Published on February 12, 2021

The SQ3R Method: How It Maximizes Your Learning Comprehension

The SQ3R Method: How It Maximizes Your Learning Comprehension

Diving into the learning field, you’ll be able to quickly uncover that there are many different methods of learning and studying a subject. More methods continue to rise to the surface and gain popularity. One among them that I have yet to talk much about is the SQ3R method.

It doesn’t take much to learn this method of studying, but by applying it in your future learning, you’ll be able to make the most from this method. Below, I’ll tell you all about it.

What Is the SQ3R Method?

Whether you’re using this as a study method or for reading, this method is a method to study, understand and remember any written information quickly. The SQ3R method was first mentioned in 1946 in the book Effective Study by education psychologist Francis P. Robinson, which has since been reprinted several times over.

The focus of this method is to help learners efficiently and actively work on reading and understanding texts with a heavy emphasis on educational texts.[1] That said, this method can be applied to any kind of text out there if you’re looking to have a deeper understanding of something.

Benefits of the SQ3R Method

The main and clear benefit of using this method is the optimum use of your reading time. By using the five steps of the SQ3R method, you can actively read something and have a better ability in remembering and explaining what the text is all about.


The second benefit is that from using the first step, you’ll be reading more deliberately and focusing on the most relevant information. This will ensure that you remember the content better.

Some additional benefits include:

  • The ability to add an additional R to the method – Known as SQ4R, the fourth R can mean different things like Relate, Record, or Reflect.[2] This extra step allows you to create links of knowledge to your own personal experiences (Relate), perform a more extensive summary for understanding(Record), or getting a deeper grasp of a topic and clarity (Reflect).
  • A higher awareness of what you are reading allows you to grasp if it’s worth reading or what to be focusing on in a text – This means you’ll be reading faster and efficiently.
  • You’ll have better concentration and thought about the topic or material – This means that you’re automatically entering a mindset to better absorb information. You’re reading with a specific purpose in mind and you’re more likely to excel in that.
  • It gives you an easier time transferring new material to your long-term memory – Information we take in now is stored in our short-term memory and our short-term memory is limited and lives very briefly.[3] Having information be stored in short term and then moved to the long-term via this method is incredible as we’re more likely to retain and use that information.
  • You’ll stave off information overload – This method encourages you to stretch out information over an extended period of time. For this method to work, you can’t cram or overload your mind with information. This is crucial for many people as information is everywhere and it’s so easy to be overwhelmed and overloaded with information.
  • You’ll spend less time studying and more applying the information – Even though this method seems like it’ll take more time to study and process, research shows that people who use this study method spend less time studying for finals than those who don’t use this method.[4] Outside of an academic field, this means you can process information faster than others and thus, be able to apply what you learned faster, too.

How Do You Apply This Method?

The typical method to studying texts or self-improvement books for most people is to read them and highlight the important passages along the way. While that’s not a bad method, it’s not the most efficient and growth-inducing one. If you’re looking to be approaching texts with more efficiency and effectiveness, you’ll have to use the SQ3R method.

Where the SQ3R get’s its abbreviation is from the five steps that you’ll be doing: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review.

Below is a detailed explanation of each of the five steps so you can apply the method yourself.


1. Survey

The first step in the SQ3R method is surveying and in this case, you take a few minutes to scan the entire text. The idea here isn’t to take in any specific pieces of information but rather to get an understanding of the layout, chapters, sections, words in bold and italics as well as any pictures or graphs that are in there.

For educational texts, this preliminary scan will give you an overview, structure, and understanding of the general contents. For other texts, you can see this as getting a general summary of what the author is trying to convey to you. Regardless, this step will provide you with a foundation for when you get to reading and trying to understand the text.

2. Question

Right after you’ve surveyed the book, you’ll want to ask yourself questions based on that. One way you can ease yourself into it is by looking at the chapter titles and turning them into questions.

Be sure to write down these questions and then start by asking yourself what you already know about the topics that they’re covering. It’s also crucial you ask yourself what your goal is for reading this in the first place and comparing it to your answers. If you’re reading a book for a specific purpose, you’ll want a book to be able to answer those questions. You’ll also get an idea of which chapters you really need to focus on to understand fully.

The question step is all about understanding what it is that the author is trying to convey to the readers. Also, feel free to write on the left margin questions that you have. At a later stage, you note down answers in the right margin.


3. Read

After all that is set up, you can then get to reading but not before keeping in mind what you’ve done in the previous steps. Keep the structure you had in step 1 and the questions from step 2 in the back of your mind as you are reading.

