YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


A Textbook Case for the 5-Step Study Method

February 27, 1992|MARY LAINE YARBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches high school English and journalism. Her column appears occasionally.

Studying a textbook has to be one of the most unpleasant kinds of reading ever created. Much of the misery seems to be rooted in the fact that so many concepts are crammed into every chapter, and many students feel pressured to memorize them all.

Even so, I am amazed at how skimpily most students read their textbooks. A typical student reads a chapter, marks the highlights with a colored pen, and then thinks he or she is finished.

The truth is that textbook chapters must be read thoroughly and repeatedly. I suggest the "SQ3R method" as the best way to understand and remember just about any textbook chapter.

SQ3R gets its name from its five steps: survey, question, read, recite and review.

Surveying the chapter simply means skimming it quickly by looking at its main parts: subheadings, illustrations, italicized or boldfaced words, exercises, and the chapter summary.

Surveying gives you a general idea of what you are about to learn, and how it will be presented.

Questioning is your next step--and the closest you can ever come to "talking" with a textbook.

As you skim the chapter a second time, jot down as many questions as you can think of for each subheading, term or illustration. This will help to focus your reading and, in general, will make you a more critical reader.

Questioning also will help you see connections between what you already know and what you are about to learn.

Now on to the three Rs, the first of which is reading.

Read the chapter slowly and carefully--even if you are used to dashing through novels and other kinds of pleasure reading.

Don't be discouraged if completing a few pages seems to take forever, or if you have to go back to previous pages for clarification.

Examining all of the graphs, maps and other illustrations is also part of careful reading.

Recitation evokes images of monotone speeches for many people, but I still think it is one of the best ways to gauge how much of the material you remember. It is also the second R in SQ3R.

So, after a thorough reading, close the textbook and summarize the chapter aloud.

Don't waste time trying to recite passages word for word, though. Put them into your own words instead, since using your own language style makes memorizing much easier.

After reciting, you may be surprised at how much (or how little) you have actually absorbed.

Open the book, look at each subheading in the chapter and recite everything you remember about that section. Then skim it to see what you missed.

You may need to do this several times before you finally stop leaving out important facts.

Incidentally, I have added a step to recitation: I write down everything I have recited. That way I wind up with a nice chapter outline to study later.

Reviewing is the final step of SQ3R. Look over the chapter, the outline and any related homework in order to tie the material together and seal it in your brain.

Bear in mind that the key to reviewing a chapter effectively is to do it several more times throughout the semester. Otherwise, your new knowledge will disappear into the black hole of short-term memory.

Of course, the ideal way to understand and remember new information is to apply it to real-life situations.

That is not always possible, though, so using SQ3R may be the next-best strategy.

Los Angeles Times Articles