Derek Rowntree’s Learn How to Study: Developing the Study Skills and Approaches to Learning that Will Help you Succeed in University, is a comprehensive and systematic approach to studying and is helpful for anyone who wants to grow as a learner. If you have never read Rowntree’s text I suggest you begin with Chapter Five: Developing a Strategy for Reading. In contrast to Rowntree’s own advice at the beginning of the book, chapter five helps the learner to dive into applying the content as soon as they begin and puts the most important template of the text, the SQ3R (survey, question, read, recall and review) into immediate use.
The SQ3R was introduced to me as a document on one of the first days of my doctoral program but was not something I analyzed or even began applying until I saw it again in Rowntree’s text. I knew it was a helpful tip in those first moments of our DMIN program, but quite honestly, the flood of information coming at me caused this to sink to the back of my mind. I did not even remember where to locate the document our lead mentor had created for us. Once our days in our doctoral face to face were over, we moved on to our next text, Adler’s How to Read a Book, and I figured I was set with my study habits. Little did I realize the SQR3 would creep up again and cause me grief, or grit as Rowntree calls it, in persevering to become a better student.
Without recounting the depth of Rowntree’s explanation (or Dr. Clark’s much preferred one page version for that matter) on how to do the SQ3R, here is why I believe the habit of survey, questioning, reading, recalling and reviewing is so valuable. First, a survey of the text provides a quick overview, creating the opportunity to decide if the book should be read in its entirety or just picked through for key content. I appreciate surveying as I can glean much in a short period of time and it sets me up to dive more deeply into key sections and skip entire sections that do not currently apply (such as the final chapter on examinations in Rowntree).
Questioning begins the process of critical thinking and creates an investment into the learning and not just elementary reading for the sake of understanding. When I ask questions I become curious and I want to hunt down answers. If I am going to make an investment of my time in a text, I want to do so because I have a desire to gain something from it and asking questions is the first gateway to own what I’ve read.
Reading seems like a fairly obvious part of studying. To study a book or learn you must read it, or at least part of it. Rowntree expands on reading by taking two chapters to discuss how to read critically. I will not expand here except to say that reading is in the center of the SQ3R and is much less effective if done without the other four aspects. Thus, reading is only one important aspect of studying.
Recall is probably the most helpful and least used aspect of the SQ3R. Recall shifts reading to the part of the brain that stores memory. I believe recall is little used unless there is a prompt, which Rowntree often does. Most people, myself included, prefer to plow through the text, hoping to retain the information through highlights and quick notes. This is where studying becomes painful and requires perseverance and a willingness to go slow. I expect this is also why I remember few of the texts I have read in the past. If I don’t immediately talk about them or do something with them, I forget them. Probably the most influential way I owned content I was not interested in learning in my life was when I worked for a legal transcription company in Burbank, CA. I did not know until I started training in my temporary position that the management of the company were Scientologists and used L. Ron Hubbard’s methods of learning via tactile items such as blocks to recreate and explain a process so as to get the process from the mind into your hands to be able to both see and do the work for which we were being trained. In that position, I was trained quickly and easily because I used the recall method often and in a variety of ways.
Creating space to recall is an area of ongoing struggle. It seems unnecessary until I try to recall the information much later, only to realize I have forgotten what I thought I knew (which makes me question the amount of time I spent in the first place with the content). ‘Do less more’ is a phrase my husband and I use when we realize we need to create margins in our life and focus on quality over quantity. I would say recall fits well within the ‘do less more’ category to help my studying improve in quality.
Review is the final step of the study strategy and is a technique I learned in my first biblical interpretation class. Once finishing a text, any text, write down whatever notes I have stored in my brain, whether question or answers or important facts or even musings on the topic. Review is where digestion and application begin to really take shape.
Though much of Rowntree’s content would be well suited for an online tutorial with video inserts and quizzes, I believe the SQ3R is worth personally applying as a student and can be useful across a variety of disciplines including lectures or meetings as well as for video content. The system of surveying and questioning before reading then reading for a purpose and finally stopping at meaningful points to recall and review are foundational to growing as a student. Even though there were many points at which I preferred to clean the gutters of my house or file our financial receipts for the year I realized self-control was staying at my desk to gather the most important aspects of Rowntree’s text.
 I did at one point stop reading to get a screwdriver and remove the drawer from underneath my desk which made me feel productive although it did not help me in any review of what I had read. See the picture for the removal of the drawer. All that leg room is awesome. Ignore the study zone mess on my desk.