10 Tips To Develop Your Reading Comprehension Skills

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 30 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Comprehension is an essential aspect of any type of communication, including nonverbal methods like reading. Extracting the meaning of a text and understanding what you read makes for an enjoyable reading experience. Improving your reading comprehension skills by changing how you read and implement certain reading strategies can make this activity easier. In this article, we explore what reading comprehension skills are and discuss ways to improve them.

What are reading comprehension skills?

Reading comprehension skills help you process texts, understand its meaning and integrate it with what you already know. For a literary text, this can mean reading the story through different perspectives, while for a scientific text this can imply envisioning the practical applications of a theory. Comprehension is an intentional and active part of reading and takes place before, during and after you read something. Being an effective reader usually improves the following skills or abilities:

  • knowing the meaning of words

  • learning unfamiliar words from the discourse context

  • following the organisation or logical sequence of a passage

  • identifying and understanding grammar

  • drawing inferences about the contents of a passage

  • answering questions raised by the text

  • recognising the literary devices

  • understanding propositional structures used to determine tone

  • understanding the situational mood in a text

  • identifying the central idea

  • summarising information

  • determining the writer's purpose, intent and opinion

Related: 10 Ways To Improve Your English Communication Skills

Ways to develop reading comprehension skills

To make reading a more engaging experience and maximise the knowledge you gain, you can follow these 10 strategies:

Increase your vocabulary and knowledge of writing styles

Reading text with unfamiliar words can make comprehension more challenging, but can also be an excellent learning opportunity. This is a technical skill you can improve by increasing your vocabulary. You can use a dictionary to cross-check every time you encounter an unknown word. If you are ready for more rigorous effort, you can take online vocabulary quizzes, use flashcards and maintain a journal to record all the new words you learn.

You can also familiarise yourself with new writing styles to improve reading comprehension skills. The way authors use language in the books on different subjects varies, as does the way each writer writes. For example, books about commerce and finances use some specific jargon and usually employ terse and mechanical language, while literature books abound in more imaginative writing styles. Both styles differ from our day-to-day use of language. The best way to familiarise yourself with a writing style is to read more books in that style.

Related: 4 Types Of Writing Styles And 12 Tips For Improving Yours

Scan the text and ask questions

As you read longer or more complex texts, it is even more necessary to read through and understand everything thoroughly, because such texts are usually full of information. In such cases, it is useful to scan the text first to gather the most essential information quickly.

After the first read, you can improve your understanding of what the text is about and its main message. This is a good time to ask questions to understand the text in more depth and focus on it more intensely. When you read the text thoroughly for the second time, you are likely to gain further insight. Reading it a few more times can clarify any text, no matter how complicated it seems in the beginning.

Build your working memory

Building up your concentration skills can greatly boost your comprehension abilities. It keeps you free from distractions and makes it easier to understand something after reading it just once. Your attention allows you to receive information from the text and your working memory helps you retain that information and use it to gain meaning and build knowledge.

To develop your working memory or short-term memory registration, you can separate portions of information into smaller sections and jot down the important points you learn as you are reading. Another strategy is to practise working memory skills and experiment with various ways of remembering information and reduce multitasking. Underlining, highlighting and taking notes in the margins can also help improve your working memory.

Use visualisation

Visualisation is a brilliant technique to help consolidate what you have just learnt and transfer it from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. This works for both scientific and literary texts.

For example, when you are reading a scientific text that explains a complex process, such as the working of an engine, it helps to visualise each individual component of the explanation and create a metal image of how an engine works. The same principle applies to literary texts. You can envision the scenery and situations to imagine the world of the story the writer has described.

Write down a summary

A tactful approach to testing and developing your comprehension is to write a summary of what you have read. A summary is essentially your version of the text in a condensed form. Summarising requires you to decide what is important in the text and then put it in your own words. Restating the main ideas can help you see the text in a language that makes the most sense to you. It allows you to determine if you truly understand what you have read and better remember the information in the long term.

Related: How To Write An Introduction (With Tips And Examples)

Make a story map

This applies specifically to long or complex stories where you can benefit from organising the plot structure and sequence of events to remember them more easily. Although it serves a similar purpose as a summary does, a story map is a graphic representation that is more easily scannable. To make a story map, you can draw several boxes where you graphically organise the characters, plot, setting, important events, themes, problems and solutions in the story. You can make bullet points to list the relevant details in each box. This can help you identify the most essential aspects of a story at a glance.

Synthesise and make connections

Deep reading and comprehension involve going beyond the surface level of meaning and arriving at your own analysis of the text. It is necessary to connect ideas within and between sentences, paragraphs and chapters to arrive at a deeper understanding. Try to make a connection by relating a passage to an experience, another book or facts. This also includes making inferences or understanding what the author is not stating explicitly.

Reading comprehension involves assessing both textual and sub-textual meaning. Try to understand the implied meaning by carefully considering each sentence or paragraph. To do this, you can compare and analyse multiple ideas from various texts. This helps you draw conclusions, understand how they relate to each other and evaluate ways one text may differ from the rest.

Related: How To Develop Your Skill Set: A Complete Guide

Explain to someone else

Retelling a story or explaining a concept to someone else requires great comprehension of the subject. Comprehension is further enhanced by the practise of retelling. When you retell, you present your own version of the text in a way that makes it easily understandable to someone else. This involves analysing the content, determining what is important and drawing your own conclusions. As you explain what you read to another person, they may ask questions that can help you better understand your own comprehension of the text.

Read in a group or with a partner

When you read the same text with multiple people, all of them can present their own inputs and viewpoints on the subject. Similarly, when you read with a partner, it can provide time for in-depth discussions.

This promotes critical and aesthetic analysis and creates higher-level thinking opportunities. It can show you multiple ways of looking at a text which can further inspire you to think a little differently when you read a similar text next time. Reading with a partner or as a group activity can be more exciting and increase your interest in the text, which is one of the most essential factors for reading comprehension.

Make reading a habit

Regular reading can help you concentrate, which improves your comprehension skills. Like all habits, you can develop this one slowly and increase the pace as you become a proficient reader. Set realistic goals that you know you can meet each day, week or month. For example, you might start with a few pages per day and gradually increase your capacity for reading. This allows you to reach your goals and provides adequate time for you to process what you are reading between each session.

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