Reading Comprehension

5 Ways To Improve Reading Comprehension

Image courtesy of Isadore Weiner/Illinois State Museum

Written by Vincent Kovar

We’ve all had that sensation of reading a selection of text then, only moments later, not remember anything we’ve just read. Sometimes we can read something over and over but never really feel like we “get it.”

Reading comprehension is crucial for every profession and lifestyle. Whether you’re reading a repair manual or the latest business best-seller, comprehension tools add value to the time spent over the page.

Here are 5 quick strategies for increasing your reading comprehension, remembering material and sparking new ideas.

Pre-reading predictions

Before reading the article or chapter, create a three column chart.

In the left-hand column, write down everything you think that the reading will cover and what conclusions it will arrive at. Look at the title, the abstract or summary (if included) and the chapter or section headings. Do some quick online research about the writer and try to get a picture of the shape of his or her ideas. Make your list of predictions as detailed as you can including what topics the writer will introduce and what evidence they might present.

Read the text over once and make notations of what the writer actually included in the middle column.

Compare and contrast the predictions in the first two columns of your chart. What was new, different or unexpected? Try to explain the differences between the first two columns in the third column.

Chunk summaries

As you read, try to boil each paragraph down to 1-2 sentences (grammar doesn’t count here) written in your own words. Once you have finished a section or sub-section, summarize your summaries for that entire chunk before going on to the next.

Compare your summaries with those of a classmate. As the old saying goes, “four eyes are better than two.” Do you agree or disagree on the meaning of each paragraph?

Make notes of unanswered questions and either bring them to class or post them in the class forum for discussion and further study.

3-step post reading review

After you’ve read the entire chapter or article, create a 3-step review.

  • step one: write a summary of 100-150 words that describes what the author said in the selection. What was his or her thesis? Use the short paragraph-by-paragraph chunk-summaries to guide you. In other words, make an abstract of what the writer set out to tell you.
  • step two: jot down another 100-150 words that describes why this material is important. Think about why it was important to the author. Also write down why it was important to you personally. Is it important to the planet or a specific community? What are the consequences of ignoring this information? What are the risks of adopting the author’s viewpoint?
  • step three: determine how the author structured their writing. What type of reasoning did he or she use: cause-effect, model building, induction/deduction, or deconstruction? What types of rhetorical techniques did the writer use to convince you the thesis is correct? Which parts rely on ethos (ethics)? Which parts are mostly pathos (emotional appeal) and which parts are logos (logical)?

Describe the reading to someone else

Using your own words, describe what you’ve been reading to a family member, friend or classmate. Use all the materials you created so far to help you but use language and ideas that you think your listener will best understand.

Include any thoughts that start popping into your mind and discuss how the information has an impact on your life. Or, if the information does not affect you in any way, theorize why not and what it would take for that subject to have benefits or consequences in your life.

Make a mind-map

One of the best ways to cement a set of ideas and thoughts in your mind is to translate it into a different medium or shape. Pour all your summaries, thoughts and reactions into a graphical map. You don’t need to write everything down in detail, just include enough notes so that you understand the relationship that each piece of information has to other pieces. There are many shapes of graphical maps try a few different ones and notice which work best for you and which work best for various kinds of information.

The best news is that even if you use all five techniques described here, it really won’t take more time than other forms of study. Improving your reading skills will make the overall experience both faster and more enjoyable.

Vincent Kovar is a writer, instructor, editor, and entrepreneur based in Seattle, Washington. An Adjunct Faculty member at both Antioch University and the University of Phoenix, Vincent writes about online colleges for

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