How to improve your reading and comprehension

How to read properly!

You probably think that you are a good reader but there are different ways of reading, dependent upon the task you are working on.  The following gives you a picture of the different ways we read.




This is when you read through a text quickly so that you get the general idea of what it contains.  You do not need to know all the details in the text.  It gives you an OVERVIEW of the text.


Again, you are reading quickly, but this time you will be looking for specific information. For example, you may have been asked to find out the ages of the characters in a story. This is where you will scan the text.


You will read the text slowly and accurately.  This will help you to think about the structure, purpose, content and tone of the text.


What to do when you read.


q  Inspect


Check the title, the contents page, the index, the writing style, the details on the back cover. Flick through to get the feel of the book. Do you want to read it? Do you need to read it?

q  Scan rapidly


Scan the page. Which key words leap out at you? You may sense the ‘pattern’ of the argument or the general subject matter. Is information organised in a way that helps you? What can you pick up from section headings, diagrams, the first lines of paragraphs, and conclusions to chapters and text?

q  Question


Keep asking questions. What am I trying to find out? What do I need to know? Exactly which parts do I need to read?


q  Locate specifics quickly


To find a specific piece of information quickly, use the index. Go straight to the right page. Move your eye quickly down the page to find what you are looking for.

q  Read at the right speed


Read at the appropriate speed for the task. This may be fast for case studies, novels and well-developed arguments, and slowly for texts which condense detailed information into short passages or use unfamiliar specialist vocabulary. As you become more familiar with the ideas and vocabulary used, your speed will increase.

q  Recall and review


Check that you understand what you have read. What is the basic argument or idea? Does the text answer your questions? Are you convinced by the evidence and the arguments offered?

How does what you have read relate to what you already knew? Does it confirm or challenge your views? What else do you need to find out?


Do you

§  understand most of what you read?

§  know how much you understand?

§  understand uninteresting material?

§  know how to improve your comprehension?

If you answered “no” to one or more of these questions, try to improve your comprehension by using one of the following methods.

a)    Read a few sentences then stop.  Without looking back at the text, sum up what you have read in just a few words.  Say these words aloud, or jot them down.

b)    Write down specific questions to guide your reading.  The clearer you are about what you are trying to discover, the easier it is to find it all in the text.

c)    Don’t panic.  There will be times when you do need to read some passages at a slower rate.

d)    On your own book or a photocopy, underline what you think is the relevant information.  Look especially at headings, and first and last sentences of paragraphs.

e)    Use different colours for different kinds of information.

f)      Relax, reading comprehension is improved when the body is relaxed.



Understanding is the most important aspect of reading, but you will find it helpful if you can also improve your reading speed.


Ø  Find something familiar to read

Ø  Set the alarm for 10 minutes

Ø  Read for 10 minutes at a speed where you understand what you read

Ø  Count how many words you read

Ø  Divide this number by 10 to find out how many words you can read in a minute

Ø  Do this using different texts.  If you read less than 200 – 250 words per minute, it is worth trying to increase your speed.


Do you:

q  1. Track with your finger along the line?

q  2. Read out loud or mouth the words?

q  3. Read books from cover to cover?

q  4. Start reading before you have worked out what you need to know, or what you are looking for?

q  5. Read word by word?

q  6. Keep checking back along the line, rereading what you have just read?

q  7. Find that the words seem to jump up off the page or that the text moves or glares?

For each of these problems, there is something you can do to improve matters.

1.    Move your finger down the page, directly from top to bottom, to train your eye to move more quickly down the text.

2.    Try reading silently, it can help speed up your reading.

3.    Work out what you are looking for before you start reading.

4.    Work out what you are looking for before you start reading.

5.    If a text looks difficult, try reading something simpler on the same subject.  Often, a little background knowledge can help.

6.    Coloured filters may help glare and “jumping”. Try out different colours.  Have your eyes tested.  Ask the teacher for a larger photocopy.

There are times when you do have to read slowly; for detailed instructions, for formulae and equations, and for close analysis of texts.
ACTIVITY   How do you read?

Give students a short paper to read.  The paper should be conventional in that it has an introduction, elaboration and a conclusion.

1.    Give readers 10 minutes to read the paper, BUT, interrupt them after 3, and ask them to indicate what the paper is about.

2.    In pairs, ask students to discuss briefly what they have found out. (5 minutes)

3.    Individually, students continue reading, taking notes, underlining, annotating if they wish.

4.    In pairs, students highlight the main issues.

5.    In fours, students explain to each other:

o   How they read the paper

o   Why they read it that way

o   Why they took notes

o   How did they take notes (underlining, annotating etc)

6.    Students report between groups on how they could get the most information out of the text in the shortest time.


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