Reading Comprehension Tips
It’s a common experience to spend hours reading, and then when you’re done, completely draw a blank on what you’ve read. This happens to everyone from time to time, no matter the skill level of the reader. There are a variety of factors that determine how much we actually comprehend; things like mental alertness, level of distraction, and difficulty of content just to name a few. Just remember that you are not alone if you sometimes have problems with reading comprehension! In this video, we will go over 8 tips to help you improve your reading comprehension.
Tip Number 1: Wakefulness
No matter the task at hand, we perform best when we are fully alert. Some of us function best in the early morning, while others are night owls. Pinpoint the time that you are most alert and set aside this chunk of the day for reading if possible.
Along with this, you might consider having a cup of tea or coffee as you read. It should be noted that caffeine can cause a counterproductive crash with some people. We all run a little differently with caffeine—some people benefit from the boost, while others may be overly sensitive to its effects. If, for instance, caffeine gives you the anxious jitters, it likely isn’t a good idea to consume it while reading.
Finally, avoid reading in bed. It is all too easy to doze off when you are in a place that is obviously associated with sleep. Simply sitting in a chair might make you more attentive due to the benefits of an upright posture.
Tip Number 2: Avoid Distraction: Create a Suitable Reading Environment
Creating an environment that you can work most efficiently in is key. Some people work best in complete solitude, reading and studying in their bedroom. However, others find that being in an environment where others are working, such as a library or a coffee shop, brings focus and inspires them to read.
Other elements to consider are lighting and comfort. Turning on the lights and minimizing darkness will prevent you from becoming drowsy. And, though you don’t want to be so comfortable that you fall asleep, sitting on a stiff, uncomfortable seat will not do much to help you read. Sometimes, simply switching chairs to find the one in the room that’s most comfortable can go a long way in enhancing the desire to read, and by extension, your reading comprehension.
Avoiding distraction is particularly crucial. The first things to do are turn off the TV and avoid your phone. This may be easier said than done. One strategy is to place your phone out-of-reach, perhaps in another room. Another strategy is to download an app that locks certain features—social media and games, for instance—during a set duration of time. You might consider finding a trustworthy friend who can lock your phone with a password that only he or she knows during this set period. Doing this will keep you in check and on track.
If you are someone who prefers studying in a more public area, like a coffee shop, it can be harder to limit distractions. Wearing noise-cancelling headphones, even if you have no music playing, can be a good way to block a lot of outside noise. And, if you do have music playing, make sure it isn’t something that you will easily be distracted by.
Tip Number 3: Preview the Text
This is a step that is often overlooked, but can really boost your reading comprehension in a big way. Before you begin reading a text, you can prepare in a number of important ways:
1. Know your purpose.
Before reading, ask yourself: What is the purpose of your reading? For instance, are you going to be tested on the material? If so, pay attention to key ideas and details that may be included on such a test. Then again, perhaps you are going to eventually write an essay about the assigned reading. If so, go into the text thinking about generating ideas for an essay. Look for ideas in the text that interest you and portions of the text that you could potentially write about. It’s much easier to understand what you’re reading when you go in looking for something. This also prevents you from becoming overwhelmed—if you know what to focus on, you won’t worry about knowing every little bit of the text.
2. Preview the text.
Give the text a preliminary skim-through. Look at chapter titles, bolded words, and key questions in the text. This will give you a feel for the text’s content before you begin reading it in earnest. If, for instance, you are reading a scholarly book, consider reading the end of the introductory chapter. This is the place where the writer usually breaks down the larger argument or thesis of the book. Knowing the main argument beforehand will allow you to enter your reading with set expectations. Think of it as watching a trailer before going to see a movie.
3. Break up your reading.
How much time do you have to read the text? How long is the text? For instance, you might have 5 days to read 100 pages. If so, preview the text and consider how difficult the material is (and how many words there are per page). Consider breaking up your reading over the course of those 5 days. Cramming 100 pages in one night is not an effective strategy, and often leads to a lot of unneeded stress. Taking breaks as you read will improve focus, motivation, understanding, and retention.
