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Reading Comprehension

The phrase reading comprehension refers to how much a reader understands a passage or text. For typical reading rates of approximately 200-220 words per minute, people usually aim to comprehend above 75%. Reading comprehension involves not only technical reading skills, such as knowing language rules, punctuation, and vocabulary, but it also includes a holistic ability to grasp the text wholly by connecting ideas and making inferences.

Different people have difference needs when it comes to reading comprehension. A person who likes to read light fiction novels for fun has significantly different needs than a scientist who needs to read highly technical reports stuffed with important information.

Additionally, different texts can post different levels of difficulty for reading comprehension. For example, a philosophy text may require that even the most intellectual and avid readers reread the text and contemplate it in order to comprehend it.

A person can improve his or her reading comprehension through many methods. Of course, practice makes perfect, and reading itself trains the mind more than anything. Other methods of improvement include:

  • ~ training the ability to self assess comprehension
  • ~ actively testing comprehension with questionnaires
  • ~ teaching conceptual and linguistic knowledge
  • ~ improving met cognition

One can self-assess their reading comprehension by summarizing a text after reading it. Additionally, discussing the text and answering elaborate questions about it will also help a person assess their reading comprehension. With practice, those skills will steadily develop.

The education of schoolchildren often involves some focus on reading comprehension. In the United States, the No Child Left Behind Act mandates high-stakes testing of students' reading comprehension skills. Effective reading comprehension results from the mastering of literacy skills including phonics, fluency, and vocabulary. The government expects public schools to build these skills as illustrated by the reading skills pyramid.

When informed that their children need to build reading comprehension skills, many parents do not know how to do it. Talking to children about what they read can help them learn to comprehend the text in addition to just recognizing the words.

Reading comprehension skills divide active readers from passive, unskilled readers. Skilled readers do not merely read, but they also interact with the text. One can help a beginning reader understand this difference by showing them the types of inner-dialogues readers have while reading.

For example, skilled readers do the following:

  • Predict what will happen next in a story using clues presented in text
  • Connect the events in the text to prior experience or knowledge
  • Create questions about the main idea, message, or plot of the text
  • Clarify parts of the text which have confused them
  • Monitor understanding of the sequence, context, or characters

We hope this article answered all of your questions about reading comprehension. If you have any remaining questions, or if you have any comments or suggestions, please post them in our Book and Reading Forums.