Independent reading is an integral part of university study. But with so many books, research papers and academic articles to review, how can you get the most out of their reading without being overwhelmed?
Try these four proven methods to structure your reading and boost your comprehension.
1. SQ3R method: helps with reading comprehension
The SQ3R method is a popular strategy for comprehension, especially when it comes to textbook material. SQ3R stands for:
And you don’t need to follow all these steps – you can simply choose the ones that are most helpful for you.
Survey – The first part of this technique is to skim-read the paper or chapter to get a feel for its content. This doesn’t have to be an intensive read: 5 to 10 minutes should be enough time for you to read the introduction and chapter summary, look at any pictures or graphs, take in subheadings, and any study questions at the end of the chapter.
Question – Give your reading extra purpose by turning the chapter heading into a question. For example, if the heading is ‘Tools to close the gender wage gap’, you could reframe this as ‘What kind of tools are being used to close the gender wage gap?’ This will help guide your reading because you’re looking for the answer to a specific question.
Read – Now it’s time to get stuck in to the text. As you read, you should look for the answers to other questions you’ve thought of. Remember to highlight only the most important points and make brief notes along with your ideas – but be sure to write these in your own words, rather than simply copying the content verbatim.
Recite – Once you’ve read through the content, you should take the time to recite as much of it as you can. Then, review the questions you’ve written down. Are you able to easily answer them? If you’re not, you should read the relevant section again and take some more detailed notes.
Review – Studying doesn’t stop once you’ve read the content: it’s thought that you can lose 80% of what you’ve learned if you don’t review your notes within the next day. You should revisit the material within 24 hours to boost your comprehension of a subject.
2. The Feynman technique: helps test your understanding
Named after the physicist Richard Feynman’s own studying technique at Princeton University, this approach aids quick and effective understanding of a topic. It also helps test your understanding, so can be especially useful when you’re trying to tackle a complicated subject.
The 4 steps in the process are:
- Identify the topic
- Teach it to a child
- Review your explanation
- Simplify and refine
Identify the topic
First, choose the topic you want to learn about. With this in mind, start by writing down everything you know about it. You should add to this list as you learn more.
Teach it to a child
Then, think about how you would explain the material to a 12-year-old so that they could also understand it. Both brevity and plain language are key here. As children have short attention spans, you should be prepared to present your ideas and concepts in as concise a way as possible. Also, children won’t understand complex terminology and jargon, so you’ll need to make your language as simple as possible. This forces you to stop hiding behind complicated terms and convey the real meaning. If you found this task difficult, you might want to revisit some of the points to reinforce your understanding.
Review your explanation
Once you feel comfortable explaining the topic in simple terms, you should look at the gaps in your knowledge. Are there any points you don’t feel confident with, or aspects you still don’t understand? Use these to identify specific areas you need to read up on.
Simplify and refine
The final step in the Feynman technique requires you to piece your understanding of a topic together into a coherent and straight-forward story that school children could follow. Keep refining your story until it’s as simple as possible – don’t be afraid to use analogies and simple sentences to aid your explanation.
3. PQ4R method: to improve your memory of a topic
PQ4R is another acronym that stands for:
It follows a similar format to the SQ3R method, but crucially it encourages you to pose your own questions before you read something in detail.
Preview – In this first step, you should skim the content in front of you to get an idea of what it’s going to cover. Don’t go into detail: instead, focus on the headings and any pull quotes or highlighted text.
Question – Next, you’ll want to consider questions relating to the topic. This could be something as general as ‘What do I already know about this topic?’ or it could be something more specific to the content. You might find it useful to make a note of these questions before you continue.
Read – Now it’s time to slowly read the content a section at a time. As you read, try to identify the answers to the questions you’d asked yourself in the previous step.
Reflect – While you reflect on what you’ve read, make sure you’re able to answer all the questions you wrote down. If not, go back to the text and see if you can find the answer.
Recite – Now, write down or say aloud a summary of the content you’ve just read.
Review – Finally, review your material one last time. If there are any unanswered questions, now’s the time to see if you can answer them.
4. Try tools that extract the main points from articles
AI powered online tools such as Scholarcy can help make your reading more efficient and boost your understanding of a topic. Scholarcy works by scanning through your reading material and highlighting the key points made by the authors – helping you to focus on the most important content. This article summarizer generates a handy, interactive Summary Flashcard of the paper or chapter, making it easier to understand and commit to memory.
Following one of these studying methods or techniques can help bring structure to your learning and reinforce your understanding of a complex subject. Of course, not all these methods will work for everyone. That’s why it’s important to try different ones and find the technique that works best for you.
 Nau.edu. SQ3R Reading Method. [online] Available at: <https://in.nau.edu/academic-success-centers/sq3r-reading-method/> [accessed 11 January 2022]