While reading, pay attention to the chapters, sentences that are printed in bold, and explanations under graphs and images. Make a point of reading actively as in writing down additional questions as you’re reading along and actively look for answers to the previously asked questions. This also means writing down answers and explanations in the text.

Don’t be ashamed if you have to slow down either. This step encourages you to take your time on the more complex parts or parts that require more focus. Take the time to read it again if you need to. At the same time, pay less attention to the unimportant information or things you already know.

4. Recite

After reading, reciting is the next step which is taking all that information you’ve read and compiling it into your own words. You want to use this time to ask yourself questions about the text again and answer them based on what you’ve learned from the text. A few other angles you can try are things like explaining what you’ve read to someone else or someone in your own imagination. You can also consider making a summary in your own words as extra support.

5. Review

The final step of the SQ3R method is to review. While you’d think that reciting is all that you need to do, reviewing is an extra step in reinforcing everything. For information to retain better, it’s important that it’s reviewed and repeated several times—regardless of it being an educational text or a personal growth book.


In either scenario, you’re going to be having notes or takeaways from the text and it pays to be looking back at those and build on it. The first time you’ve looked at a text, there may be harder parts or parts that you don’t quite understand. But after studying those particular parts again for a second or third time, you can expand on your understanding and the notes you initially set up.

What’s also worth noting is this step can become extremely helpful if you do this final step one day after doing the previous four steps.

Final Thoughts

The SQ3R method is a structured method that can provide you with a deeper understanding of a text and overall improve your comprehension of a text. By using this method, you’ll be able to remove irrelevant information and focus on the more important information. Beyond that, you’ll be able to retain that information thanks to the various techniques the SQ3R method enforces.

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Featured photo credit: Eliott Reyna via


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Published on March 1, 2021

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

As someone on the Millennial/Generation X cusp, one of my first memories of a news story was the devastating crash of the Challenger space shuttle. I couldn’t process the severity or the specifics of the event at the time, but looking back, the Challenger explosion represents a heartbreaking example of what can happen when systems fail.

A part of the shuttle known as the O-ring was faulty. People from NASA knew about it well before the disaster, but NASA employees either ignored the problem—writing it off as not that bad—or were ignored when they tried to alert higher-ups about the issue.[1] This is a tragic example of single-loop learning where organizations focus on what they’re doing without reflecting on how or why they’re doing it, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Single and Double-Loop Learning

Chris Argyris describes the difference between single and double-loop learning with a metaphor. A thermostat that turns on and off when it senses a pre-set temperature is akin to single-loop learning. The thermostat being able to reflect on whether or not it should be set to that temperature in the first place would be more like double-loop learning.[2]

Imagine the difference if NASA would have encouraged and addressed employees’ questions about how they were doing, what they were doing, and whether or not they should be doing it at all—you’ll start to see how an extra layer of questioning and critical thought can help organizations thrive.

Single Loop Learning

Single-loop learning is when planning leads to action, which leads to reflection on those actions and then back to planning, action, and more reflection. Now, you might think that because reflection is involved, single-loop learning would be an effective organizational model. However, because there isn’t room for critical questions that ask why actions are being taken, problems begin to bubble up.

The Double Bind

When organizations are operating in single-loop learning, they get stuck in what Argyris calls the Double Bind. Because there’s no value placed on questioning why the team is doing something, team members are either punished for speaking up or punished for not speaking up if something goes wrong down the line.

Primary Inhibiting Loop

When an organization is stuck in single-loop learning, the double bind leads to what Argyris calls the primary inhibiting loop. Real learning and growth are inhibited because team members withhold information from each other. This withholding leads to distrust and is difficult to remedy because even if employees attempt to become more forthcoming, lack of trust sours interactions.


Secondary Inhibiting Loop

Because information is being withheld, team members play unconscious games (not the fun kind) to protect each other’s feelings. For example, I might try to distract my colleagues from worrying about a problem in our plan by shifting the focus to another project we’re working on that’s going better.

When you’re stuck in single-loop learning, the organization does whatever it can to continue taking action after action instead of stopping to truly reassess the bigger picture. This leads team members to hide information from each other, which causes distrust and behaviors that try to mask flaws in the organization’s structures and systems.

Double Loop Learning in Organizations

A common misconception is that the opposite of single-loop learning involves focusing primarily on people’s feelings and allowing employees to manage themselves. However, the solution for single-loop learning is not about doing the opposite. It’s about adding an extra later of critical analysis—double-loop learning.

