A Guide To Improve Your Reading Comprehension

Sep 26, 2021

Reading is one of the underrated skills, usually lots of people take it for granted, but reading and correctly comprehending a text is uncertain and interactive. All parts of the brain working in coordination and most often need one to consider multiple layers of context and meaning.

Because reading comprehension is complex, we can frequently find ourselves understanding the most basic interpretation of a text but missing the emotional point or the "big picture." Or often, we are just confused or lost with no clue at all as to what a text is trying to convey.

But fortunately for everyone who struggles in English classes, on standardized tests, or in your day-to life, reading comprehension can be improved upon, and it's never too late to start anything in your life. In this article, I’ll explain step-by-step how to improve reading comprehension over time and offer tips for increasing your understanding as you read.

What Is Reading Comprehension?

In simple words, reading comprehension is the knowledge of what a specific text means and the emotional point the author is trying to convey, both textual and subtextual. 

To understand read any text, your brain must process not only the literal words but also their relationship with one another, the context behind the words, how illusive language and vocabulary usage can affect emotion and meaning behind the text, and how the text comes together as a more substantial, coherent whole.

Many of us enjoy a good read, whether it is a novel that moves us to tears, a play that stimulates our passions, a piece of well-written literature that can have an impact on our emotions, our behavior, and our value systems. Few of us can recall a part of writing verbatim. There are specific quotes. However, that stays with us. Let’s have a look at some quotes that can be useful in a variety of situations. Here are a few examples

  1. “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

At the end of A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton is awaiting his death by guillotine. For the sake of love, Carton has deliberately swapped places with another and, in this quote, is contemplating both his self-sacrifice and the fate of France.

  1. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkein

This quote is from a conversation between Gandalf and Frodo and follows Gandalf’s telling of the ring’s story. Frodo shows regret that these things have happened during his lifetime. Gandalf’s response suggests both a responsibility to do what we have been destined to do and a lack of control over our fates.

  1. “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Maybe the most famous love story of all time, Romeo and Juliet’s ill-fated affair, is known to most of us. The brilliant quote above is the start of Romeo’s comparison of Juliet to the sunlight as she bends over her balcony.

  1. “Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson

In this poem, Ulysses, of Troy’s fame and Odysseus, has completed his ten-year voyage home to Ithaca from Troy and considers his future as an older man. He has realized that he is now facing a different kind of battle, not against enemies, but the inevitable aging process.

  1. “The Answer to the ultimate question of Life, The Universe, and Everything is…42!” 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

You can make what you want of this answer, and that was the author’s intention. In the story, the supercomputer ‘Deep Thought’ has taken a very long time to work out that the answer is ‘42’ but is quick to point out the meaninglessness of this answer because no human being knows what the question was. This answer has perhaps become more famous than the book itself.

Without specific practice in reading comprehension, quotes and sentences like these can become lost. And so it can happen with several people that may find themselves reading but not genuinely comprehending the whole meaning of a text.

Reading comprehension requires many processes happening in your brain at once, and thus it is easy for some aspects of a sentence to get lost in the chaos. But on the positive side, for anyone who struggles, understand that reading comprehension is a skill just like any other. It must be learned through training, focus, and diligence. It can be learned just like any other skill.

Why Reading Comprehension Is Essential

Proper reading comprehension can be challenging, so why bother? Although learning how to read and comprehend texts accurately is a complex process, it is a significant skill to master, both for work and pleasure.

You will need to know how to understand all kinds of different texts—both on the fundamental, literal level and a more emotional level—throughout your schooling. This process continues in your college and the working world, and in your leisure time.

Reading comprehension is a complete understanding. A person can only get by in the world on solid "reading" for so long.

