Off to the semester exam period: reading texts efficiently

Reading a textbook? Sounds easy enough. But then the words get blurry and you wonder what was actually in the last sentence. Sound familiar? Maybe you just need a technique for reading texts efficiently.

Dealing with texts is one of the core tasks of self-study. Reading technical literature closes gaps in understanding that have opened up during courses. Basic textbooks are available for many subjects. Lecturers often recommend books or provide scripts in their courses. By the way, you can view many works online via the library.

In the following, we will introduce the SQ3R reading method according to Robinson. This method is well suited for a thorough, systematic and critical approach to working through texts. Experiment with it and adapt the procedure to your needs. By the way, the method – in a slightly modified form – is also suitable for summarizing instructional videos and, thus, optimally preparing yourself for your exam.

These are the first steps at a glance:

  1. S – Survey
  2. Q – Question
  3. R – Read
  4. R – Recite
  5. R – Review
Tasks Concretisation

S – Survey

Get a first impression of topic, text content and structure.

Take in text information that can be grasped immediately.

Activate your prior knowledge.

“Scan” title, table of contents, blurb, abstract, index of keywords, bibliography etc

What do I already know about the topic? In which direction could the text go?

Use tools that make reading on screen easier

Q – Question

What questions about the text are there?

Or: Ask yourself questions about the text. What could the lecturer ask in the exam?

Ask questions about the content, about individual chapters, about the author.

Answer given questions according to the work assignment.

R – Read

Read the text paragraph by paragraph.

Mark the most important terms and key passages (do not mark too much – do not mark whole sentences or paragraphs!) or write them down.

Divide the text into sections and highlight the main topics and sub-topics.

Check the contents regarding their relevance to the respective question.

Use marking techniques by working with different colors and symbols.

Come up with your own coherent system.

R – Recite

Summarize the most important contents at the edge of the text with keywords. Phrase a separate heading for each section.

Summarize the relevant contents in your own words.

Ask yourself whether you have understood the contents.

If there is any ambiguity, read it again and note down questions or underline unclear passages. Use an own / a separate color for this.

Note the special feature of the text structure: Create links/references and relationships between sections.

Also use graphical representation techniques such as mind mapping for the summary.

Check your own understanding.

Use other sources to help you resolve ambiguities.

Look up foreign words.

R – Review

Go through the whole text again paragraph by paragraph.

Skim all notes, markings and correlations. Answer all the text-related questions one more time.

Get a general overview and work out the core message of the text.

Answer the questions in a short summary.


Robinson, zit. n. Kossak, H.-C. (2006): Lernen leicht gemacht. Gut vorbereitet und ohne Prüfungsangst zum Erfolg. Heidelberg: Carl-Auer, S. 134-141.