How to Improve Reading Comprehension: 7 Strategies

August 2, 2023
5 min read

Struggling with reading comprehension? Learn seven research-backed techniques to understand texts better, from previewing material to self-quizzing after reading.

Battling with reading comprehension is incredibly common, impeding students in courses such as AP English, professionals, and lifelong learners alike in today’s complex informational landscape. However, the good news is that comprehension is a teachable skill, not an innate gift.

We will explore seven research-backed strategies to boost comprehension. By putting these techniques into practice, you can learn how to improve reading comprehension, become an effective reader, and be better equipped to understand written material for both personal and professional purposes.

7 Strategies to Improve Reading Comprehension

In this section, we will delve into the importance of reading comprehension, a fundamental skill that plays a pivotal role in enhancing learning and knowledge acquisition. To equip you with valuable insights, we will explore seven effective strategies to improve reading comprehension. 

These strategies empower you to extract more value from your reading endeavors, enabling you to delve deeper into the world of knowledge.

1. Develop Vocabulary Skills

A robust vocabulary is crucial for good reading comprehension. Understanding the words you're reading allows you to grasp the overall message or point of the text. Vocabulary skills can be enhanced through various methods. 

For example, creating a "word wall" where you list new words and their meanings can be a fun and effective way to expand your vocabulary. Pairing new words with physical actions or images can also aid memory. In addition, creating graphic organizers can help relate known words to new ones, enhancing your understanding of language and its nuances. 

As you encounter unfamiliar words in your reading, take the time to look them up and add them to your vocabulary list. Over time, you'll find that a stronger vocabulary significantly improves your reading ease and fluency​​.

2. Implement Thinking Strategies

Critical thinking is undeniably a pivotal facet of proficient reading comprehension. It's beneficial to pose intelligent questions that delve beneath the material's surface to develop a more nuanced understanding of the text. 

By formulating questions such as, "Where can I identify instances of bias in this text?" or "What factors might have influenced the author's choice of this specific writing style?" you stimulate a more comprehensive examination of the material. 

This process encourages you to draw connections between disparate ideas, integrate prior knowledge, and view the text more analytically. The practice of asking probing questions helps you transition from a passive reader to an active participant in the reading process, fostering a habit of thoughtful, engaged reading. 

This active interaction with the text amplifies comprehension and nurtures a culture of critical thinking that extends beyond the reading process.

3. Visualize the Information

Visualization is an extraordinarily potent strategy to improve reading comprehension. It involves the creation of vivid mental imagery or a sensory-rich panorama of the information presented in the text. 

However, it's important to remember that visualization goes beyond mere picturing of scenes. Rather, it's a multisensory process encompassing all our senses, including sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. 

It encourages you to fully immerse yourself in the narrative or concept, regardless of whether you're reading a captivating fiction novel, an informative non-fiction piece, or a dense academic article. 

As you follow the evolution of a character or process, your mental visualization should similarly progress, mirroring the transformations in the narrative. This dynamic mental engagement can reinforce your understanding of the material and the narrative or information flow trajectory. 

Regardless of the complexity of the text, the practice of visualization can significantly improve your reading comprehension, making it an invaluable strategy in your reading repertoire.

4. Create Question and Answer Scenarios

Challenging yourself with questions is one of the most effective ways to deepen your understanding of a text. The art of questioning is not confined to understanding the text's literal meaning but extends to exploring different perspectives and interpretations. 

By posing questions that require you to seek answers in various parts of the text, utilize your background knowledge, or draw upon your personal opinions and experiences, you engage with the text on a deeper, more meaningful level. 

This approach not only promotes a thorough understanding of the material but also encourages the application of critical thinking skills. By transforming reading from a solitary activity into an interactive Q&A scenario, you can significantly enhance your comprehension and enjoyment of the material.

5. Encourage Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal teaching is a highly effective strategy that involves four key steps: predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing. Each component plays a vital role in the comprehension process, aiding in developing a well-rounded understanding of the text. 

Predicting involves making educated guesses about the story’s trajectory or argument based on clues and evidence embedded in the text. This fosters active engagement with the material and primes your mind for what's to come. 

The questioning phase encourages you to delve deeper into the narrative, asking about the who, what, when, where, how, and why of the story or argument. Clarifying is a crucial step that helps you recognize when you're confused, identify what's confusing, and take proactive steps toward resolving it and enhancing understanding. 

Summarizing involves distilling the text to its most critical facts and ideas. This process aids memory retention and fosters a robust understanding of the text's key points. Thus, reciprocal teaching is a comprehensive strategy that significantly improves reading comprehension.

Summarizing involves condensing a reading to its most important facts and ideas, which aids memory and understanding of the text’s key points. 

6. Use Summarizing Techniques

Although it may seem laborious initially, summarizing is a potent technique that significantly improves reading comprehension. It involves condensing the text to its essential elements, necessitating a deep understanding of the material. 

