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How to Improve Your Reading Comprehension

Updated on July 29, 2012
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Reading is Boring...

Obviously I don't personally agree with this sentiment, but we need to face facts: most people would rather do near anything rather than read. As far as entertainment goes, reading requires some pretty serious work on our parts. We have to physically hold a book (or E-reader, for you tech-savvy kids out there) while taking in every single word of every single page. Also, without any visual stimulation other than black words on a white page, we are required to mentally arrange the written plot into some type of coherent story in our minds. Reading is a pretty insane activity once you break it down.

These inconveniences could prove why people would rather see a film version of a popular novel. Even when we encounter the inevitable hipsters citing, "The book was soooooo much better," we often do experience a feeling of pride knowing that we have read the books beforehand. Why? Because reading the book requires more work from us. For instance, the uber-popular The Hunger Games film has grossed over $400 million at the domestic box office. One must realize that, like the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, the books must be insanely popular even to get a movie in the first place. Going back to The Hunger Games figures, after the film was released, Suzanne Collins' book sales rose 55%. I can't argue against any phenomenon that causes more people to read, but statistics like this quite simply show that people would just rather sit down in a comfy chair or sofa and be given a story instead of actively engaging in reading the same story.

Breakdown of How to Read

As I pointed out in my last hub, many of us slip into some kind of mindless auto-pilot mode when reading that eventually causes us to look up and ask, "What in Heaven's name am I even reading right now?!" It is at this point that the majority of us will violently discard the book while invoking the wrath of our own personal deity. Then we'll just find a movie to watch, instead.

Along with the note-taking strategies discussed in the linked hub, reading comprehension goes beyond having a highlighter and notepad nearby. The atmosphere you set while you read is probably even more important.

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1. The Reading "Spot"

It may come as a shock to many of us how much reading is affected by stimuli outside the actual act of reading. If this seems difficult to understand, just think back to a time you were sitting with a book, magazine, newspaper, or the like while something, anything was going on around you. You're studying for an exam while your roommate decides to have a house party. You have one more chapter in a novel, but your significant other decided he/she needs your attention. Reading is an incredibly solitary activity.

As such, to get as much out of a piece of reading as you can, you must find solitude however you can. Many of us have a specific "spot." This area is strictly yours: no distractions, no petty annoyances, no Snooki references to be found anywhere. It is your personal mini-vacation, and you should treat it as such. If you are like me, peace and quiet are two terms that have long since left your home life. In such case, get out of your home, man. It's a novel idea in our time when every bit of technology is geared toward keeping everyone indoors and plastered to a couch, but sometimes to break the monotony and enjoy a good book, you need to adjust the cycle a little bit.

2. The Atmosphere

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Reading location

Where do you usually read?

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Perhaps your life is just too freaking busy to get to your "spot" whenever you please. Perhaps there is no way to get out of your noisy, frantic place of residence. Fret not, my friends who probably are suffering from high blood pressure. There are several ways to set an atmosphere conducive to successful reading comprehension.

Music

The most popular method is throwing on some ear buds and blasting your iPod to drown out everything else going on. Next time you visit the library (you still have those right?), do a quick count as to how many people have headphones on. I can almost certainly assure you the majority will. Meanwhile, studies show the type of music you choose is the most important part.

Studies throughout the past twenty years differ on the benefits and pitfalls of listening to music while reading/studying, but the one aspect that remains constant is that the type of music you listen to directly affects your ability to comprehend the information at hand. You will often hear people recommend classical music or smooth contemporary piano. Why? This type of music is A) soothing and devoid of much percussion and B) more often than not has no spoken lyrics. Hence, researchers wouldn't recommend listening to Limp Bizkit (or whoever you kids listen to nowadays) when attempting to grasp as much as you can from a piece of literature.

Lighting

Before I get started here, I'd like to point out that sitting down to reading a book is nothing like preparing a romantic evening. Examine, if you will, the lady in the above photo. She's lit candles and has a nice lamp sitting at her table as her finger ever-so-gently grazes each word she passes on the page. I've heard of people lighting incense and throwing a colored scarf on their lamp to "set the mood" for some reading. Personally, I believe such attention to mood-setting should be focused on your significant other, but there are some basic strategies to keep in mind when comprehending your reading.

The sun stays in the sky for only so long, and for many of us, we spend daytime at work. A vast majority of us do most of our reading at nighttime. While reading in the dark seems like the "deep" or "mysterious" thing to do, this act caused John Milton to go blind. If you're reading this, I'm assuming you're not blind, and I would recommend not going blind. Therefore, turn some lights on. Meanwhile a focused light, such as a single lamp, can help in your search for solitude. If the only light in your room is directed on you and your book, your mind tends to forget that there even is anything else out there (I know it sounds crazy, but it works).

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Develop a Reading Nest

Civilization will never figure out why people will still choose to sit down and read a book when there are countless other media out there that are technologically "more efficient" than opening a book. Students will respond that textbook sales buy the football teams new cleats every year. Nevertheless, reading allows a certain type of escapism that virtually nothing else can. We drift off into whatever world the author leads us into, and we can't help but become engulfed in it.

To truly comprehend the depth of any form of literature, try out some of the things I've pointed out. When you find out that a popular novel is being adapted to the big screen, throw the author a bone and read the book. There is always a reason Hollywood will dig up literary works, and that reason is that people have, still are, and always will read. It's up to us as individuals to gain everything that we can during every reading session.

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    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Great article Jay. I love to read and you make some very interesting points about this great pasttime. Thanks for putting this hub together. Voted up and interesting.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      I think you tackle a difficult subject of how to enjoy reading and your connection to movies and concentrating using music is good. One of my daughters who was actually one of the top readers in her school last year, just started listening while reading. I used to do that in high school, but quit in college when I needed to do my top concentration. Now, after mothering 5 kids for 16 years, I crave absolute silence! And time when I can read! I do think that creating a space where you can concentrate and good light is a great idea. Voted up.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

      Nicely done, Jay on a subject that is one of my favorites. Unlike concentrating or taking NOTES, when I pick up a book by one of my favorite authors, I go into a different realm - or so I've been told. I hear nothing, see nothing and unlike many other things that I try and do where I can be distracted, reading is usually not one of them...unless of course I'm trying to read a coding book or something totally boring!

      Great points though for the more common reader who actually has a spot or techniques...I am just so grateful to have time to read that I zone out I think~ Reading is one of my favorite pasttimes so thanks for doing such a classy article on such a great hobby! Especially if you're trying to learn something, I definitely think your tips are spot on - especially for me!!!

    • kissayer profile image

      Kristy Sayer 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Oh I most definitely agree with that! I refuse to watch a movie if it comes out before i've read the book!

    • Joseph Howard profile image
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      Joseph Howard 5 years ago from Bowling Green, Kentucky

      Thanks Kristy, and I'm happy to help! Be sure to also let her know that the movie is never as good as the book... lol

    • kissayer profile image

      Kristy Sayer 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I sent this to my younger sister because this is something she really needs to work on! Excellent hub :)