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How to Improve Reading Comprehension: 5 Unconventional Tips

how to improve reading comprehension feature image of a happy woman reading a bookIf you want to know how to improve reading comprehension, you can’t afford to waste your time on second-rate advice.

No, you need absolutely the best reading comprehension tips from someone who reads at an expert level.

Someone who has spent time in both the trenches of reading the world’s most difficult books…

And a reader who knows the research.

This combination is important because there are some counterintuitive strategies that will help boost your reading skills.

Not only that, but when they’re used optimally, they’ll help improve your memory too.

Ready for the best of the best?

Let’s dive in!

What Is Reading Comprehension?

Sounds like it should be pretty simple to define, doesn’t it?

You read. You understand what you read.

In fact, comprehension is about more than merely understanding.

It’s also about mental imagery and the quality of your thinking.

reading comprehension strategies

In other words, understanding is one level. What you do with your understand is the goal and ultimately the feature of reading that proves you’ve truly understood the material.

Other aspects of comprehension involve your ability to:

Essentially, reading comprehension amounts to being an independent thinker capable of logical thinking. For example, instead of worrying about increasing your average reading speed, you focus on developing proven reading comprehension strategies instead.

Target These Lifestyle Skills to Improve Your Reading Comprehension

Before getting into some specific tips and tactics that will help you understand any book better, let’s look at some core skills.

By attending to each of these, you’ll boost your reading abilities substantially.

Build Background Knowledge

Many people struggle to read faster because they take on books that are too complicated.

It’s not that you shouldn’t read difficult books. I can only share that sometimes I have taken on books that were way over my head, and the first obvious step was to put them aside for a short while.How to Read Faster Feature ImageAfter reading a more general and comprehensive overview, it was much easier to dig into the harder material.

Develop Your Concentration & Focus

More and more, people struggle with digital amnesia from too much time spent online.

In addition to reducing screen time to help keep your brain’s dopamine levels from spiking, I suggest that you:

Use Systems & Goals

A lot of people misunderstand the role of motivation in learning. It’s not nearly as important as some people make it out to be.

Much more important are strategies that get you to show up to work on improving your reading comprehension – regardless of whether you feel like it or not.

A simple system involves using a calendar to schedule when you’re going to work on one of the specific comprehension tips we’ll discuss below.

I know it sounds silly, but scheduling my time has been a huge part of my success. Everything from my PhD to the languages I’ve learned have happened because I was willing to set goals and use time systematically to get them done.

5 Reading Comprehension Practices to Get More Out of Your Reading

Now let’s dive into the tactics and strategies themselves.

There’s no particular order of importance in this list. They’re all equally useful and important.

Pick the ones that seem most useful to you and master them. Then come back for more.

One: Develop Your Vocabulary

Apart from time constraints, the biggest road bump we all face as readers are words that we don’t understand.

Sometimes it’s old Latin terms that throw us. Other times its the latest technical jargon that trips us up.

By constantly memorizing new vocabulary, you remove the bumps from the road.

But you also give yourself the ability to guess at what words mean, especially when you focus on learning your suffixes and prefixes.

It’s impossible to exaggerate how important vocabulary is for improving your reading comprehension.

Although my English is pretty good, I still work on this aspect of reading every single day.

Two: Read Actively

Many people approach reading passively. They either skim or scan, or use skim read in an ineffective way.

Please don’t do this. You have many active reading strategies available to you. These include:

how to study a textbook

Some people recommend keeping notes in the margins or using color-coded highlighting.

Sometimes I’ll takes notes inside my books, but largely find that adding symbols and colors adds an unnecessary memory task. I prefer this textbook learning strategy instead.

Three: Use Critical Thinking & Questioning

Reading critically helps your brain build more connections. Asking critical questions as you read offers fantastic brain training too.

One of the first people to notice this was Ramon Lull who created a questioning device known as the Memory Wheel. He also invented a learning tactic called ars combinatoria.

My favorite questions when reading are not rocket science to use:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

To dig a little deeper, I often ask, “who benefits if this point is true?”

question mark with a dark background

“Why is this author making this point at this time?”

Questions like these help you think about the material in historical context. Knowing why things are said at a particular time often makes the points much easier to understand.

Four: Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Often we can’t make progress with our comprehension because we keep coming at the same topic.

Instead, it can be tremendously helpful to take on something completely different.

For example, when I was reading about computational neuroscience, I salted the journey with some ancient philosophy books. The variety helped me expand my context and the new challenges gave me more grit.

After bringing my renewed mental strength back to the original learning goal, I found the challenging material much easier to understand.

Any time you can practice with reading different kinds of texts and in other genres, take the chance. It will help you across the board.

Five: Avoid Invalid Reading Practices

Believe it or not, there are sharks in the water.

For example, there are people who believe you can read better by suppressing your subvocalization. This has never been shown to be true. In fact, many studies show precisely the opposite, demonstrating that the “speed reading gurus” telling you this either haven’t read or haven’t understood the science of reading.

Focus instead on legitimate reading tactics that help you read books realistically.

How to Practice Reading Comprehension

I’ve saved the best for last.

By far my favorite reading strategy that boosts my comprehension involves memorizing what I read using a Memory Palace.

This is one my most counterintuitive reading strategies. Whereas some people say you should only memorize what you understand, I’ve found the complete opposite is true.

For example, I decided to learn an ancient philosophy called Advaita Vedanta. For awhile, its meaning completely evaded me.

But after I started memorizing some of the verbatim material, I soon started to understand what it was all about.

And that’s how I’ve been practicing my reading comprehension skills ever since:

I memorize as much long form content as I possibly can. Then I think reflectively about the content from within my memory.

If you’d like to be able to do the same, grab my free memory improvement course:

Free Memory Improvement Course

It will take you through how to use this powerful memory technique you can apply while reading.

Then, it’s just a matter of reading, memorizing and reflecting on what you’ve read.

Obviously, none of these tactics amount to some kind of magic bullet.

But they’re powerful techniques I’ve been combining for years.

So if you’ve like to stop fearing that you won’t understand the books you need to succeed, you now have an entire program you can follow to read in any topic with greater ease.

Enjoy the journey!

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ABOUT ANTHONY METIVIER


Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary, names, music, poetry and more in ways that are easy, elegant, effective and fun.

Dr. Metivier holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from York University and has been featured in Forbes, Viva Magazine, Fluent in 3 Months, Daily Stoic, Learning How to Learn and he has delivered one of the most popular TEDx Talks on memory improvement.

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