By summarizing, you absorb and process the content at a level that enhances comprehension, as it demands a deep understanding beyond mere reading.

Writing summaries also helps you understand the interconnectedness of different text parts, offering insights into the narrative structure and relationships within the material. 

Furthermore, it emphasizes the importance of providing textual evidence to support your summaries and arguments, which fortifies your conclusions and promotes deeper engagement with the text. Thus, summarizing is a valuable strategy for improving reading comprehension.

7. Make Predictions

This strategy prompts you to actively engage with the text and anticipate what might come next. It's an exercise in critical thinking that requires you to draw on your understanding of the text so far, as well as your broader knowledge and intuition.

Start your reading by jotting down predictions about the text's direction and the author's argumentative details. Refine these as you read, and upon finishing, compare your initial guesses to the actual content. This technique fosters deeper engagement and understanding of the text.

This strategy not only improves comprehension but also fosters a love of reading by making it a more interactive and engaging process​.

However, it is important to note that predictions should not be random guesses but informed hypotheses based on textual evidence. This approach fosters an understanding of how authors construct narratives and arguments, contributing to improved reading comprehension.

Tips and Tricks to Improve Reading Comprehension

person reaching for book on shelf

Mastering reading comprehension is an invaluable asset for academic, professional, and personal growth. Luckily, it is a skill that can be strengthened with research-supported strategies. The following ten techniques offer practical, actionable ways to get more out of texts by building focus, analysis, vocabulary, memory, and overall comprehension.

  1. Sum It Up - Stop periodically while reading to concisely summarize key takeaways so far in your own words. Capturing main ideas and details this way cements comprehension.
  2. Critical Thinking - Challenge yourself with higher-level questions about differences between concepts or how examples relate to broader ideas. This builds analysis skills.
  3. Make Educated Guesses - Infer implied meanings that aren't directly stated but can be logically pieced together from context clues. Mastering this skill builds analytical muscles.
  4. Context Clues - When stumbling upon unfamiliar terms, leverage surrounding words and sentences to deduce probable definitions. This progressively builds vocabulary.
  5. Vocalize the Material - Reading aloud can heighten focus and solidify accurate pronunciation. The auditory experience reinforces retention.
  6. Revisit Tricky Areas - When difficulty arises, re-read relevant sections slowly and carefully, noting main concepts. Breaking it down facilitates comprehension.
  7. Take Mental Breaks - Let your mind refresh with short breaks during lengthy reading assignments to maintain sharp concentration.
  8. Discuss and Explain - Conversing with others about the texts verbalizes your thought pathways, clarifying and solidifying takeaways.
  9. Bridge Concepts - Link reading topics to personal experiences and prior knowledge to integrate new information within existing frameworks.
  10. Self-Test for Memory - After reading, quiz yourself on pivotal points. Retrieving the details & main ideas really amplifies retention.

The Importance of Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is the cornerstone of effective reading, essential for personal, educational, and professional success. It involves not just reading words but interpreting, extracting meaning, and applying insights across various contexts. 

It's a critical skill for students, enabling them to understand complex texts and assignments and navigate scholarly arguments, improving their academic experience.

Retaining information assists with clear communication, informed decision-making, and proficient task execution in the professional realm, where misunderstandings can hinder progress. In our daily lives, bombarded with information from various sources, strong reading comprehension helps us navigate the world, understand diverse perspectives, and make sense of the data that surrounds us.

FAQs: How to Improve Reading Comprehension

If you still have questions about retaining information that you’ve read, check out these frequently asked questions.

1. Is It Possible to Improve Reading Comprehension?

Yes, reading comprehension is a skill that can be improved with regular practice. By learning to read effectively, individuals can build skills that help enhance their reading comprehension over time​​.

2. How Long Does It Take to Improve Reading Comprehension?

While you can double your reading speed in just a few hours or weeks with intense practice, it takes consistent effort over months or years to master reading comprehension. Setting small goals, like increasing focused reading time weekly and expanding vocabulary, leads to gradual but lasting gains.

3. Why Is My Reading Comprehension Poor?

Poor reading comprehension could be a result of difficult text, conditions like ADHD or dyslexia, a limited vocabulary, and a working memory deficit. A lack of interest in the material can also lead to comprehension difficulties​​.

4. What Is the Best Way to Improve Reading Comprehension?

Having a strong vocabulary is the best way to improve reading comprehension. Consistently learn new words, use flashcards, read diverse texts, and use context clues to determine true meaning.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to improve reading comprehension is a journey that requires commitment, patience, and persistence over time. While reading fluency can improve rapidly, grasping nuance and depth emerges slowly through years of diverse reading across an array of topics, texts, and vocabulary.

Tailor and practice these methods based on your needs and interests. When progress seems distant, stay positive and focused on small consistent gains that add up. Although results demand perseverance, the end result unlocks entire worlds of knowledge otherwise unattainable. This makes all the hard work worthwhile.

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