Melville looked discouraged when he came in. He was in no mood for jokes this evening, and came straight to the point.
“I’m already in my third year of college,” he said, visibly annoyed at himself. “And I still don’t know how to study. Can you teach me a good method of study?”
A good method of study—that is what thousands of others like Melville are looking for; and they don’t seem to find any.
What Melville does not know is that experts have found good solutions to his problem. Psychologists and educationalists have developed effective methods of study and scientific work. The best findings can be described under the “SQ3R METHOD OF STUDY.” Using this method, we can spend less time studying, and get better results.
What is the SQ3R Method?
It is a method of study you can use everyday. Once you make it a habit, you will get much more out of the time you spend studying or reading. It can be used for all subjects.
“SQ3R” is, of course, a code. It means: “Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Revise,” Each of the five words stands for an important part of the method.
First, survey the matter to be studied. This is done very quickly – in anything from a few seconds to a few minutes. If it is a book you have to read, your survey covers the preface, the table of contents, the conclusion and, in case they are given, the main summaries of each chapter. Your aim at this stage is to get a general picture of the whole book. If you have to study a chapter or article, look through the main titles and subdivisions. This takes only a few minutes, or even less than a minute. Make sure that at this stage you get the purpose and the structure of the book or article.
Questions help you to be an active reader. They prepare the mind for intensive reading and push distractions out. Secondly, they help you to find the answers better and faster.
What do you do at this stage?
You already have an idea of the structure of the work. Ask yourself what problems the author is trying to solve in this book or article or chapter. At times the author himself tells you these questions, or the teacher may have explained them in class. At other times, you have to discover the questions on your own. As long as the problems are not clear to you, much of your study will be boring and unproductive.
Write down the questions (problems).
Stage two (Question) has prepared you for attentive and profitable reading. Don’t just read; look for answers to your questions.
How fast must you read? That depends on the subject, the kind of book or article you are reading. You cannot read a technical article published in a scientific magazine at the same speed at which you read a non-detailed text. A good student adjusts his/her reading speed to the material in hand.
An essential, often forgotten activity at this third stage is note-taking. If you want to analyze or retain what you read, you have to take notes—even if you do not plan to keep the notes afterwards. (This is all the more important when you listen to lectures.) Note-taking forces you to be attentive, to sift out the main points from the secondary, and to concentrate on the more important words and ideas. Studies done by experts show that students who take notes (on what they read and on the lectures they attend): (a) are more attentive and understand the subject better, (b) retain it more effectively, (c) perform better in examinations and interviews.
Here is a common mistake—and a dangerous assumption. It would be wrong to conclude that what I read is “above my head,” just because everything is not clear at the first reading. Study is work! Reading a text book (understanding it) is different from reading the cricket score or hearing a story. A few notes made carefully during the reading can make all the difference between boredom and enthusiasm, clarity and confusion.
The second R of the SQ3R method stands for “recite.” It is not a question of rote memory, or word-by-word recitation. A word-by-word recitation is necessary only in some special cases, such as language study (learning new words and phrases), or memorizing anatomical or botanical terms, or studying a poem by heart.
In all other cases, what is recommended is that you must be able to outline the substance of the passage. All that you need to do is to pause at the end of your reading and check whether you recall the main ideas in order.
This can be done in three ways—mentally, orally or in writing. Oral recitation (by oneself or to someone else), or writing is more effective than mental recall. Develop the habit of writing; you will remember what you jot down long after you have forgotten what you read.
All you need to give to this fifth step are a few minutes of your study time. Revise in order to make sure that you remember. You need not read the whole matter over and over again. Go over those parts of the book or article where you found gaps during your recitation. Check your grasp and recall by reciting it.
What makes study boring and time-consuming for many is the practice of half-hearted (and often distracted) reading done mechanically once, twice or even three times. Instead of the tedious, unproductive drudgery, the cleverer student budgets one’s time, works attentively rather than half-heartedly, and follows the SQ3R method of study.
A SIXTH STEP
The SQ3R method has a marvellous complement in a sixth step, if and when you have the opportunity for it. This sixth step has a very short name: USE.
Use the knowledge you have gained. It is the surest way of reinforcing knowledge. This can be done in any of the following three ways.
- Teach the subject: The best way to learn a subject is to teach it.
- Study in groups: When you discuss and explain the points to each other, you notice the gaps in your knowledge, and help the mind to get a stronger hold. In addition, common study cuts down on boredom and increases concentration. A mistake students often make in group study is to get a brighter student to do the talking. It is this student who will benefit most from the discussion. If group study is to be effective, all must take turns in explaining the subject.
(c) Work out exercises on the topic you have covered: When you cannot use your knowledge in either teaching or group work, this is a good plan to follow, especially with subjects such as mathematics or learning a foreign language.
At this stage, it is useful to remember a general principle of psychology that it is not work that tires us, but boredom, worry, and lack of motivation.
Summing up the whole procedure, we have: SQ3R, plus U. Study, Question, Read, Recite, Revise and Use. The difference between excitement and boredom does not lie mainly in the subject matter; it is found chiefly in one’s attitude to work.
Do you want to make study more interesting, more rewarding, more enjoyable? If so, be an active student – a student who does not “put up with” study, but makes sure that the time spent on study bear fruits. And the best way of making study bear fruit seems to be the SQ3R method. Try it and see for yourself!
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