Tip Number 4: Have a Dictionary on Hand
It is very likely when you’re reading that you will encounter words that you are unfamiliar with. It’s easy to skip over these words or to use context clues to guess their meaning. However, it is sometimes best to know precisely what these unknown words mean. Consider having a dictionary on hand. If you have one available, a physical book often works best since using an online dictionary could serve as a distraction. Oftentimes, having a false “guesstimated” definition of a word in mind can alter your understanding of the text overall. Using the dictionary to learn new words will help you comprehend not only the text you are currently reading, but all texts you read in the future that contain that word.
Tip Number 5: Slow Down
We often begin by reading very attentively. However, after time passes many of us begin to accelerate. When we read too fast, our comprehension decreases, so it’s important to slow down. This may be easier said than done, but there are certain strategies to help you slow down and maintain focus. For example, if you find that you’re speeding through a chapter, consider simply closing the book for a few moments, taking a brief walk, and maybe eating a snack. As suggested in Tip #3, taking breaks enhances focus. Leaving the text for a few moments will allow you to return to it with a fresh mindset.
One good way to determine whether you are reading too fast is to be mindful. Just asking yourself if you remember what you just read on a particular page can quickly answer the question of whether or not you are reading too fast.
Tip Number 6: Annotate
Highlighter use is common, and it often creates the illusion that we are engaging in a useful activity. However, it is also common to go back to highlighted passages and realize that way too much has been highlighted. In fact, the page ends up looking like a coloring book: a majority of the page is now yellow. It is difficult to identify crucial information when most of it is already highlighted as important. If you do use a highlighter, be sure to only highlight the most important information.
Instead of highlighting with abandon, consider annotating. For instance, you could develop a key or system to note important parts of the text.
Here, we have a system setup that allows us to note the major points, unfamiliar words, key words and phrases, and other important information.1 In addition to this system, you can use abbreviations to make notes and reminders. For instance, if you were to come across an unfamiliar idea, you could write LU next to it. This stands for “look up,” serving as a reminder to look up clarifying information about this idea later. If a passage is particularly important or if you don’t grasp it the first time and need to move on, you could use RR to remind you to re-read that passage.
Create a system of annotation that works best for you. You can even go further and write questions or key points in the margins.
Tip Number 7: Summarize
After reading a chunk of the text—whether it be a few paragraphs or a few pages, depending on how dense the reading is—summarize it in your own words. Consider using a notebook to write down a summary of a few key details. It has been shown that summarizing what you’ve read improves retention. As an extra bonus, doing this will produce a set of useful notes for future use.
Tip Number 8: Use External & Supplementary Resources
Some texts are difficult. Perhaps it’s full of words you aren’t familiar with, or maybe the content itself is confusing. Using supplemental materials can help you grasp certain words, ideas, and other things that are unfamiliar. You might even consider reading a summary of the text you’ve read on a site like Wikipedia. For a deeper and perhaps more accurate understanding, consider using Google to search for a particular term. It’s important to note that, while using supplemental resources can illuminate your understanding of texts, they should not act as substitutes for reading the texts themselves.
Comprehending what we read can often be a difficult task that’s influenced by a variety of factors. Keep in mind that each strategy works differently for different people. You might find that one strategy is particularly useful, while others don’t quite fit your particular learning style. That’s okay. Consider trying them out—it’s a process of trial-and-error.
Before we go, here’s a quick recap of each point we covered today:
Number 1. Make sure you are awake and alert when you’re reading.
Number 2. Make sure your environment is as distraction-free as possible.
Number 3. Remember why you’re reading in the first place and maybe skim through the text a bit to get a preview.
Number 4. Have a dictionary ready, just in case.
Number 5. Don’t speed through the text; slow down and allow yourself to comprehend what you’re reading.
Number 6. Using a system to make little notes and reminders can really help you remember the key points and ideas in the text.
Number 7. Every few paragraphs, or maybe after every chapter, summarize what you’ve read to make sure you understand everything.
Number 8. Use extra resources to help clarify unfamiliar phrases or concepts in the text.
I hope this video was helpful! Thanks for watching, and happy studying!