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Taking Notes

SQ4R Method

SQ4R is an active learning approach to reading and studying course readings that also provides strategies on retaining information and creating study materials.

SQ4R is an acronym for Survey, Question, Read, Respond, Record, Review.

Watch the video below for an overview of this approach—try all the strategies out first, and then choose and apply those you find most effective for note taking.

How to Use the SQ4R Note-Taking Method

How to Take Notes Using the SQ4R Method

Surveying involves looking over or skimming your textbook chapter or assigned reading first.

  • Read the preface and introduction to the text, and browse through the table of contents and the index. Get a sense of the overall meaning of the textbook chapter or assigned reading.
  • Read the introduction and conclusion in each chapter and subsection.
  • Scan the titles and subtitles. Study the pictures, charts, or graphs.
  • Read the summary and any chapter questions.

Ask questions while you read—asking questions first gets you into the mindset to take ownership of your learning and to find answers on your own.

  • Change headings into questions. For example, the heading "Highlighting Method" could become "What is the highlighting method?"
  • Create your own questions based on your knowledge of the material or your lecture notes. For example, you could ask, "Is the textbook's definition different from my professor's definition in lecture?"

Read through your textbook chapter or assigned reading, but only focus on one section at a time. If the text is especially hard, focus on reading one paragraph at a time.

  • Read attentively to find the answers to your questions.
  • Try to find the answer to the question you created, and keep asking questions as you read.
  • Change your question if you find after reading that your question can't be answered.

After the reading stage, it's time to yourself to the test—if you were writing a test or explaining a concept to a peer, how would you answer your own questions?

  • Close the textbook and answer your question in your own words.
  • Re-read the section if you can't answer the question.
  • If you still can't answer the question after a few tries, go to the next section to see if things become clearer.
  • If you still can't answer your question, you might need to change your question. Try making it broader or narrower.
  • If you're still having trouble, get some help—you can talk to your professor, or you can book a tutoring session at the Tutoring Centre.

Once you're sure you understand the material, you can summarize it in your own words and create your final notes.

  • Write a short summary of each paragraph in the margin of your reading or in your own notes—just a sentence for a few words will do.
  • Write out your own thoughts about what you're reading and connect it to your own life or to the wider world.

Last, make sure to schedule time in your calendar to review your notes. Check out our Time Management module to learn how to prioritize studying in your schedule!

  • Have a regular review period (usually once a week). This is an effective strategy for retaining information.
  • Start from the beginning of the course in each review session. The volume of material to review increases as the semester progresses, but the amount of time needed to review older material decreases.

Pros & Cons of the SQ4R Method


  • Active learning strategy that can be adapted for each student's study preferences.
  • Reduces the amount of information that needs to be relearned for exams or tests.
  • Prompts students to create study material while also reading through textbooks or course material.
  • Helps students identify their own errors and areas of confusion.


  • Takes time to get familiar with the method and what needs to be done at each stage.
  • Requires more mental effort to read, record and test knowledge during a study session.
  • Will take longer to finish course readings when first starting off with this method.
  • Students could use this method poorly (e.g. Not engaging with the text, too much marking and highlighting, etc.)