How to strengthen your reading comprehension

  • Analyze the time and place in which you are reading - If you've been reading or studying for several hours, mental fatigue may be the source of the problem.  If you are reading in a place with distractions or interruptions, you might not be able to understand what you're reading.
  • Rephrase each paragraph in your own words - You might need to approach complicated material sentence by sentence, expressing each in your own words.
  • Read aloud sentences or sections that are particularly difficult - Reading out loud sometimes makes complicated material easier to understand.
  • Reread difficult or complicated sections - At times, in fact, several readings are appropriate and necessary.
  • Slow down your reading rate - On occasion, simply reading more slowly and carefully will provide you with the needed boost in comprehension.
  • Turn headings into questions - Refer to these questions frequently and jot down or underline answers.
  • Write a brief outline of major points - This will help you see the overall organization and progression of ideas.
  • Highlight key ideas - After you've read a section, go back and think about and highlight what is important.  Highlighting forces you to sort out what is important, and this sorting process builds comprehension and recall.
  • Write notes in the margins - Explain or rephrase difficult or complicated ideas or sections.
  • Determine whether you lack background knowledge - Comprehension is difficult, at times, and it is impossible, if you lack essential information that the writer assumes you have.

Suppose you are reading a section of a political science text in which the author describes implications of the balance of power in the Third World.  If you do not understand the concept of balance of power, your comprehension will break down.  When you lack background information, take immediate steps to correct the problem:

  • Consult other sections of your text, using the glossary and index.
  • Obtain more basic text that reviews fundamental principles and concepts.
  • Consult reference materials.
  • Ask your instructor to recommend additional sources or review texts.
- McWhorten, Kathleen T. College Reading & Study Skills, 7th Edition.