Comprehension can be a challenge when you are facing material that contains concepts that you have never encountered before.
In the first post we discussed some tips that you can use as you get starting reading. The first five tips will
prepare you to grasp the meaning of the texts you are delving into. They include pre-reading, developing
questions, reading slowly, defining unfamiliar words, and incorporating your learning style into your
reading methods. If you haven’t read that post yet, start there.
These next five tips discuss how you can engage with the material while you are reading and how you
can instill it in your mind after you are finished with the material. If you have problems understanding or
remembering new concepts after you have read them, try these next five tips to help you better
comprehend and remember texts you have read.
6) Make a Map
As you read, draw out maps. Maps will allow you see the material in a new way. Family trees are a fun
way to map out characters and relationships. You can write out details about characters and how they
relate to others as the author develops them. Timelines can help you keep track of dates and significant
events. Mind maps will help you visualize how different topics connect and what facts or arguments
support main ideas.
Maps will help you have a reference as you continue reading so that you can keep complex material
sorted out. Making maps also demands that you engage with the text on a deeper level. You cannot skim
the surface when you need to make a map. Your brain will be required to synthesize the material and
make important connections, observations and conclusions. Colorful interpretations of otherwise plain text
may also help you understand and remember the material. Visual learners will especially benefit from
making colorful maps of new concepts and ideas.
7) Answer Your Questions
Before you began reading you wrote questions you expected the material to address. Did you find the
answers? Did you develop new questions? Write down what you discovered as you read. Sometimes
texts may give you nice, neat answers, while other texts may introduce concepts and ideas that evoke
new questions. The act of writing down questions and searching for answers will also help you engage
with the material. Actively looking for answers will help your brain synthesize and comprehend material as
At the end of each chapter, article and entire text try to write a brief outline of the material. What were the
main ideas and what were the arguments that supported them? In the case of a fiction work write out the
conflict, climax and resolution. For scientific studies outline the hypothesis, the methods and the
conclusions. Requiring you brain to immediately recall and layout the material in an organized manner will
help you discern whether or not you grasped the material. If you cannot remember enough to make a
simple outline, than you should go back and work through the text again.
The best way to know whether or not you have grasped the material that you have read is to explain it to
a friend. Can you explain the main point and how the facts and arguments presented supported that
point? Describe the plot of a story, explain main events and recreate key characters for your friend.
Describe what you learned about the world from an article you read. Do you have any new hypotheses
after reading a study? The more you can tell your friends about the material and help them understand,
the more you will be certain that you understood the material yourself.
Reworking through the material right away will also help solidify important details in your memory that you
will use in the future. You may even want to consider reading especially perplexing passages out loud.
Discussing them with a friend or even group of people may help you grasp the information.
Speaking the new ideas and concepts out loud will also help auditory learners engage with the material in
a way the is more meaningful than only reading the text.
If you have followed all ten tips, you should have extensive notes that contain questions and answers,
maps, new vocabulary words and outlines. These materials will continue to be invaluable. If you need to
retain this information for a future exam, paper, or presentation, you have a wealth of notes to help you
recall important information. You can review your notes regularly to keep the material fresh in your mind.
When you review in small chunks, rather than cram material into your head in a single sitting it will stick
with you longer. Regularly review the new information you have taken in so that you will have it to draw on
as you continue to learn.
More Than Understanding
Comprehension is about more than understanding as you read. It is about engaging with new concepts
and ideas and learning something new. Comprehension is about retaining the new ideas you have
learned and incorporating them into your knowledge base. Reading deeply will help expand your mind,
make new connections and understand the world in new ways. The more you read, comprehend and
retain, the more tools you will have as you engage with more texts, concepts and ideas.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do to improve your comprehension is to keep reading. Read often.
Read different types of material. Engage with non-fiction, get lost in a novel, read a newspaper, pick up a
scientific journal, find a literary magazine, and revel in poetry. Expand your comfort level and learn how to
interpret and understand different genres and texts. The more you read, the more you will comprehend.
Use these ten tips for reading comprehension to move beyond just reading and into learning.
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