Professor Kevin Dalby discusses reading for comprehension and learning


While some people excel at learning from a textbook, others struggle to connect with the written word. Professor Kevin Dalby offers a simple, easy-to-understand strategy for comprehending complex texts, such as course content and textbooks. Learners can retain information when this strategy is followed because they are actively engaged in the learning process.

Active Learning encompasses a broad range of teaching strategies, including the student as an active participant in the learning process. Examples of Active Learning are role-playing, peer teaching, and debates.

As it applies to the retention of written material, an excellent Active Learning technique is termed SQ3R. SQ3R is named after the five steps of the strategy: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. First developed to help military personnel become better readers, this learning method was introduced by Francis “Frank” Pleasant Robinson in 1946. It has become a renowned and respected strategy for reading retention worldwide.


First, survey the book or publication with the intent of formulating questions. Read the title page, table of contents, introduction, and the chapter’s summary if available. Try to ascertain the essential points, ideas, and concepts by scanning any graphics or charts. Look for anything the author has placed in the book in an attempt to grab your attention.


For each chapter or reading assignment, scan the selection, and write down any questions that come to mind. If the book contains a Learning Objectives section at the beginning of each chapter, that is a good source for questions – but always write questions in your own words. If you find developing a list of questions to be difficult, consider that you are probably trying to guess what questions the author was attempting to answer in the book, not your real questions. Start again. Ask yourself what you don’t know about the topic, not what you think the author wants you to learn.


Read the section thoroughly and carefully. Try to keep your questions in mind, but don’t write your answers yet. That will come in the recite/recall step.


Now look at your questions and write down the answers. The idea here is that you exercise your ability to recall what you read to answer the questions. Explain, in your own words, what the book says about the question you formulated. After writing down what you can remember, review the section, and find the answers to any questions that were left unanswered. Where you have given only abbreviated answers from recall, you should elaborate during this step. Writing a summary of the section in your own words is helpful in this step.


The final step in the process is to review all the collected material. Review your questions and their answers. Re-read the summaries you have written. If you have the opportunity to present what you have learned to someone else, your learning will be accelerated.

By applying this active learning strategy, you will significantly increase your ability to retain, recall, and apply what you learn from written text.

About Kevin Dalby

Dr. Kevin Dalby is a chemistry professor and medicinal chemistry professor in the College of Pharmacy, Department of Oncology at The University of Texas in Austin. He is researching the mechanisms of cancer cell signaling to develop targeted therapeutics. Dr. Dalby’s efforts were recognized by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and the National Institutes of Health, granting him nearly $5 million to support his research.