stands for Survey, the Q is Question, and the 4Rs are: Read, Recite, Record, and Review.

SQ4R is a form of active reading which encourages you to also make study notes as you read your textbook, so get a pen and notebook ready when you are reading your textbook – the notes you take will help you study better!



  • Survey means scanning the entire assigned chapter or section of a textbook. Take notice of the headings of the section, and briefly read the introductory paragraphs and section summaries.
  • Look over important graphics (pictures, charts and diagrams) and captions as well. Pick out things that are interesting or informative.
  • Survey the summary and questions at the end. This will give you the key points in the chapter.
  • List a few (less than 10) main ideas and concepts on what the chapter focuses on.


  • Take each section heading and make it into a question.
  • The best questions will call on knowledge you may already have, or puts the heading into dialogue with the other headings or main ideas that you found while “surveying.”
  • Example: A heading in a Business Course on “Managerial Accounting,” might generate the following questions: “What is Managerial Accounting?” “How does Managerial Accounting compare to Accounting in general?”  “What has the instructor mentioned about Managerial Accounting?”


  • Read the section or chapter while attempting to answer your original question(s).
  • Review pictures and captions.
  • Take note of words/phrases that are underlined, in bold, or highlighted.
  • Try to answer any review questions at the end of the chapter or section.
  • Don’t skim through; if something is unclear, slow down and re-read it.


  • After each section, stop reading and review it out loud.
  • Answer your original questions and re-read important parts or definitions out loud.
  • Try to summarize the main point of each heading.
  • Try to provide definitions to key words.
  • Continue to self-test until you feel confident that you can understand and remember the information on your own.


  • Translate the book’s words into your own words and remember the key definitions and main ideas, write your notes out.
  • Use the structure of the text to create an outline for yourself. Be sure to note definitions, main ideas, and important details in the order of the text.


  • Use your notes to review for your tests.
  • Read them  out loud, rewrite them, or quiz yourself as tests approach.
  • The more you review, the more the information will stick with you.

Try it!

Extend Your Learning

Not all courses use textbooks as primary resources and you might come across academic journals as part of your required reading list.

  • Download How to Read an Academic Journal (1 page tip-sheet).
  • This handout will help you identify the characteristics of academic articles and learn strategies for identifying important information.

Chapter Attribution

This chapter is adapted from Chapter 15 in University 101: Study, Strategize and Succeed CC BY-SA and content used under fair dealing from the University of Cincinnati. (n.d.). SQ4R: Getting the most from your textbooks. Learning Commons. https://www.uc.edu/campus-life/learning-commons/learning-resources/notetaking-resources/sq4r.html


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