There are two types of readings: reading for pleasure and reading for comprehension. Sure, the two overlap – you probably have to comprehend what you’re reading for pleasure if you’re going to get any enjoyment from it. But by and large, the two are disparate: one is a hobby, and one is a skill.
I am not concerned with reading for pleasure (although I do promote it!). I am concerned, as an educator and test-prep expert, with reading for comprehension, or critical reading. As this is truly a skill, there are techniques and strategies that may be utilized for development and improvement. These strategies can (and should) be used also in the classroom – history, science….any type of reading other than fictional.
Critical readings and reading comprehension assignments are often presented in conjunction with time constraints. It becomes a game of beating the clock. Therefore, you need a strategy. Based on your natural reading abilities and tendencies, you need to figure out how much time should be spent reading, and how much time should be spent answering the questions. Below are a few general strategies I teach my students.
The Essentials: All of my strategies involve marking up and actively reading a passage. Actively reading a passage means HUNTING for the main idea and subtext of a piece. I insist that students focus on and underline or circle the following:
- Thought Reversers: But, yet, however, etc. These often highlight key ideas and main points
- Rhetorical Questions: Often, the answer to these questions points to the author’s message
- Italics: Italics are used for emphasis, and emphasis is important!
- Dashes: Dashes make portions of the reading conspicuous, and there’s most likely a reason!
- Introductions and Conclusions – the main idea is often found in the introduction and qualified (changed slightly) in the conclusion.
1. The Hunt and Peck – for Weak Readers
I recommend that slow readers, readers with a weak vocabulary, or readers who have difficulty focusing use the “Hunt and Peck.” This strategy allocates a greater amount of time on the questions than on the readings.
Students should read a paragraph and then turn to the questions and answer the detail and vocab-in-context questions (questions that specifically refer to a narrow range of lines) that relate to this paragraph. Before answering, students should re-read, starting a sentence before the referenced line, and ending a sentence after. This is the “hunting.” Using only those few sentences, students should “peck” out the correct answer.
2. The Gist – for OK Readers
I recommend that readers with strong comprehension skills but some timing or focusing issues use the “Gist” strategy. This strategy involves reading the introduction and conclusion carefully, but just skimming the middle. Think of a train! Begin slow, move to warp speed, slow down at the end. The introduction and conclusion allow the reader to generate a main idea – the point of the reading. Most questions relate to the main idea, so weeding this main idea out of the text is crucial. By only focusing on the introduction and conclusion, the “weeding” process is less tedious.
Then, students should approach the questions, always keeping in mind the main idea. For questions in the paragraphs that were “skimmed”, students should always read a full sentence before and after the lines referenced to ensure that context is being considered.
3. The Works – for Strong Readers
“The Works” is just that – give me everything! This strategy involves reading the entire passage at the same speed, marking up the essentials, and generating a main idea and tone. Students are often able to eliminate two answer choices without referring back to the text. However, I encourage rereading the specified lines to choose the BEST answer listed (sometimes there is only a very subtle falsity in an answer choice).
These techniques help us to take advantage of our strengths and not let our weaknesses affect the test score.