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Reading comprehension

How to improve reading comprehension 


Learning how to reader faster is less important than improving reading comprehension. What is important when reading is understanding and being able to recall and apply learnt information when required. The time it takes to read the information is irrelevant. You can read quickly, but it you are not able to remember what you have read then quicker is not better.

There are many speed reading programs that focus on speed rather than comprehension and people are measuring comprehension using the wrong criteria.

There are three separate levels of reading comprehension. Understanding the differences between the levels is part of learning to improve reading comprehension.

Reading comprehension - Literal learning

The first level of reading comprehension is the literal stage. Literal learning is reading the exact text printed on the page. Often this is basic information that needs to be understood. It could be about people, places, things and their actions. Statistical and other rote learnt information is included in this category. While you may be able to recall the information, it does not necessarily mean that you understand what you have read. Many people read by memorising words without truly understanding the significance of the information.

Reading comprehension - Implied learning

The second stage is the implied learning level. This requires more complex thinking on the part of the reader. Implied information is not written into the text.  Instead the author presumes that you have some understanding of the information presented and can make conclusions for yourself. For example, if you were to read in a book that a donkey had a long black tail then the author has made several assumptions. They presume that you know what the words donkey, long, black and tail mean. Writers cannot be expected to define what every word means, otherwise the document would be very long and quite uninteresting to read. Implied learning requires you to critically analyse the information. Implied learning is more interesting and engaging than literal information reading.

Reading comprehension - Inferential learning

The third level of reading comprehension is inferential reading. Inferential reading occurs when you understand the meaning and significance of the material at the most complex level. Inferential reading involves integrating previously learnt information and contrasting it with the new information being read. It is the ability to use the information in a way that even the writer had not anticipated. For example, you take Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs and apply Jobs' business strategies in an entirely different industry. Inferential reading is taking command of the written word.

Summary - Improving reading comprehension

Simply reading text does not equate to taking command of the information. Understanding the three levels of reading is the first step to improve reading comprehension. Once the three levels of comprehension are understood you can determine which level of comprehension you need to apply to the particular document you are reading.

Howard Stephen Berg - The World's Fastest Reader


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