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Strategies to Improve Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension can be a challenging feat. Sometimes we read and re-read the same line or paragraph and still don’t understand it. However, using a tried and true method for increasing reading comprehension can improve your retention of the material — which means you’re more likely to recall the information during your next exam.

“Reading for leisure and reading for specific information recall are very different experiences and unique to the individual. One of the reading methods we always recommend to students is the SQ3R Method,” says Dr. Angelique Bacon-Woodard, scholar in residence of learning communities within Penn State Learning, a unit on the University Park campus that supports co-curricular learning.

Psychologist Francis Pleasant Robinson developed the SQ3R theory with college students in mind in his 1946 book, Effective Study. There are five steps, two of which happen before you start reading: survey, question, read, recite, and review.

1. Survey

“Read ahead, look at the bolded words, perhaps even read the summary at the end of the chapter so that will give you an idea of what that entire chapter will be about,” says Bacon-Woodard.

After doing that, try to make predictions for what you think the text will be about—and write down those predictions.

2. Question

Here’s where you want to ask yourself questions about the text. “You want to not only question what the author has said with respect to what they had shared about a topic, or laws, rules, etc.,” says Bacon-Woodard.

Here’s an important part about this step: write down your questions. You’ll refer back to these questions later in this form of active reading.

3. Read

Here are a few tips from Penn State’s iStudy for Success active reading module:

  • Divide a chapter into small sections, rather than trying to read the whole chapter non-stop
  • Take breaks when you are unable to concentrate on the material due to daydreaming, drowsiness, boredom, hunger, etc.
  • Ask yourself a question before each paragraph or section, and then locate the answer in the text

4. Recite

Here’s where your questions from step 2 come into play. Look at the questions, and without looking back into the text, try to recall the answers from what you read. If you can’t recall them, you can look them up. But don’t move onto reading the next section before you can answer all your questions. Once you recall them, recite them so you can commit them to memory.

5. Review

Do one of two things:

  1. Created an outline of the material you just read, and distinguish between main ideas, supporting ideas, and example. Once your outline is completed, See if you can recall the outline without looking at it.
  2. Summarize, in your own words, the material you just read.

Look back at all your questions, and make sure you can answer them.

If you think this method seems like a lot of work, it’s important to remember that repetition can improve longterm learning. “The more you do, the more you talk about it, the more you repeat, recite, review, the more you will retain it,” says Bacon-Woodard.

And the more you retain it, the more likely it is you’ll be able to recall this on your next exam.

To learn more:

Have you found the SQ3R reading method to be helpful? What other reading strategies do you use?