The Study Dude—Cornell and SQ3R Study Methods

Most students scramble to stumble on study techniques.  Some struggle to find a study system their entire student life.  But systems exist to streamline studies—systems such as the Cornell and SQ3R methods.

My dear-hearted prof once suggested another system: cue cards for researching and writing papers.  I decided to try it out, as she hinted it came with the promise of higher grades.  And what a delight it turned out to be.  My papers wrote themselves and my grades got a boost.

But let’s dive into two study methods: the Cornell method and the SQ3R method.

First, here is a lead-in to the Cornell method.  If you love MS Word for note taking, then try working with two column tables.  “Split your notebook page in half, and separate the 2 parts with a straight line.  On the left side, write down textbook material, while on the right, write down notes you got from class that supports it.  Using this technique will help you easily understand how your notes from the lecture and text from your book relate to one another” (15%).  At AU, we may take courses that have few, if any, lectures.  In these cases, use the right-hand column to add mnemonics such as acronyms or to sprinkle in insights from Google or other sources.  You can top it off with personal insights from your own life, which won’t likely gain you marks, but may add meaning.

As for Cornell, the Cornell method advises, “All you need to do is split your notebook page into two parts, one measuring around 2 inches, and the other measuring around 6 inches.  Use the smaller column to take down summaries and general cues, while the bigger column should be used mainly for important facts and details from the lecture.  Key phrases, important dates, and definitions should be recorded in this column” (19%).

Don’t feel shy about crafting your own add-ons to the Cornell method.  A “way you can get creative is by using different colors of ink when you take down notes.  Have a color system that will help you scan your notes faster.  For example, use black ink for textbook notes, blue ink for explanations, and red ink for citations.  The different ink colors can help you retain more information next time you study for exam” (19%).  Another system is to use cue cards, with a one-word subject followed by a quote on the front-side—and the bibliographic citation on the backside.  This method works like a charm for sorting citations for essay writing or for randomizing quotes to memorize for exams.

The second study system I want to introduce to you is called SQ3R.  “SQ3R stands for the 5 steps that you need to do if you want to fully comprehend study material.  Survey–Question–Read–Recall–Review” (50%).  Let’s look at these five parts of the SQ3R in more detail:

First, start by surveying the material.  “Scan the contents of the book, check out headlines and boxed texts, and look for clues that will help you determine if the material contains information you’re looking for” (56%).  Speed read by drawing a large “S” down each page and letting your eyes follow the pattern.  You’ll take in enough info to gain comfort.  But the trick is to make multiple rows of wide “S’s” down the page the next time you skim the reading.  On the final skim-through, try running your finger across each line at quick speed.

Second, as for the question part, “list down questions that you want answered by the material” (56%).  If you have questions that arise during your skim-through, add them, too.  Often, books have voids that a timely question can help fill.

Third, actively read.  “Take down notes or mind map important concepts if you want your mind to retain important information” (56%).  When note-taking, capture all the facts, definitions, and exciting quotes.  If you wish to resell your books after the class, draw the mind maps and write the notes in a separate binder.  Kinesthetic people gain huge retention from handwriting notes in a separate binder.  You’re likely kinesthetic if you love to dance, exercise, do sports, or do yoga.  A kinesthetic loved one of mine found herself in a PhD program with all of her prior textbooks scribble-free.

Fourth is the recall stage: “go back to your questions and see if you can answer them by memory” (56%).

Fifth, “once you’re able to recall important information from the material, you can start reviewing it.  Reread the material or your notes and find a way to discuss it.  Do your best to explain the material without going through the text again.  You can write an essay explaining what you have just learned” (61%).  And don’t forget to research and record the answers to your questions.

As for the fifth review stage, memorization, use cue cards or “if you’re having a hard time learning a new concept, find ways to tie up what you just learned with your own real life experiences” (68%).  Another memory trick is to “use the first letter of each keyword to form a new word. For example: \he acronym HOMES for the name of 5 great lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior” (73%).

You can try other systems for memorization, such as the “Image–Name technique: When trying to remember names of famous people or even people you just met, find a relationship between the name of the person and any unique physical characteristics that he or she has.  Ex: Shirley Temple–Curly hair around her temples” (78%).

Whatever memory strategy you use, try to make it wild, funny, and exaggerated.  We tend to memorize the fantastical more readily than the dull.

Now that you’ve been introduced to study methods, don’t shy away from sifting through them in-depth.  Adding a method to your toolkit can make you a smarter learner—bolstering your grades while speeding up your groove.

Cody, William.  (2014).  Study Habit Shortcuts: How to Quickly Develop Better Study Habits for Life.  E-book