There is nothing more frustrating than working our way through a drab, boring reading assignment that has been unfairly burdened upon us by our teacher overlords.
We know for a fact that Mrs. Burkowitz is going to call us out on whether or not the hero of the story, Jim, did the right thing in chapter 6 when he told the white lie to Brittany to protect her from the horrible truth that her best friend, Tina, had been talking smack behind her back.
It’s even worse when it’s non-fiction. Reading about the growth of rock formations over the millennia can be as exciting as listening to Mr. Gronen go on and on about his old football career which “would have ended with me going to the NFL if it weren’t for the rest of the team blowing the lead in the final quarter of the state game!”
Our reading comprehension fails for multiple reasons:
- The writing is boring
- The story isn’t engaging
- We just aren’t interested in the text
- The text is beyond our understanding
- We just lose energy and don’t give the effort to understand
However, no one can argue that our ability to comprehend what we read in a deep and correct manner isn’t extremely important.
The good news is we can take steps if we see ourselves slipping and take an active effort to retain what we read so that when Mrs. Burkowitz throws us that tough question with that villainous smirk, we can show her who’s boss.
1) Start with getting into the habit of reading often
If you want to be good at running, you’ve gotta run often. If you’ve been interested in making the cross country team, you’ve gotta push yourself in those running workouts. The same goes for reading.
You’re not going to significantly improve in your ability to comprehend what you read unless you are reading often. You have to build up the reading experience over time, reading different authors, genres, and medias.
You don’t have to start with the hard texts. Start by reading for pleasure. Find your favorite author and get into a comfy spot on the couch and read a bit each reading session.
How often should you be reading? If you aren’t already a frequent reader, start small. 3 hours a week will be enough to start. The important thing is to build a schedule of reading and stick to it. Building up this initial habit will help you when you need to build the others.
2) Build your vocabulary
As you are reading, take note of certain words that you either do not recognize or don’t understand how they’ve been used in the context. Sometimes that particular word isn’t even important in the overall story, but taking the time to stop, take note, and learn that word later will help build our vocabulary over time.
A varied and deep vocabulary helps not only with reading comprehension, but writing and speaking as well. You can impress your friends by dropping some fancy lingo (or get made fun of, who knows) or woo a possible love interest with distinct and precise dialect.
A robust vocabulary will be a great asset to any text you may be reading, but will especially help in difficult non-fiction texts, where understanding the lexicon used is essential to comprehending the text as a whole.
3) Recognize your own reading tendencies
I notice something whenever I try to read. After about 30 minutes I begin to let my mind wander and while I’m still working my way through the text, none of the information is being retained. This continues for several pages when I finally snap out of thinking about what I’m going to get at the grocery store and realize what I’ve been doing.
We all have our own skill set which either aids or hinders our ability to focus on what we are reading. I know some people who have no problem with reading comprehension because they have such a great imagination they are able to “jump into” any book they read and get hooked. They are emotionally invested and don’t need as much as a push to pay attention.
However, this same person finds themselves bored out of their minds when it comes to non-fiction, which I happen to find extremely interesting. I tend to find my mind wandering more with fiction as I have a tendency to believe what I’m reading may be “filler” and not essential to the story.
After you’ve been reading for some time you should take the time to recognize any tendencies you have when reading. Do you have a “time limit” in which you begin to lose interest? Do you skip over certain parts believing them to be boring and hoping to get to the juicy bits? Do you find you need to read something twice to really “get it?”
Analyze your own reading ability. This will allow you to target those areas which you can improve.
4) Deliberately practice on improving reading ability
You now have an idea of your strengths and weaknesses. Now you need to focus on improvement.
Try to build your reading “stamina.” If you lose focus in 20 minutes, set a timer for 30 minutes and try to dig in to the text until you hear the buzzer. This is a tough step as deliberate attempts to improve our current level of skill take a toll on our energy, motivation, and emotions.
However, if you’ve been getting into the habit of reading, building your vocabulary, and learning to pay attention to how you read, then this step will come easier.
The key here is to deliberately focus on improvement. Just reading a harder text in the same fashion you did as before will result in no significant difference in skill.
To run better times you have to push yourself to improve your pace.
5) Eventually work up to harder texts
Now that you’ve built up the ability to comprehend what you are currently reading, you should take these new skills and apply them to tougher texts. Not only will you get even more information out of the higher-level texts, but you will be able to discuss and think about the ideas in them in a more advanced degree.
Your mental life will become enriched through the ability to deeply comprehend even the toughest of texts. This is a goal that even the best readers still try to attain.
Mix up your reading sessions with a healthy balance of tough texts and purely-for-pleasure books. Challenge yourself every once in a while with something that tests your ability to comprehend. Over time your focus and stamina will greatly improve.
I’m always interested in improving my ability to read. Whether it’s through reading faster, reading harder texts, or bettering my ability to comprehend the reading, I have an utmost interest in getting better.
No matter where you start, you can improve your reading comprehension by following these steps. The key is being honest about your start point and not taking on a challenge that frustrates you to the point of quitting right off the bat.
So whether you are a high school student trying to better understand Shakespeare so you can pass the next test or a middle-aged lifelong learner who wants to learn more about what it means to be wise, the skill of reading comprehension is important and can be improved if you work at it a bit.