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  • David R. Edwards

PQ-4R - An Indispensable Tool For Everyone

If you have material or information you want to study, understand, and retain a proven process is the PQ-4R method.  Though used commonly by the best college students, professionals, and academics the process is amazingly unknown by most, yet effective in a surprising variety of situations. The acronym stands for a 6-step process: 

  1. Preview.  Scan the material you want to learn paying attention to section headings, the first sentence of each paragraph, or other ways to preview the material. 

  2. Question.  As you scan develop questions that you want to answer.  Some texts have questions at the end of a chapter but there is still value to the process of doing your own preview and developing your own questions.  As you might imagine the more questions, the greater your understanding of the material will be.  

  3. Read.  Read the text and search for the answers to the questions.

  4. Reflect. Reflect on the material, the questions, and answers and how you might apply what you have learned.  This makes the material more relevant in your life and begins the process of storing this now useful material in your long-term memory.  

  5. Recite.  You connect your verbal and auditory parts of your brain, further creating long-term memory connections in your brain.  Some people actually record what they recite and listen to it later.  

  6. Review.  Try to recall and summarize the main points.  It is ideal to do this a day or more after the previous steps.  You can use what you recorded as well.  

This process takes some effort on your part.  Obviously, this does not work well in a “cram the day before the test desperation play”.  You can learn material for a test or any similar situation by cramming, but you do not retain the information in long-term memory.  The problem is that your short term or working memory only lasts a day or so.  Even if you do well on the test, you won’t retain the information to use when needed later.

If you need to recall the information, the PQ4R process is vastly superior.  Effort applied wisely creates results.  Whether it is a manual you use at work, a text you use for a class, or just a topic of personal interest, this proven process will help you learn and retain new information.  

An unusual but powerful use is an interview for a job.  Assuming you have researched and have some idea of the industry and company you want to work for:

  1. start by scanning information about the company,

  2. draft questions that the material presents to you, 

  3. Read more detailed information, 

  4. Reflect on it and how it would affect the potential job, 

  5. Recite the information, and finally 

  6. Review it just before the interview.  

You will come across as informed, driven, curious, and smart – not bad impressions to leave in an interview.  Through this process when you are asked a standard question like “What is your greatest strength and weakness?”, you can answer it and apply it to a current situation the company is facing.  Even if you don’t get the job you are that much smarter and when another opening comes available you have retained in long term memory those foundations and are that much more prepared.  

What if This seems Like TOO MUCH WORK?

I have had people tell me that this is simply, "too much work". If you feel the same way, and just want to cover some material well and get more out of it than a casual read, I suggest a PQ2R. This is the same process, simply skip the last two steps; recite, and review. You will still benefit from the thinking process to that point and get a lot more from the material than most. Make the process work for you.

In conclusion, anytime you need to retain new information for more than a few days the PQ4R/PQ2R process puts a powerful tool in your toolbox.  Useful in a variety of situations like learning material in a class, studying for a professional certification, learning new material for work or a hobby, or even preparing for a job interview the process helps you be smarter, more effective, and successful.  As a side benefit it also develops your mind where long-term memories are stored and quickly retrieved which helps stave off dementia.  So, as you apply this throughout your life it keeps paying dividends far beyond the knowledge retained.


New You! Who Knew goes into more detail on PQ4R, and helps you apply the tool to each of the 10 surprising principles. Have a great day - and if you want to see posts and updates be sure to subscribe. :)

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