Reading comprehension is necessary for many vital aspects of day-to-day life, such as:

  • You are reading, interpreting, and analyzing literature in your English classes.
  • Reading and understanding texts from your other class subjects, such as science, philosophy, and history
  • Excelling in both the written and math sections of the SAT (or all five sections of the ACT)
  • Knowing and engaging with current events presented in written form, such as news reports
  • It correctly recognizes and responds to any other workplace communication, such as reports, essays, memos, and mails.
  • Enjoying your written work in your own leisure time

3 Simple Steps to Improve Your Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is a skill that grows like any other. You can develop your understanding with practice and a strategy.

Devote yourself to engaging in a combination of both "guided" and "relaxed" reading practice for at least four to five hours a week. The more hours you can dedicate, the better it is for you. 

Guided practice will include structure and focused attention, like learning new vocabulary words and experimenting with them. In everyday practice, you have to enjoy reading without pressure for at least one to two hours a week. (Note: if you are already reading for pleasure, emails. you can add more hours of pleasure-reading per week.)

By blending reading-for-studying and reading-for-pleasure, you'll be able to develop your reading skill without relegating reading time to the realm of "work" alone. In our digital age, reading is a big part of our daily lives, and you should never sacrifice improving your comprehension should never come at the cost of the pleasure of the activity.

So let’s look at the first steps for improving your reading comprehension level.

Step No 1: Understand and Reevaluate How You're Currently Reading

Before you can develop your reading comprehension, you must first know how you're currently reading and your limitations.

You can start by selecting excerpts from different texts that are new to you—textbooks, novels, essays, news reports, or any kind of text in which you struggle and s difficult for you to know appropriately—and read them as you would normally. As you start to read, notice when your focus, energy, or comprehension of the material begins to flag.

If your comprehension or focus tends to lag after some time, start to develop your stamina slowly. For example, if you continually lose focus at the 20-minute mark when you start reading, recognize this and push yourself to increase that time gradually. You don’t need to sit and concentrate on reading for an hour or two at a stretch.

You can start by reading for the amount of time you can focus (twenty minutes, in this case), then give yourself a break. Next time, go for 25 or 30 minutes. Once you've mastered that, go for 30 or 35 minutes and see if you can still maintain focus. If you can, then go for 50.

If, anyhow, you start to lose your focus, take a step back on your timing before pushing yourself for more. Growth comes with time, and it'll only cause disappointment if you try to rush it all at once.

Also, sometimes you may find that your problem with reading comprehension has less to do with the time spent reading than with the source material itself. Possibly you might struggle to understand the fundamental elements of a text, the context of a piece, character arches, or the motive behind the text. In this case, remember to follow the tips below to improve these areas of reading comprehension weakness.

Developing your reading comprehension level takes lots of effort and practice, but knowing where your strengths and weaknesses stand now is the first step towards progress.

Step No 2: Improve Your Vocabulary

Reading and comprehension depend on a combination of vocabulary, context, and the synergy of words. This is where it gets tricky to understand the text as the whole; you must understand each moving piece. Mind blown!! I know

Suppose you strive to understand a particular vocabulary. In that case, it's sometimes possible to pick up meaning through context clues (how the words are used in the sentence), but you can always look up the definitions of words with which you aren't familiar. 

As you continue reading, always keep a running list of words you don't recognize and make yourself a collection of flashcards with the terms and their definitions. You can play vocab quizzing alone, with your friends or family. It’s a fun activity.

You need to get some blank index cards and a system to keep them organized. These basic cards are budget-friendly options that are also available in fun colors. You can keep them organized with rubber bands, or you can buy an organizer.

Also, you can try these easy-flip flashcards that include binder clips. Though we strongly advise making your flashcards, you can also get pre-made ones, and one great option is Barron's 1100 Words You Need to Know, a series of exercises to master keywords and idioms.

To remember your vocabulary knowledge, you must apply a combination of practiced memorization (like studying your flashcards) and try to use these new words in your verbal and written communication in your daily life. Guided vocabulary practice will help you with the new terms and their meanings and retain them properly.

