How to Improve Reading Comprehension: 9 Helpful Tips

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Reading is an essential skill, especially when it comes to learning. However, not everyone is naturally adept at it, especially when it comes to comprehending text. The good news is that you can learn how to improve reading comprehension with a few tips and tricks.

Try to gauge your own reading capabilities

Before you even think about how to improve reading comprehension, you must first measure your own level of reading comprehension. Everyone has different skill levels when it comes to reading comprehension. Some people may seem inherently good at reading and comprehending, but that likely stems from lots of proactive practice. 

No matter what level you are in reading, you can continually improve and move your way up. The first thing you need to do is to identify your reading abilities and try to grade yourself. 

To do this, simply time yourself whenever you read. Stop the clock when you start feeling lost, or your attention and focus have waned off. If you find that your focus is limited to only 20 minutes, try to work your way up in two-minute increments every time you do a reading exercise. 

Increase your vocabulary

To fully understand a piece of literature or text, you need to have a good grasp of vocabulary, context, and sentence structures. Knowing each element of a piece of text helps vastly in mastering reading comprehension.

However, not everyone can know all the words that exist in English vocabulary. This is where context clues are helpful. They give you an idea as to what an unfamiliar word may mean. 

However, the best way to go is still to look up the meaning of the word. As you read, try to keep tabs on the unfamiliar words, look them up later on, and re-read the passage for better understanding.

Read a book below your grade level

It is also a good idea to start with books that you find easy to read. You will most likely enjoy reading these types of materials at the beginning since it takes the pressure off of trying to comprehend complicated text.

Several resources, such as American Literature, Classic Shorts, and Project Gutenberg, offer free access to short stories and books, including classics. Later on, as you become more adept at reading, you can move on to more challenging pieces, but remember to take it up one notch at a time so that you don’t get daunted or discouraged.

Engage your curiosity

Often, to truly comprehend a reading material, you have to look beyond what the text offers at face value. It would help if you were genuinely curious about the aspects surrounding the text. 

Take, for example, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar’s opening line “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” From this sentence alone, you can let your curiosity run and ask questions like,

  • Why did she describe that Summer as queer and sultry?
  • Who were the Rosenbergs?
  • Why was the subject in New York?

Asking questions for every passage, paragraph, or even chapter engages you with the story and piques your interest. This is a neat trick to make you more invested in the thought, and allow more brain juices to flow, thereby increasing reading comprehension.

Stop when you feel confused and look for context

Most of the time, we get lost and confused, so we put down a book, never to pick it back up again. Unfortunately, that is no way to improve your reading comprehension. 

Usually, when you find it hard to understand a sentence or phrase, there is some context surrounding it. What is the theme of the entire paragraph? What do you think the author is trying to say in general, without having to sift through every single word?

Sum up what you read in your own words

Try to summarize what you just read in your own words. Putting it in your own words will help you understand it better because it is in the language that you know best.

After you’ve summarized it, read back the sentence or passage and see if it starts to get clearer or makes more sense. You can do this for every problematic passage that you go through or throughout your entire reading. 

Putting things in a context that you have created yourself will enable you to understand things better and retain information clearer.

Read aloud

Sometimes, a passage is so complicated, or the reader is so tired and bored that it is virtually impossible to get anything through to the brain. A simple yet effective hack to this dilemma is reading aloud. 

Reading aloud adds auditory on top of visual input in your reading experience. It creates a more powerful way to absorb information since it is coming in several forms. On top of that, reading aloud forces you to slow down and therefore allows you to process the information a lot more thoroughly.

Read back on previous sections

Reading is not a one-directional process. Nothing is stopping you from turning back a page or reading a previous passage in order to understand an entire section’s context. Sometimes, the explanations to the topic you are reading about can be scattered throughout the whole material, so it only makes sense that you should look back every now and then since you won’t likely remember every single bit of information you just read.

You may need to read back to remember things like what series of things led to an event, which a specific character is, what a particular word means, why the character is in this setting, and so much more.

This is, by far, one of the easiest and most instant ways on how to improve reading comprehension for many people.

Get rid of distractions

The most common reason for poor focus during reading is the presence of distractions. To ensure that most, if not all, of your focus, remains on the reading material, you must eliminate distractions from your surroundings.

Turn the TV off, mute your phone or put it in another room, find a cozy and quiet spot. Prepare for reading as you would for a solemn conversation. The more focus you can invest towards reading, the better your comprehension will be.

Once you have mastered the skill of reading comprehension, you can further challenge yourself with other related skills such as speed reading and enjoy the many perks of being well-read, including brain health and stress reduction.

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