Reading is a beneficial and useful activity, through which people can expand their knowledge and understanding of the world. But reading a text without being able to understand the information or emotion contained is not exactly useful.
Therefore, in this article I will attempt to explain to you how to improve reading comprehension. While doing this, I will also present steps that show how to improve reading skills.
So many things in our day-to-day life depend on comprehension. That sounds pretty strange, but have you ever actually thought about it?
What would our life be like if we didn’t understand the things around us, whether they be road signs, sounds, spoken words, and written texts? Pretty chaotic, right? So much depends on our ability to understand and interpret the things around us.
Some of you may be wondering what all this talk regarding improving reading comprehension is all about, and how it applies to you. I hope to be able to explain this and more below. I’ll start by explaining the term itself.
What is reading comprehension?
Comprehension is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the act or action of grasping with the intellect”, or as “the capacity for understanding fully”. It is perhaps a more sophisticated way of saying “understanding”.
Now that we have clarified the meaning of the word “comprehension”, let’s take a look at how this term relates to the beneficial process of reading. Something worth noting is that one can actually read without comprehending the message, but it will be of no use to him.
But our real-life scenario is simply that we’re reading from a book, and we get to this paragraph where either there’s some difficult words which we don’t understand, or perhaps we understand all the words, but we don’t comprehend what the author is trying to say. These are the cases which I will try to help you resolve by improving your reading comprehension skills.
Basically, reading comprehension is the ability to read a text and understand it fully, both grammatically and expressively. It means to have great vocabulary, but also a good attention span. Keeping a log of the information in your memory, you’ll be able to comprehend and fit in the new information which would otherwise seem strange or out of place.
Why are reading comprehension skills important?
We’ve already agreed that overall, reading is beneficial for people. Learning some reading statistics might increase your knowledge about this topic. Some people think that if they can read fast, or articulately, then they are already great readers and don’t need to improve anymore. But is improving reading skills just as important as improving your reading speed, or is it even more important?
Let’s think about this for a moment: what’s the actual goal of reading? Well, if you would ask me, the basic reason for learning how to read is to be able to understand written text, not to race through the book just to be done with it. Once you are able to understand it, it can serve you either for learning new things, for reading a story, or for conversing with other people by means of written text.
So the most basic use of reading is to understand written text. Then it would seem logical that the most important aspect of reading is understanding, or comprehension. Therefore, it’s quite rational to assert that reading comprehension skills are important. By improving them, we can begin to get more out of our reading: better understanding, clearer ideas, and less boring or stressful reading sessions.
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How to improve reading comprehension as an adult
Now that I’ve presented some information about what reading comprehension is, and why you as a reader would and should actually want to improve this skill, let’s take a look at some strategies to improve reading comprehension.
1. Expand your vocabulary
Not being able to understand the meaning of a word, both in context and out of context, is one of the biggest obstacles people face on their journey towards being able to comprehend what they read. Obviously, some people have a better vocabulary than others, but for the average reader, I suppose there is definitely room for some significant improvement.
There are multiple ways in which you can go about strengthening your vocabulary. One of them is to always keep a dictionary and a notebook on hand while reading.
Nowadays, our smartphones can serve as a dictionary as well, but make sure you don’t let yourself become distracted by your phone, and end up compromising your reading hour. Whenever you encounter an unknown word while reading, stop reading and look it up in the dictionary.
Once you’ve understood the meaning of the word, write it down in your notebook. Pay attention to the context, because very many words have multiple meanings. I recommend writing down all of the meanings for the same word. It may be a good idea to even exemplify how it should be used by offering an example of its use in a sentence. Many dictionaries offer these examples.
Some people recommend using flashcards for memorizing the words you don’t know. This can also work well for some readers. Whichever method you use, remember this: simply writing down the meaning of the words will not significantly help you. In order to truly improve your vocabulary, you need to go back regularly and re-read the meaning of the words which you did not know. By doing this, you will truly be strengthening and expanding your vocabulary.
Gradually, these words that were initially unknown to you will become familiar, and you’ll even start using them when speaking. In time, reading will become much easier for you and more fluid. Being able to understand more words will automatically enable you to comprehend the text much better.
Overall, it will improve your reading experience, allowing you to enjoy and understand the books you’re reading instead of having to jump over words and often miss the point the author was trying to make.
2. Put things into perspective
People often have misunderstandings because they only listen to part of what the other is saying, or only take into account the last sentence spoken by the other person.