Step No 3: Read for Fun

The perfect way to improve your reading comprehension is through practice. And the most efficient way to practice is to have fun with it!

Make reading a fun activity or have some fun while sometimes reading rather than a constant chore. This will drive you to get involved with the reading and embrace the training as part of your daily life rather than just studying life. As you go on practicing and genuinely engage with your reading material, flourishment will come naturally.

You can start by reading anything slightly below your age and grade level; sometimes, it gets frustrating and challenging to comprehend. This will pressure you and allow you to have some fun and relax or enjoy the story like a good movie. Here are some fun, good reads that I recommend to get you started:

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roksani Chokshi

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K.Rowling

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg

Once you feel at ease reading and rehearsing your comprehension strategies, go ahead and allow yourself to read at whatever reading or age level you feel like, even if you think that you don't understand some of the text right now—or even a large portion of it!—if you are enjoying your best shot, you'll find that your reading comprehension levels will improve over time.

5 Important Reading Comprehension Tips

Enhancing your vocabulary and increasing the amount of time you spend reading overall will help you to improve your reading comprehension over time, but what do you do to help you to comprehend a  particular piece of text?

Now, let’s have a look at some steps you can take to know the text and improve how you're reading.

Tip 1: When You Get Confused, Stop

As you start reading, stop whenever you lose focus or feel confused. Now, without re-reading, summarize the text aloud or in your head what you've comprehended so far before it gets confusing.

Skim back through the sentences and compare how you've summarized it with what's written. Do you know you've captured the primary points? 

Keep reading with your summation in mind, and let yourself stop and repeat the process whenever the piece becomes confusing to you. The more you're able to re-contextualize the work in your own words, the better you'll be able to understand it and lock the information in your mind as you keep reading.

Tip 2: Reading Aloud

Our mind works mysteriously, scientists and philosophers are still trying to figure it out, sometimes our mind forms a kind of "mental block" that can stop our reading progress for some reason maybe the sentence looks complex, many times you're tired, and you don’t feel like reading.

Reading these problematic passages aloud can often help circumvent that block and help you form a vision of what the text conveys.

Tip 3: Re-read Previous Sections of the Text

Know this clearly, and reading is an activity that happens entirely in your head. So don't feel you have to readjust like anyone else if "typical" methods don't work for you. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes t doesn’t.

It is often helpful to glance backward through a piece of text (or even re-read large sections) to remind yourself of any information you need and have forgotten—what happened previously, what a particular word means, who a person was, the list is endless.

Previous sentences or whole chapters can provide helpful context clues. Re-reading these passages will help refresh your memory to understand better and interpret later sections of the text.

Tip 4: Skim Text

Remember never to feel that the only way to understand a text is to work through it entirely linearly. What you can do is take apart the text and put it back together again, or you can do whatever you feel like.

If yo’re stuck, don’t worry. Sometimes a current confusion will be explained later on in the text.

So re-read, skip forward or backward or read ahead to take the piece in whatever order you need to make sense of the text.

Tip 5: Discuss the Text With a Friend or Family

The discussion will help you clear up any confusion. If you have a friend who hasn't read the text in question, explain it to them in your own words and discuss where you feel your comprehension is lacking. You'll know that you've understood once you try to explain it to someone completely unfamiliar with the piece.

The Take-Aways

Improving reading comprehension takes time and practice, but it can be done. Be tolerant with yourself, practice your reading comprehension, go through your steps if in doubt, and try not to get frustrated with yourself if you feel your progress is slow or if you think you're "falling behind." 

You will employ your reading skills throughout your life, go at a comfortable pace and maintain a  balance between reading for enjoyment emails reading for dedicated improvement.

As you begin to incorporate more and more reading into your daily life, you'll find that comprehension will become more accessible, and the task will become more fun. There are worlds of meaning to explore in every text, and learning how to uncover them can be the ultimate rewarding journey.

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