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Active Reading Strategies Part 1: SQ3R

Many students have found this system helpful for boosting their reading fluency and their performance on the SAT!

What is SQ3R?

The so-called SQ3R study method is a popular system designed to strengthen students’ reading muscles. SQ3R stands for “Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review” – and one of its greatest benefits is that it helps you understand more of what you’re reading as you’re reading it - the first time.
As a larger methodology, SQ3R can be extended over an entire course, textbook, or semester, but this article focuses on how this step-by-step approach can help you on the SAT Reading Test.

Step 1: Survey

Resist the temptation to jump right into reading the passage. Instead, glance through (or survey) the passage to identify the subject matter, the point of view, and the overall purpose of the passage. This should take no more than two minutes.
  • Read the blurb for context
  • Skim the first sentence of every paragraph.
  • IMPORTANT: Survey the questions, too! Put marks in the margins of the passage if you see questions that mention “paragraph 3” or “lines 11-18”, for example.
  • Circle weird names and big words in the questions

Step 2: Question

Basically, this part is meant to help you get excited about what you’re about to read - if you’re interested in what the passage is about, then you are more likely to grasp the point the author is making the first time you read it. In 30 seconds or less, come up with a couple questions about the passage, for example: What is this passage about? Why does this passage exist? What question is this passage trying to answer?

Step 3: Read (R1)

Start reading the passage – actively.
  • Is the author supporting an idea? Circle a word or phrase and put a plus ( + ) in the margin next to it!
  • Is the author rejecting an idea? Circle the phrase and write a minus () next to it!
  • Is something surprising (to you or to the author or to a character/researcher mentioned in the text)? Circle or underline the thing and put an exclamation point ( ! ) next to it!
  • Is something confusing (either to you or to the author or to somebody mentioned in the text)? Write a question mark! (?)
  • Circle “the But”! Contrast words (eg: although, not, but, yet, however, nevertheless, in fact, etc...) signal a shift in the author’s argument, which is always important to pay attention to. Circling them is fun! – and it helps your brain pay better attention.
  • Circle "the And"! Continuation words (because, since, therefore, and, additionally, etc...) signal that the author is about to emphasize or restate an important part of the argument. The same is true for semicolons! ( ; ) Pay attention to these!
Top tip: The most important claims and conclusions are usually found in the first and last sentences of a paragraph. On your first read-through, pay more attention to the bones of the passage, and less attention to the evidence that backs up those claims and conclusions. If you understand the structure of the passage first, you’ll know where to find the supporting evidence you need if and when you are asked about it.

Step 4: Recite (R2)

This is the most important part of effective Active Reading. The second "R" stands for Recite – in your own words.
After you read each paragraph, say back to yourself what it was about - using your own words. By summarizing, you can gain control of the text and prove to yourself that you understand what you just read.

Step 5: Review (R3)

Once you reach the end of the passage, say back to yourself what the point of the whole passage is - again, using your own words.

Next, start working through the questions!

This system might be pretty different from what you’ve done in the past, but it might just be the major shift in approach that you need to raise your score on the Reading Test to the next level.
Before you head over to the Practice Area to give it a try,
read the next reading strategy article for a great way to approach the questions!

Want to join the conversation?

  • male robot donald style avatar for user Varghese Bobus
    I think SQ3R won't work for SAT because this method isn't originally devised as a test-taking strategy! SQ3R method was introduced by Francis P. Robinson, an American education philosopher in 1946. This method offers a more efficient and active approach to reading textbook material in classrooms and when you have sufficient time, but is not to be used in a test like SAT where you have 5 lengthy passages, 52 questions and just 65 minutes in the reading section. additionally, this won't work well in the literature passages because scanning won't make any sense in literature!
    (138 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Karin Travers
    These are great tips, and I think they'll be very useful for my son! But they are clearly meant to be used on paper.

    Does anyone have any tips for implementing these strategies using the electronic resources on Khan Academy? I see that there is a highlighting tool available for use in the passages online, but that doesn't offer the opportunity to use all the annotation strategies described here.
    (48 votes)
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    • sneak peak green style avatar for user G. Tarun
      I would suggest practicing online tests while writing down any rough work on a sheet of paper or a notebook. Furthermore, I recommend practicing with the printable PDF files provided in an article entitled "Full-length SATs to take on paper".
      (19 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user calcpro
    wont this method take even a longer time?
    (46 votes)
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  • piceratops seed style avatar for user jonghyeok34
    How can I apply this strategy to literature part? It is hard to apply to that part.
    (15 votes)
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    • starky sapling style avatar for user Abigail Tang
      I don‘t think all of that will do. Literature part focuses more on the contexts and the depiction of each character. Just figuring out the main structure and arguments of the passage would be barely enough. Literature part, to some degree, requires the skills that you've learnt in the essay part: image yourself as the writer and keep it on mind that the essential elements of a literature. Just personal opinions.Wish you good luck.
      (28 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Emunguia7
    How long should it take to implement the whole SQ3R method and step 3 (by itself) efficiently?
    (18 votes)
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  • starky seedling style avatar for user ahmad.yasser7272
    All these strategies are pretty good, but they simply don't address the biggest problem!
    Am I the only one who finds a lot of unknown vocab while reading passages -specifically literature and history ones- and to manage my time I have to read fast at the same time I must understand what the passage is saying and I end up with a whole paragraph read but without understanding even what it talks about!
    Does anyone have a solution to this problem?
    (22 votes)
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  • starky sapling style avatar for user Mahmoud  Abdel-Hadi
    I still do not understand what the claim is... :(
    (3 votes)
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    • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Lin Gh.
      Suppose you write an article about how great Khan Academy SAT prep program is. Your claim is that Khan Academy is good for SAT preps.
      This can be argued and/or proven by providing examples as proofs. So maybe there are this person and that person who took great scores in the SAT and only used Khan Academy. This information supports your claim.

      I hope this gave you a general idea.
      (16 votes)
  • mr pants teal style avatar for user Raymond Angbuhang Limbu
    I sort of skim through the passages and I miss out on a lot of details. When I don't skim, I go overtime. Can someone help me with it?
    (6 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Federico Valente
    Hello everyone, I would like to know if there is any type of easy and quick strategy to answer and understand any type of reading passage. If so please reply to this question you would help me a lot. Thank you again.
    (5 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user supernova34
    Hi everyone! I heard that the SAT test is going to become online soon and I don’t think these strategies will work very well for the tests. Any idea if there will be another strategy once the online test comes out?
    (6 votes)
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    • aqualine sapling style avatar for user Siri Amuluru
      Yep, starting with the 2024 January test date, the test will switch to being online. Someone else said the passages will be shorter than the pencil and paper test and that these close reading strategies may not be as useful anymore. If you're going to be a junior in HS next year like me, I'd suggest taking a pencil and paper one with this strategy before it switches and then if you're not satisfied with your score, take the online one once it starts being issued. You can study for the digital one with the digital SAT section in Khan Academy.
      (2 votes)