If you’ve ever grappled with the vast volume of information that needs to be absorbed and retained during your studies, PQRST could be a great study tool for you. The tried-and-tested PQRST study method (Preview, Question, Read, State, Test) can make a difference in your learning experience by helping you absorb, understand, and retrieve information more effectively.

The PQRST method was created by Francis P. Robinson, an educational psychologist who spent his career teaching college students how to learn effectively from textbooks. He is also the creator of the SQ3R and PQ4R study methods, both learning concepts that also aim to deeply engage with content beyond simply reading through it. 

A young white male wearing glasses and a denim shirt studies and takes notes at a table while holding a book.
PQRST = Preview, Question, Read, State, Test

The PQRST method, despite its simplicity, is scientifically designed to leverage our cognitive processes to boost understanding and long-term retention of information. By engaging with the learning material in a multi-dimensional manner, you’re not just cramming information, but building a relationship with it, so that it becomes part of your long-term knowledge base. Let’s break down the PQRST process.

The PQRST study method


The ‘P’ in PQRST stands for ‘Preview.’ The initial step is to skim through the entire study material and get a gist of what it contains. This isn’t about reading the text word by word, but rather about previewing headings, subheadings, bullet points, diagrams, charts, or summaries. This pre-reading step helps you to establish a framework for the new information that you are about to learn.


The next step is ‘Question.’ Translate each heading or subheading in your reading material into a question. For instance, if your heading is “The Human Respiratory System,” your question could be “What is the human respiratory system and how does it function?” This way, you’re setting yourself up for active learning by seeking answers, instead of passively reading the text. Questions stimulate curiosity and focus your attention on key details as you read.


The third step is to ‘Read’ the material thoroughly. However, now you’re not just reading, you’re actively looking for answers to the questions you’ve previously formulated. By doing so, you’re engaging your brain more deeply, resulting in better comprehension and retention. Don’t rush through this step; take your time and make sure you understand the material before moving on.


The ‘S’ stands for ‘State’ or ‘Summarize.’ After reading a section, take a moment to explain what you’ve just learned, either in writing or verbally. This step involves restating the material in your own words, which reinforces your understanding of the concepts. If you’re unable to summarize a point, it may indicate that you need to revisit the material for better understanding. Document page numbers for critical information such as charts, maps, or tables so they are easy to locate when you revisit the material. 


Lastly, ‘T’ is for ‘Test.’ This is the step where you evaluate your comprehension and recall of the material. Answer the questions you created at the beginning of the study session. Doing so not only helps to cement the knowledge, but also makes you aware of any gaps in your understanding. If there are areas you struggle with, it’s a signal to give extra attention in reviewing those sections.

The PQRST method can save you hours of re-reading by encouraging effective study techniques. It might seem like a long process initially, but as you become accustomed to it, you’ll likely find it as a natural and efficient way to study. This method isn’t restricted to academic studies either. Whether you’re learning a new skill, understanding a complex concept, or even preparing for a presentation at work, PQRST can help.

The purpose of this method is to understand the material, not memorize it. Be patient with yourself, take breaks as needed, and don’t rush the process. Quality learning takes time and effort, and in the end it will all be worth it.