The PQ4R method is a mnemonic technique used for remembering text material. The name is itself a mnemonic device for the steps involved. If you are interested in better remembering a chapter from a textbook, you should first Preview the information by skimming quickly through the chapter and looking at the headings. The next step is to form Questions about the information. One way to do this is by simply converting headings to questions. Using this article as an example, you might ask, “What are the ways to improve memory?” The third step is to Read the text carefully trying to answer the questions. After reading, the next step is to Reflect on the material. One way would be to create your own examples of how the principles you are reading could be applied. The next step is to Recite the material after reading it. That is, put the book aside or look away and try to recall or to recite what you have just read. If you cannot bring it to mind now, you will have little chance later. The last step in PQ4R is to Review. After you have read the entire chapter, go through it again trying to recall and to summarize its main points.
Tests of the PQ4R method of reading text material have shown its advantages over the way people normally read. However, PQ4R method slows reading considerably, so students may not use the technique, even though it is more effective. Most mnemonic devices involve additional work, but they are well worth the investment for improving memory.
The principles of encoding, recoding, and retrieval discussed elsewhere in this article suggest other ways that memory can be improved. For example, encoding information in an elaborate, meaningful way helps in retention. There are many ways to encode information meaningfully. When possible, try to convert verbal information into mental images. When learning about events and facts, try to focus on their meaning rather than their superficial characteristics. Relating new information to your personal experiences or to what you already know also makes it easier to retain the information.
Spacing out study sessions is another way to improve your memory. That is, if you are going to read a chapter twice before a test, retention is better if you allow some time to pass between readings, instead of reading the chapter twice in one sitting. Overall, spaced learning or spaced practice (learning opportunities that are spread out in time) is better than massed practice (back-to-back practice, in immediate succession) for retaining facts and skills over longer intervals. However, if a test occurs soon after learning, massed practice is as good as or better than spaced practice.
If you are having difficulty retrieving facts from your memory, try to remember the setting in which you originally learned them. This advice capitalizes on the encoding specificity principle. The more similar the retrieval environment is to the learning environment, the easier it will be to retrieve the information learned.