In order to have a fruitful discussion, both parties engaged need to keep in mind not only what the other is saying at the moment, but also how this relates to what they’ve been saying during the entire discussion. It’s the same with reading.
In order to actually comprehend what the author is trying to say, you need to have a mental summary of what he’s already written in the book. You don’t need to be able to quote the author word for word, but it will definitely improve your reading comprehension if you are able to maintain a perspective of what the author has said so far.
This perspective is necessary in various degrees when reading. Obviously, you want to keep a general perspective of the entire book so that you understand the overall scheme of things. But it is often necessary to have a more ample perspective of the last few paragraphs, or even pages, in order to understand what is currently happening. Sometimes, if you let slip even a single sentence, a page or two later you may be wondering when a certain character was introduced, or how the plot unfolded.
In order to avoid such problems and to improve your understanding of what you read, try keeping the bigger picture in mind.
Obviously, it’s important to focus on the words you are reading, but in order to understand their meaning completely, you need to keep in mind the context. Therefore, if you are reading a sentence and are able to understand the literal meaning of the words, but it seems like it has nothing to do with the context, try going back to the beginning of the paragraph or the beginning of the page, and see what the sentence you got stuck on is actually about.
The same process is valid in the case of a word whose meaning you didn’t understand. You may know the literal meaning of the word, but it seems to make no sense in the sentence. Try re-reading the paragraph carefully, and see if you are able to understand the expressive meaning applied to this word. Using these methods, you should be able to improve reading skills and gain more from books.
3. The “journal” method
Many people keep a journal in which they write down impressions and events that impressed them. Others simply keep a daily journal where they keep track of what they did that day. In a similar way, it may be a good idea to keep a reading journal.
In it you can write down the things that impressed you in the book you’re reading, or short summaries of what you read that day. This will help you memorize the information better, and can also serve as a memory refresher.
A good way of taking full advantage of the journal method is using a reading app. Having a digital reading journal on your person at all times is a great way of heading towards improving your comprehension skills.
Basmo, for example, allows you to write down and save favourite passages from the book you are reading.
All you have to do is:
- Open Basmo.
- Start your reading session.
- Right at the bottom of your screen, there is a Scan page button.
- Tap on it and record all the pages you want.
You can also write your own ideas regarding what you thought of it, or what lessons you extracted from it. The app will help you save all of these texts and organize them.
Here are the main steps to log in your notes and thoughts on Basmo while you’re reading:
- Click on the + sign to search for the book you’re currently reading.
- To start your reading session, tap again on that book and on the Start Session button.
- Anytime you want to take notes, you’ll find a special section dedicated to writing your thoughts.
- When you’re done, you can tap on the End Session section, you’ll set your bookmark page so you’ll know where you left off, and you’re done for the day!
Basmo offers many other neat features as well, such as setting reading reminders, making book lists, and can also help you keep track of what books you’ve read.
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3. Read the text out loud
Whenever you encounter sentences or paragraphs which you really can’t comprehend, try reading the text out loud to yourself. You may be surprised to notice how the sentence can immediately sound different when speaking it. You may even be able to comprehend what the author is trying to say.
It may seem like a weird thing to do in public. If you aren’t willing to read it out loud, you can still whisper it. Try to read the text slowly, over and over, and try alternating the accents of the words. In this way you might see what the author was actually trying to say.
Also, by slowing down and speaking the words out loud, it’s like you’re explaining something to someone (in this case to yourself). It might even change your mental perspective to a more open one. These factors may help you improve your reading comprehension skills.
5. Keep a steady pace, and when necessary, slow down or go back
Sometimes people think that the faster they read, the more information they will gain. But this is not universally true. It is true that by reading faster, we’ll probably get through more pages. But this will probably impact our understanding of those pages.
Reading at a slower pace will indeed not allow us to produce any wind gusts produced by our rapid page turning, but it will enable the reader to actually understand and better comprehend the message.
Even at a slow pace it can happen that you’ll come across a sentence that simply doesn’t make sense after only reading it once. It can be necessary therefore to sometimes go back and read the text again in order to understand it fully.
Again, reading apps can be of great help. Many of them have special features which allow you to keep track of your reading speed.
I hope I’ve managed to convince you that reading comprehension is a very good skill to have. Without it, reading loses a lot of its value. I would venture to say that it’s considerably more important than reading speed, since speed will not help you if you do not understand what you are reading. Therefore, I would recommend working first on your comprehension skills, and then on your speed reading skills.
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