How to Improve Reading Comprehension

Reading is all about information. It’s not about the number of words you read, but the amount of value you extract from them. The key to improved reading comprehension isn’t moving your eyes across a page more quickly. It’s about creating a mental framework that helps you process words and ideas.

With a bit of practice, anyone can read faster and more productively. The steps outlined below will help you to extract the maximum amount of information in the least amount of time.

The Pre-Reading survey

Nearly all speed reading courses recommend doing a pre-reading survey. The purpose is to gain a better understanding of the content and structure of the material. You’d be amazed how often people read through an entire book, only to realize that the information they need isn’t there. Pre-reading will make your reading more efficient by creating a mental map.

Start by reading the table of contents and the first page of the introduction. Then flip quickly through the material, reading only chapter titles, headings, and bold face print. Don’t worry about remembering anything specific, it’s more important to get a general impression.

The entire process should take less than 5 minutes. Afterwards you’ll know the layout of the book and the location of different topics. If you’re only interested in one particular section, you now know where to find it.

Define Your Purpose

Now that you have a general grasp of the material, you need to define a purpose. What information are you hoping to gain? This sounds like a simple question, but sometimes it isn’t. Different readers can have drastically different objectives. If you don’t define a purpose, it’s likely you’ll get bogged down by unimportant sections or ignore crucial ones. By clarifying what you need to know, you’ll be able to distinguish the important from the irrelevant and allocate your attention accordingly.

Create questions the reading should answer

In addition to a general purpose, it’s also helpful to write down specific questions. This focuses your mind on a set of objectives and gives you a way to measure comprehension. By writing down questions, you create a set of mental cues. Whenever you spot an important keyword in the text, you’ll become aware of the question it relates to and your mind will start looking for an answer.

Take notes or highlight important concepts

One of the best ways to embed something in your memory is to write it down. When you read an important point, make a note of it on a separate piece of paper, inside the margin, or use a highlighter. This will help you remember what you read and make the important sections easy to find when you review the text.

The post-reading review

After you finish reading, you need to determine what you learned. Did you achieve your purpose? Try to answer the questions you created beforehand. If you aren’t able to answer them, go back and look for answers near your notes. This process will solidify the knowledge in your mind and give you better recall. You’ll know what you learned, what you didn’t, and whether or not you need to go deeper into the text or look for other sources.

Image by zinkwazi.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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