If you’ve been in a classroom at some point after 1972, you may have already been exposed to this method by your teacher. It can be an effective learning method for both those teaching a class and those learning independently.
What does PQ4R stand for?
If you assumed it was an acronym, you are correct. PQ4R stands for:
Some people like to mentally visualize PQRRRR instead, but writing or verbalizing the method as PQ4R makes it easier to communicate.
This study method was introduced in 1972 by Thomas E.L and Robinson H.A as a method to improve comprehension in classrooms. It also works well for independent learners, especially if you have to tackle large amounts of text.
How to use PQ4R in a learning environment
In a classroom setting, a teacher might take a few minutes to give a broad overview of the topic to the class and highlight key areas of study. When you’re studying or reading on your own, the goal of the ‘P’ part of this method is to get a vast understanding of what’s ahead.
You can browse the chapters or topics in the book, skim through titles, flip through any supporting imagery. The idea is to give your brain an amuse-bouche of what’s coming ahead.
While this part might be easier in a classroom setting with the teacher asking direct questions, independent studiers can still do this on their own. Before you get into the details of your topic, write down a few questions you have based on the preview information you’ve learned.
A few examples could be:
- Why does X affect Y?
- What are the differences between Y and Z?
- How is Z generated in an X environment?
It’s perfectly okay if not every question ends up being relevant. The point of this step is to get yourself thinking critically about the topic. It will also help you assess how much background information you have around the topic. Prior knowledge can be a key indicator to help you formulate an effective study plan for a new topic.
It’s time to start taking in the material through direct reading. It’s encouraged to take a few notes or highlight* areas that seem important to you. Take each section one at a time and don’t feel the need to go overboard. If you zone in on reading for hours on end, it will be very difficult to actively reflect and engage in the PQ4R method. Giving yourself a proper amount of balance is important.
*We have tips on how to use highlighting effectively here
After you’ve completed a section or chapter, sit back and think about what you learned. Did anything come as a surprise? Did any of your questions that you formulated earlier get answered? Does the content make sense or is it still too abstract?
It’s okay to get through a section and not feel like you understand everything 100%.
How would you explain what you just read to someone sitting next to you who knows nothing about the topic? If you have a friend, dog, fish, or plant, explain to them the big concepts and ideas of what you just read. This is similar to the Feynman Technique where you teach someone what you just learned.
If you’re in a library, no problem. Write down a short summary of what you learned.
The last step is just as important as the first step. It’s time to take a look back at everything you’ve read and summarize the takeaways.
What were the biggest things you learned from the sections you read? Were your questions answered? If you had to summarize the chapter in two sentences, how would you do that?
It’s important to go through this process after each section of reading and not after an entire book. While it may seem cumbersome, breaking up your reading with active participation will help you retain that information better in the long run.
When jotting down notes either in your Read or Recite step, it’s recommended that you handwrite these notes rather than digitizing them. Some studies have shown higher retention for handwritten note taking than digital.
Is PQ4R different from SQ3R?
They look similar, they sound similar, but are they really the same? (Psst, you can read our breakdown of the SQ3R method here).
They are very similar and both employ some of the same ‘R’ steps. The SQ3R stands for:
You’ll notice this list looks very similar to the earlier PQ4R list. We can certainly debate the meaningful differences between ‘survey’ and ‘preview’ and why PQ4R has another ‘R’, but the main difference is that SQ3R focuses mostly on comprehension while PQ4R improves both comprehension and memorization.
Is one better than the other? That’s 100% up to you. Try them both and see what you think. As always, happy studying!