With double-loop learning, questioning why the organization is doing what it’s doing is an organizational value. Instead of moving from planning to action to reflection and back to planning, in double-loop learning, people are encouraged to reflect on why they’re doing what they’re doing. This can help the organization take a step back and reconsider what’s best for all stakeholders instead of being stuck acting and reacting.

Ultimately, double-loop learning gives team members the time, space, and systems to ask tough questions and have them addressed in meaningful ways.

Let’s think back to the Challenger disaster. If NASA had created an organization that uses double-loop learning, employees wouldn’t have felt compelled to stay silent, and the employees who did speak up would have influenced the process enough to reconsider the timeline and develop a solution for the O-ring problem.

Single-loop learning is like a train with no breaks. Double-loop learning provides the extra layer of critical thought that allows the organization to stop and pivot when that’s what’s required.


Think back to Argyris’ thermostat metaphor. Instead of just reacting—turning on and off when it detects a certain temperature—double-loop learning invites the thermostat to reconsider why it’s doing what it’s doing and how it might do it better.

How to Shift to Double Loop Learning

So, how can organizations shift from single to double-loop learning?

1. Stakeholders Must Level With Each Other

The first step to shifting from single to double-loop learning is for all stakeholders to sit down and talk openly about their expectations, values, and goals. These sessions should be led by organizational experts to ensure that old single-loop learning habits of distrust, withholding, and game-playing don’t keep people stuck in single-loop learning.

One of the keys to team members leveling with each other is listening. Focus on creating an environment where everyone can speak up without fear of judgment or punishment.

2. Create Benchmarks for Lasting Growth and Change

Old habits die hard, and single-loop learning is no different. If systems, check-ins, benchmarks, and periodic times to reflect and reset aren’t put into place, old habits of withholding and mistrust will likely creep back in. You can guard against this by making it a norm to measure, assess, and improve how new double-loop learning systems are being implemented over time.

3. Reward Risk-Taking and Critical Feedback

Double-loop learning requires squeaky wheels. You have to create a culture that rewards criticism, risk-taking, and reflecting on the system as a whole and the reasons the organization does what it does. Think big picture stuff.

This is about walking the walk. It’s one thing to tell employees to speak up and give their feedback, it’s another thing entirely to have systems in place that make employees feel safe enough to do so.


Kimberly Scott’s Radical Candor comes to mind as one way to start shifting to a more open and critical environment. Radical Candor is a system that incentivizes employees and managers to start speaking up about things they used to sweep under the rug. It’s a roadmap and a way to assess and improve open and reflective feedback between all stakeholders.

Double Loop Learning for Individuals

Double-loop learning isn’t only for organizations. You can also apply Argyris’ ideas to your learning.[3]

Here’s how that might look:

1. Level With Yourself and Seek Accountability

Instead of being stuck in a single-loop learning cycle, break out by adding another layer of critical reflection. Why are you learning what you’re learning? Is it important? Is there another way? Think big picture again.

Become clear on what you want to learn and how you’re currently trying to learn it. Then, open yourself up to others to keep yourself accountable. Leave the door open to completely shift major details about your learning goals.

2. Create Benchmarks and Don’t Put Your Head in the Sand

Just as with organizations, individuals also need to create goals and continuously reflect on whether or not they’re moving toward double-loop learning. Schedule times to meet with the people keeping you accountable for your learning plan. Then, ask yourself whether or not your learning goals still make sense.

Ask big picture questions. Are you in the right environment to learn? Is your learning plan working? Do you need to change course altogether or shift your goals entirely? If it’s double-loop learning, you can’t be afraid to ask questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing and change course when the need arises.


3. Value Risk-Taking and Accept Criticism

You’re also going to need to shift your mindset from simply learning and reflecting to accepting criticism, being critical of yourself as a learner, and taking risks and experiencing discomfort as you ask big questions and make drastic alterations to your learning plan over time.

Instead of concerning yourself with grades and GPAs, double-loop learning would mean you’re allowing yourself time to step back and analyze why you’re learning what you’re learning, if there’s a better way, and even whether or not you should be on that learning trajectory in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Think back to the thermostat example. Doing homework, handing it in, and then receiving a grade is single-loop learning. Thinking about why you’re doing any of that and making appropriate changes that align with your learning goals shifts you into double-loop learning, and that’s a great way to see the bigger picture and get the best results.

Learning and reflection are two of the most important things when it comes to organizational or personal development. This is why double-loop learning is key if you want yourself or your organization to succeed.

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Featured photo credit: Cherrydeck via


[1] NPR: Challenger: What Went Wrong
[2] Harvard Business Review: Double Loop Learning in Organizations
[3] Journal of Advanced Learning: The role of reflection in single and double-loop learning

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