5 Reading Comprehension Strategies That Work

Whether you’re a student studying for an exam or a working adult processing a pile of reports, adopting reading comprehension strategies that work is critical to your success. To make the most of your time, it is vital that you work smarter, not just harder.  Adopting the following habits will immediately help you decide what you should read, improve your understanding and your recall of what you do read, and maximize your total effectiveness.

Strategy #1: Decide on your reading goal.

Establishing what YOU need to get from your reading before you begin is perhaps the most important strategy of all. Are you trying to find a specific bit of information, understand a concept, or just get the gist of an argument? While some situations demand that you read something from cover to cover, others will not justify such an effort. Deciding what you want to get from your reading first will help you quickly figure out when to dig in and when to move on to something else.

Strategy #2: Pre-read with a purpose.

Be sure to first read the title, chapter headings, and/or the table of contents before starting. Read any brief summaries that might also be provided. Spending just a few minutes pre-reading will help you figure out the author’s aims and whether the material meets your current needs. Just as importantly, this pre-reading will also help you build the “mental map” you need to comprehend and later recall the material. 

Strategy #3: Read actively, not passively.

Many readers simply read the words on a page without actively attending to the text. This is a big mistake. To improve your comprehension, be sure to ask questions about the reading and the author’s intent as you go through the text.  For example, asking questions such as “Is the author trying to build an argument here?” or even “Why is this passage important?” will help you stay mentally focused on the text and attentive to the author’s intent.

Strategy #4: Highlight and lookup words you do not understand.

Knowing the meaning of the words you come across is obviously critical to reading comprehension.  Of course, taking the time to highlight and lookup unknown words might slow you down a bit in the beginning. However, it will also immediately improve your understanding and thus the effectiveness of your reading. Best of all, it will substantially increase your vocabulary in no time. A bigger vocabulary will boost your reading speed and your comprehension for everything else you ever read.

Strategy #5: Summarize what you have read in your own words.

Using your own words to summarize passages, chapters, and articles accomplishes two things. First, it serves as way of testing yourself by providing clear feedback on what you understood, what you remembered, and what you didn’t. Second, it also helps you expand your “mental map” of the text, further boosting your comprehension and recall.


Remember, it’s not what you get through that matters, but what gets through to you. Following these five reading comprehension strategies provides the basis for dramatically improving your comprehension and making the most of your reading time. 

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