Ask the professor: What’s a good way to retain the information you just read?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

—Jaidan O.*, Portland State University, Oregon

(*Name changed)

Reading is one of those college activities that some students love to hate. And in this technology-driven world, which provides all kinds of engaging ways to learn, reading seems so… well, “last century.”

Here’s the difference: While your latest smartphone may be outdated next week, good old-fashioned reading strategies never go out of style. One of the most popular—and most effective—is Frances Pleasant Robinson’s SQ3R method:

Survey | Before you dig into any reading assignment, do a quick inspection of the material. What’s the title? Who’s the author? How long is the assignment? What are the first and last paragraphs? Surveying your reading helps you prepare for how much time you may need to spend and what you may expect. You can do this very quickly.

Question | Once you have read the title, maybe even the headings in the chapter and the summary at the end and other parts of the reading material, ask yourself a few questions to prime your brain to read actively. “What do I already know about this subject?” and “What did my professor tell me I need to pay attention to?” are two questions that can start you thinking about your reading assignment before the assignment even begins. You can do this part quickly as well.

Read | This is where you dig into the assignment. It’s usually best to read with a pen or pencil in your hand so you can make notes about what you’re reading, write questions about the material, and mark any unusual words, statements, or ideas. In some cases, you may need to reread difficult passages. You will need to take your time on this part; there’s no shortcut to reading an assignment thoroughly.

Recite | Reciting can be done by talking through what you just read or by writing a brief summary of the material. This step is important because it helps you check your comprehension. It can keep you from passively reading and not retaining anything you read. Depending on the length of the assignment, you will need to stop occasionally to recite before moving on. You can do this part quickly once you develop strong summary and comprehension skills.

Review | The chances are slim that you can read something once and recall all the important details. Therefore, you will need to take some time and review what you’ve read. This is where your reading notes come in handy. Instead of rereading the entire assignment, you can review the notes you took, the vocabulary you marked, and the summaries you wrote. Depending on how you will use the reading (e.g., you may be tested on the material), you may also need to translate the information into other study aids (such as flashcards or practice tests). You may spend the most time on this step, but it will pay off. You will remember and understand what you have read.