understand their meaning in the context of the sentence? Are you mystified at the end of a paragraph or
chapter? Improving your reading comprehension will help your time spent reading be more productive
When you read take time to thoroughly understand the material so that you can retain the information for
the long term. Here are the first 5 of 10 tips that will help you improve your reading comprehension.
Diligently use these tips each time you read. Eventually they will become habits and your reading
comprehension will continue to improve.
Before you delve into the material take time to look at what you are getting into. Look at titles,
subheadings, chapters and bold or bulleted text. Keep the type of material you are reading in mind.
Newspaper articles, scientific studies, novels and textbooks should all be approached accordingly.
When you are approaching a text book, look for questions often found at the end of chapters, charts,
diagrams, pictures and figures. Scientific studies may offer an abstract or a conclusion that you could
read first. Articles may have subtitles and captions. When beginning a novel you can look at the table of
You are trying to grasp what the author wants you to know by the time you are done reading the material.
Hints and clues you that you will glean from scanning the material before you delve in will help you focus
your reading and know where you are going from the start. If you have a handle on the material before
you start, the concepts may not feel quite so foreign as you read.
2) Write Questions
After you have scanned the material, write down questions you expect the material to provide answers
for. Write down any question you may have about the topic and any questions that your pre-reading
Keep these questions near you as you read. You may want to write down the answers you discover along
the way. You may also want to add to your question list. Write down concepts or ideas that are
challenging and confusing and look for clues in the text that will help you understand these concepts.
3) Slow Down
Now that you have done some preparation it is time to delve in and read. Try to remove any distractions
that will keep you from focusing on the material. Interruptions such as phones, email or social media may
disturb your train of thought and you will have a more difficulties following the material. As you read, go
slow. It can be a temptation to hurry through the material so that you will have more time for other
activities or even more reading. However, if you don’t grasp the material you are reading, your fast
reading will be useless. There is no shame in going slow, especially when it helps you understand the
concepts, ideas, plots and conclusions being presented.
At every natural break in the text, perhaps a chapter or even a page turn, ask yourself, “What did I just
read?” If you can’t remember, you are going too fast. Go back and reread the material. Work to focus on
what is happening in the text. Take notes, highlight material, jot down characters and use the questions
you have already developed.
Don’t put your brain on auto pilot as you read. Slow down, remove distractions and engage with the text.
4) Read with a Dictionary
Don’t let vocabulary get in the way of your reading comprehension. Technology makes this tip especially
easy. Learning new words is as simple as typing them in on your smart phone, or clicking on them if you
are using an e-reader. If you prefer the paper method, keep a pocket dictionary with you while you read.
Every time you come across an unfamiliar word, make a guess at what it means according to the context.
After you have guessed, look up the word. Was your guess correct? If it was wrong, did the meaning of
the sentence or even the paragraph change once you understood the meaning of the word? Add these
new words and their definitions to your notes. As your vocabulary expands your ability to comprehend
material will improve.
5) Use your learning style
Everyone learns a little differently. Some people learn by listening, others by moving, still others by
visualizing. Read according to your learning style to understand and retain the most information from the
material. Auditory learners should consider reading out loud. Kinesthetic learners may want to have quiet
music playing in the background or place the material on top of a backdrop of a solid, bright color. If you
are a visual learner, draw pictures or diagrams of the material you working through. Not everyone
naturally learns and retains new information through reading. Find a way to make reading fit into your
Improve As You Go
Ultimately, the first five tips focus on slowing down. Before you start, think about where the text will be
going. Take time to ask and answer questions. Pay attention as you read and be aware when you are no
longer focused on the text. Use your dictionary to add to your vocabulary and use methods for reading
that are most comfortable for you. Eliminate distractions in your reading space and be mindful only of the
material in front of you.
As you practice each of these tips they will begin to feel more natural each time you approach a new text.
Reading comprehension skills have a tendency to build on one another, so with a little effort you can
make vast improvements quickly. When you take time to comprehend the material you will be truly
learning the material that you are reading rather than just consuming it. We will discuss five more tips for
learning and understanding new material in the next post. These tips will help you draw conclusions,
retain information and communicate it to others.
St. Louis University Student Success Center