SAT Secret 13: Active Reading Strategies Part 1: SQ3R

SAT Secret 13: Active Reading Strategies Part 1: SQ3R

What is SQ3R?

The so-called SQ3R study method is a popular system designed to strengthen students’ reading muscles. SQ3R stands for “Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review” – and one of its greatest benefits is that it helps you understand more of what you’re reading as you’re reading it – the first time. As a larger methodology, SQ3R can be extended over an entire course, textbook, or semester, but this article focuses on how this step-by-step approach can help you on the SAT Reading Test.

Step 1: Survey

Resist the temptation to jump right into reading the passage. Instead, glance through (or survey) the passage to identify the subject matter, the point of view, and the overall purpose of the passage. This should take no more than two minutes.

  • Read the blurb for context The blurb is the little block of small text above the passage – it will give you some context for the passage, including the author and the date of publication
  • Skim the first sentence of every paragraph.
  • IMPORTANT: Survey the questions, too! Put marks in the margins of the passage if you see questions that mention “paragraph 3” or “lines 11-18”, for example.
  • Circle weird names and big words in the questions [Why?]When you circle a key word in the text of a question, you increase the chances that you will remember that the word or idea is important when you come across it in the passage. Don’t try to remember all of the stuff you’re circling – just trust your subconscious brain.

Step 2: Question

Basically, this part is meant to help you get excited about what you’re about to read – if you’re interested in what the passage is about, then you are more likely to grasp the point the author is making the first time you read it. In 30 seconds or less, come up with a couple questions about the passage, for example:
What is this passage about?
Why does this passage exist?
What question is this passage trying to answer?

Step 3: Read (R1)

Start reading the passage – actively.

  • Underline and/or circle claims. [What is a claim?]A claim is a statement that can be argued or proven with evidence. The non-Literature passages on the SAT include a claim in almost every paragraph. Claims are usually then supported with details or evidence. You could also think of claims as “the points” of paragraphs. If you can tell the difference between the sentences in a passage that include claims and the ones that are supporting the claims with evidence, you’re well on your way to fluency!
  • Underline and/or circle key words. [What are key words?]Key words are words or concepts that are central to the claim or claims that the author is making. It’s the big picture stuff you should be circling – not the details.
  • Make quick notes in the margins of the passage:
  • Is the author supporting an idea? Circle a word or phrase and put a plus ( + ) in the margin next to it!
  • Is the author rejecting an idea? Circle the phrase and write a minus () next to it!
  • Is something surprising (to you or to the author or to a character/researcher mentioned in the text)? Circle or underline the thing and put an exclamation point ( ! ) next to it!
  • Is something confusing (either to you or to the author or to somebody mentioned in the text)? Write a question mark! (?)
  • Circle “the But”! Contrast words (eg: although, not, but, yet, however, nevertheless, in fact, etc…) signal a shift in the author’s argument, which is always important to pay attention to. Circling them is fun! – and it helps your brain pay better attention.
  • Circle “the And”! Continuation words (because, since, therefore, and, additionally, etc…) signal that the author is about to emphasize or restate an important part of the argument. The same is true for semicolons! ( ; ) Pay attention to these!

TOP TIP: The most important claims and conclusions are usually found in the first and last sentences of a paragraph. On your first read-through, pay more attention to the bones of the passage, and less attention to the evidence that backs up those claims and conclusions. If you understand the structure of the passage first, you’ll know where to find the supporting evidence you need if and when you are asked about it. [What is passive reading and why is it bad?]Ever finish reading a paragraph and realize you have no idea what you just read? That’s passive reading. Your eyes might have seen all of the words, but your brain didn’t focus and engage with them and decode them into an idea that makes sense. Passive reading usually results in poor comprehension and failure to grasp the point the passage is making.

Step 4: Recite (R2)

This is the most important part of effective Active Reading. The second “R” stands for Recite – in your own words. After you read each paragraph, say back to yourself what it was about – using your own words. By summarizing, you can gain control of the text and prove to yourself that you understand what you just read.

Step 5: Review (R3)

Once you reach the end of the passage, say back to yourself what the point of the whole passage is – again, using your own words.

Next, start working through the questions!

This system might be pretty different from what you’ve done in the past, but it might just be the major shift in approach that you need to raise your score on the Reading Test to the next level.

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