Learn More from Your Reading

My favorite study strategy is the RSVP method. One of my professors in college recommended this book. It prompted me to change the way I study and helped me to become a more effective learner. The book is no longer in print so I wrote this summary of the key chapter. Many students have told me that it has helped them as well.

Barbara Keating

Staton, Thomas. 1966. RSVP: A Dynamic Approach to Study
Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman & Co.

Chapter 2: Summary Prepared by Barbara Keating

R.S.V.P. stands for REVIEW, STUDY, VERBALIZE, PREVIEW. Using the R.S.V.P. attack on each study task will prompt many psychological factors that promote effective learning. The R.S.V.P. steps constitute a dynamic approach to study: performing them stimulates your mind to work at a study task in an active, imaginative manner that maximizes your learning.


Previewing material that you are preparing to study serves the same purpose as looking at the picture you are going to complete from jigsaw puzzle pieces. It gives you an idea of the overall scheme or pattern of the subject, and as a result you can study the individual topics and ideas with greater comprehension because you know the general form of which they are parts. This is why you should study the table of contents of a book before proceeding beyond the first page. This gives you a PREVIEW of the overall organization and nature of what you will study. Also, if the table of contents breaks down each chapter into subtopics, you will find it helpful to refer to it as you proceed through the book, reviewing the organization of each new chapter as you study it.

Some authors begin each chapter with a foreword or outline. Some end each chapter with a summary. Whenever you begin to study a text, check the authorís plan. If s/he has included either of these study helps, begin your study of the chapter by carefully reading them.

Whenever your text does not have one of these helps to familiarize you with the material you are to study, you will need to use the device called "scanning". Scanning is simply running your eyes rapidly down a page, picking up an idea from each paragraph to get the general theme, the "drift" of the author. When scanning, do not read complete paragraphs, just enough to get a picture of what the author is talking about, not what s/he is saying about it. It is done rapidly, 4 or 5 minutes per chapter. If you are spending more than 15 to 20 seconds per page, you are probably reading too much detail and need to teach yourself to speed more rapidly down the paragraphs, looking at each only long enough to get the general idea. Good scanning is hard mental work. You cannot let your eyes languidly drift down the page and your mind ramble along. Your eyes are racing down the page and your mind is working at top speed and power trying to glean rapidly and accurately the import of the words your eyes are picking up.

Here is a test by which you can tell whether your scanning has been effective. When you finish previewing a chapter or other portion of study material by the scanning method, pause and ask yourself, "What is the general idea?" Write a brief summary, one short paragraph, expressing either the scope or the main point. It is important that, for at least a few days, you write this summary rather than merely say it to yourself; the discipline of putting the general idea of what you have read into concrete, recorded words will show you how well or how poorly you identified the substance of what you previewed and will suggest how to improve the quality of previewing.


Think about what you are studying as you read an assignment -- go after the meaning. This is the biggest secret of effective studying. It means that as you read, you must deliberately look for the meaning of sentences. You should try to understand what the author is saying and perceive the significance and implications of his material. Effective studying is not done with the eyes alone. The mind must take over. All the eyes can do is pick up the words from the printed page. You must take those words, get the significance of them and make them form in your thoughts the sense of what the author is saying. If you depend on your eyes only, at best you will retain a foggy memory of what you read without any real understanding of it; at worst, you will read a paragraph or chapter without having gained a glimmer of an idea of what the author was really saying.

The way to approach the STUDY step of the R.S.V.P. procedure effectively is this: when you start to study an assignment, pick up a pencil. Read a paragraph. Boil down what it said in the fewest words (pause and think about the contents) and write those words in the margin of your text. If you are unable to summarize a paragraph after reading it, you have not fully comprehended its meaning. In this case it is useless to go on to the next paragraph. Reread the first with added effort to grasp the real significance of the words.

After you have studied a few assignments in this manner, reading a paragraph, striving to get the main idea, then making a brief marginal note-you will find that as a matter of habit, you will begin to read for real understanding. It is important that you actually write your summary of the paragraph in the margin of your book. This serves several purposes. In the first place, writing it in the margin of your book keeps you from simply copying down a bunch of words and not thinking through to an understanding of the paragraph. To fit your notes in the margin, you are forced into thinking clearly and concisely to the main point. Furthermore, the notes will be invaluable aids in performing the REVIEW step of R.S.V.P. Finally, no matter how conscientious you intend to be, unless you have to write down that condensation, you will tend to think, "Oh yes...well.... I understand that," and pass onto the next paragraph without really crystallizing your vague idea. Studying in this way virtually guarantees high concentration and vast improvement in the comprehension of the material you study.


When you verbalize, you are, in effect, reciting your lesson orally yourself. In R.S.V.P. you verbalize in your own words the precise thought of a paragraph. From your margin notes, state as completely as you can the entire thought of the paragraphs. Then glance at the paragraph to see if you have missed any important elements. If you did, they will probably now stick in your mind. Experiments have shown that verbalizing contributes more to learning than rereading as well as producing better memory and understanding.

At least in the beginning of your practice, you should do your verbalizing aloud -- that is, actually say in your normal speaking voice the substance of each paragraph. If you are studying around other people, you should be sure that you move your lips and silently form the distinct precise words that summarize what you read. Sometimes, we may think we have an understanding and comprehension but still are unable to put it into words. Verbalizing is excellent practice in this and by verbalizing you will be able to determine whether or not you have thought through the paragraph to the point of thoroughly comprehending it.


Psychological experiments have shown that reviewing material that has been studied, thus refreshing and renewing it in your mind, causes the material to fade out much less rapidly. The most effective way of REVIEWING is not rereading the material, but forcing yourself to recall all the previously studied material that you can remember, then briefly scanning the book to see if your memory omitted anything important. Here again, your margin notes are helpful. REVIEW is actually a repetition of the VERBALIZATION step, best done between 6 (six) and 24 hours later.

Actually, after the classroom hour on an assignment, you should have an even better idea of relationships, important facts and overall concepts but do not slight the REVIEW step in your next study period. It will get your mind centered on the subject and lead up to the next assignment.

In summary, in each study session:

        Review previously studied chapter.

        Study current chapter.

        Verbalize current chapter.

        Preview next chapter.