How to Improve Reading Comprehension as an Adult

How to improve reading comprehension as an adult

While reading is a skill most of us learn as children, who says we cannot take concrete steps towards improving it even as adults? Many of us tend to take reading for granted instead of focusing on trying to make the best of it and maximize the results of each of our reading sessions. 

For example, learning how to improve reading comprehension as an adult can have a major impact not only on the way we read, but also on the amount of information we actually understand and retain.

Sometimes putting more focus and dedication into quality than quantity can be the right way to go, and since here at Basmo we are fully dedicated to turning you into the ultimate reader, we are bound to explore any possible topic that can have a positive effect on your reading habits or the results of your reading sessions.

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. Poor reading comprehension in adults is, unfortunately, not as uncommon as you might think.

But our real-life scenario is simply that we’re reading from a book, and we get to this paragraph where either there are some difficult words that we don’t understand, or perhaps we know all the words, but we don’t comprehend what the author is trying to say. These are the cases that 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 having a 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.

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Can you improve your reading comprehension as an adult?

Even though the reading comprehension issues adults tend to face are a lot less common than those children face, they can still be somewhat problematic. The good news is that with the right approach, some dedication, and a good set of rules to follow, adults can improve their reading comprehension skills considerably. 

Learning how to improve reading skills for adults can be a relatively difficult task, especially when we consider the amount of work and time we generally afford to spend on something like this with our hectic lives and busy schedules. The important thing to remember is that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and the efforts we need to put into improving our reading comprehension levels. 

What are the top tips to improve comprehension as an adult? 

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:

  1. Open Basmo. 
  2. Start your reading session. 
  3. Right at the bottom of your screen, there is a Scan page button. 
  4. 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:

  1. Click on the + sign to search for the book you’re currently reading.
  2. To start your reading session, tap again on that book and on the Start Session button. 
  3. Anytime you want to take notes, you’ll find a special section dedicated to writing your thoughts. 
  4. 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.

4. 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.

Basmo can once again help you pace your reading. It allows you to time your sessions and keep track of how many pages you read, enabling you to calculate your average reading speed.

6. Use special reading comprehension strategies for adults

On top of the methods listed above, there are some special strategies adults can learn and implement in order to improve their reading comprehension levels. These seven strategies, when used correctly, can have a huge impact on how well you manage to absorb information and process it while reading.


This strategy involves getting involved in the reading material at hand in a primitive cognitive manner. More precisely, it means actively trying to use your prior knowledge and experiences to add another level of meaning to the things you are reading. This stage of activating your background knowledge will play an important role in understanding and adding meaning to the text you are reading. 


Through this strategy, you are expected to make an active effort to extract information, draw your own conclusions and evaluate the text you are reading. This stage relies partially on the knowledge you previously acquired, but also involves the recently gathered information and bringing them together in a way that basically synthesize the data in an actual set of conclusions. Learning to make inferences will improve your ability to construct meaning while reading.


The proper way of learning how to improve reading comprehension as an adult will inevitably go through this monitoring/clarifying stage. This strategy involves actually thinking about the things you are reading, how you are reading them, and why. This can be done both while reading and after. Through monitoring/clarifying, you are actually supposed to self-evaluate your reading session, the level of comprehension you managed to achieve, and how close you are to fulfilling the purpose of your reading session.


Generating, asking, and answering questions is a crucial aspect of a reading session for those who want to improve their comprehension levels. While reading, try to come up with questions that you are hoping to find the answer to if you keep reading. This way you will identify ideas, integrate information, and have a lot less of a hard time summarizing what you read. By learning to ask the right questions, you will find a way to stay focused on the most important ideas and concepts in the reading material at hand.


Trying to figure out the next things that are about to happen in a book you’re reading is going to activate your imagination. You will use both previously acquired knowledge and the information you recently absorbed and this process is going to force you to think analytically and to properly use the concepts and ideas you just discovered. 


Creating mental images of the things you read is going to give your comprehension levels a massive boost. While this is a better approach to consider in narrative text, like fiction novels, it can be great practice for your brain and the positive effects will later expand over your non-fiction reading sessions as well. 


This strategy involves a reader’s ability to extract the main ideas from a text and synthetize them in a comprehensive and efficient manner. Obviously, summarizing without comprehension is virtually impossible. Exercising your summarizing abilities will have a positive effect on how able you are to comprehend and interpret what you are reading. 

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Why is reading comprehension in adults that 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. 

Here are some of the most important reasons why improving reading comprehension in adults can have a huge impact: 

Adults with good comprehension levels enjoy reading a lot more

Good reading comprehension adds an extra layer to your reading sessions. This means being able to fully understand the meaning behind the words you are reading, having the necessary skills to grasp the subtle details, and completely making use of the information gathered through reading. 

As you can probably imagine, ticking all the boxes above also comes with a high degree of satisfaction. The feeling that you’re spending your time doing something that adds value to your life will keep you engaged and interested in reading in general. 

Reading comprehension improves writing skills

It’s no surprise that writing is a very complex and difficult mental task. Whether we’re typing or actually writing by hand, our brain requires a high degree of efficiency and uses plenty of resources to get it done properly.

Reading is, in general, a great workout for your brain. It is a complex mental activity that results in a whole range of positive effects on how your brain works. Reading actively, or reading with a high degree of comprehension has, obviously, an even more powerful effect. 

On top of this, good reading comprehension also implies a good understanding of the written text in terms of concepts and words used. A good level of general knowledge and a rich vocabulary are important things to consider when it comes to being able to write good quality content, whether that means creative writing or simply answering to e-mails on a daily basis. 

Good reading comprehension impacts the way you absorb and react to certain events

We all tend to have busy schedules and seemingly less and less free time every day. This changed the way we consume content in general, whether that refers to how we get our daily news or how likely we are to actually watch a 2-hour long movie. When it comes to finding out and understanding current events and how they can impact our lives, we tend to avoid watching the news on TV and rely more on news websites and apps that deliver the information in written format. 

Our ability to properly comprehend what we read can make a huge difference in how we understand the world around us and the events that can impact us. Since one of the most commonly discussed dangers of this decade is the fake news phenomenon, it’s easy to understand how good comprehension skills are essential. Regardless of the method we decide to use to improve reading comprehension for adults, there is no denying the fact that accomplishing that can have a huge impact on our lives. 

Good comprehension improves our ability to stay focused 

To put things in perspective, try to imagine how quickly you tend to lose interest in an overcomplicated movie as soon as you miss some important events in the plot and you suddenly realize that you don’t understand why the characters do what they do. 

Not being able to properly comprehend what we read can have a very similar effect. If we read without understanding everything, we tend to end up in a place in the book where nothing makes sense anymore. 

On the other hand, good comprehension skills will allow us to stay focused and engaged in the book we are reading for longer periods of time. Since we will easily absorb and comprehend everything that is happening from one page to another, we will soon find ourselves unable to stop turning pages.

Final thoughts

Learning how to improve reading comprehension as an adult can be a difficult task. But with a clear action plan and more than enough help and support from Basmo, you can rest assured that your efforts will be well worth your time.

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