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Essentials of Psychology , Third Edition
Douglas A. Bernstein, University of South Florida and University of Southampton
Peggy W. Nash, Broward Community College


Effective learners engage in a very deep level of processing. They are active learners, thinking of each new fact in relation to other material. As a result, they learn to see similarities and differences among facts and ideas, and they create a context in which many new facts can be organized effectively.

Based on what is known about memory, we suggest two specific guidelines for reading a textbook. First, make sure that you understand what you are reading before moving on. Second, use the PQ4R method, which is one of the most successful strategies for remembering textbook material (Anderson, 1990; Chastain & Thurber, 1989; Thomas & Robinson, 1972). PQ4R stands for the six activities that should be followed when you read a chapter: survey, question, read, recite, and review. These activities are designed to increase the depth to which you process the information you read.

  1. Preview One of the best ways to begin a new chapter is by not reading it. Instead, take a few minutes to skim the chapter. Look at the section headings and any boldface or italicized terms. Obtain a general idea of what material will be discussed, how it is organized, and how its topics relate to one another and to what you already know. Some people find it useful to preview the entire chapter once and then survey each major section in a little more detail before reading it.

  2. Question Before reading each section, stop and ask yourself what content will be covered and what information should be extracted from it.

  3. Read Read the text, but think about the material as you read. Are the questions you raised earlier being answered? Do you see the connections between the topics?

  4. Reflect As you read your text, think of examples of concepts that might apply to your own life. Create visual images that reflect the concept, and ask yourself how each concept might be related to other concepts within that chapter and in other chapters you have already read.

  5. Recite At the end of each section, stop and recite the major points. Resist the temptation to be passive by mumbling something like, "Oh, I remember that." Put the ideas into your own words.

  6. Review Finally, at the end of the chapter, review all the material. You should see connections not only within a section but also among the sections. The objective is to see how the author has organized the material. Once you grasp the organization, the individual facts will be far easier to remember.

    At the end, take a break. Relax. Approach each chapter fresh. Following these procedures will not only allow you to learn and remember the material better but also save you considerable time.