Websters dictionary describes comprehension as “the act or action of grasping with the intellect” or in layman’s terms, understanding the information. When it comes to reading, comprehension plays the most important role because it is the sole purpose of reading itself. Information is presented in an article, book, report or nowadays, a blog post and we read it so we can understand it’s contents. But have you ever wondered how we comprehend or what is going on in our brains as we read? In this post, I am going to explain how we comprehend information. I am going to talk in detail about all the steps we know right now that occurs when we comprehend. More importantly and specifically, I am going to explain how we comprehend information as we read. Being a Speed Reading instructor, one of my goals is to help my students comprehend information better and faster. What you are going to get here is all the information I teach my students in each class to help with comprehension.
How comprehension begins
From the point of when we are infants, something amazing starts to happen. We begin to perceive the world around us. Every little bit of visual, auditory and kinesthetic information starts to get processed in our brains and we begin to make sense of the world around us. As we continue to gather more information from our senses, we begin to understand how the world works based on our perception. Eventually, we are taught how to read by our parents or our teachers. This is when a new medium of information enters into our brain. Delivered in words, grammar and punctuation mixed with emotion and logic, reading becomes one of our more reliable and information dense sources of comprehension. It is then fair to say that reading is comprehension. After all, why would you read if you didn’t want to comprehend.
As we continue to improve our understanding of the words we are reading, we begin to relate them to past understandings. Over time we build our vocabulary and read even more. More and more information is introduced into our brains and we comprehend further. Correlations are formed between words, punctuation and grammar allowing us to comprehend even more complex materials. Eventually, we begin to sway away from certain types of material and connect to other types. The difference between these types of material is words, punctuation, grammar and their intended comprehension. Shortcuts are also taken and not all the words make sense to us but yet we keep on reading getting just the jist of the information being presented while sacrificing full comprehension.
While all this wonderful reading is going on, more information comes into our brain from various sources such as television, friends, family and many others. Even physical feeling such as being stung by a bee impacts our comprehension. The brain raises judgement and perception on the information being read based on the past, present and perceived future. With all this going on, it’s inevitable that information will be perceived and judged by individuals differently at some point and thus we see the difference in comprehension between individuals.
Why do some comprehend better than others?
Since every single individual would have gone trough different pieces of information in different combinations trough various sources, it will cause them to have different understandings prior to being presented a short article for example. Therefore the levels of comprehension would be different for each individual if you were to quiz them at the end of reading this article. The variables being as follows…
1. What was their understanding of the information being presented prior to reading the article?
2. What perceptions and judgements did they have towards the material prior?
3. How much interest do they have in the material?
4. Do they have the same paradigm or level of understanding as the the quiz creator to provide a satisfactory answer to the quiz questions?
Before we go any further, let me just point out that the study of human comprehension is very vast. There are many variables that I have not covered that also impact comprehension such as brain functionality and impaired judgement. These variables make it very hard to accurately measure comprehension. For simplicity reasons, we will stick to the above three because they tend to have the most weight on comprehension based on what I have found. This article is also specifically geared towards a common ground for understanding comprehension with regards to reading and is based on my research and feedback from my students. Now that we understand how we comprehend, we can focus on ways we can improve it.
The Reading Comprehension Strategies
There are things we can do right now to improve our reading comprehension. They are as follows.
1. Understand every word you are reading. It is very important that you look up every word in the dictionary that you are not familiar with. Assuming that you have about 10 years of reading experience under your belt, there might not be a considerable amount of words that you will need to look up. This also depends on the type of material you are reading. Some material like fiction books are a lot easier to read then complex technical manuals. With complex material, you will find that you need to refer to a dictionary or Google to find it’s meaning more often. This is something that takes a little extra effort but if your aim is to improve comprehension, it is a small step to take.
2. Ask questions and discuss. The best way to know that you have comprehended the information being presented is to speak with the author. Since this option is not always available, your second best bet is to talk with someone who already has a high level of understanding for the material. It’s not very wise to discuss with those that have little or no understanding of the material because they most likely will not be able to verify or lead you in the right direction to comprehend the information. Asking questions to those that have a good understanding of the information will help you comprehend better. When you then read similar types of material, you will find that your level of comprehension will improve.
3. Read related material. I am a huge fan of business material. On the internet there is a lot of information pertaining to various aspects of business. I also find that a lot of the information clashes with others because of viewpoints, experience and paradigms. However, reading different types of business information helps me understand the overall big picture. That being said, I love to read topics that have opposing viewpoints because it helps me stay critical, analytical and form my own conclusions. Also, I find that in the core, all the business material is related somehow. You will find that to be true with just about any topic available. Taking the time to read from different sources also helps fill in the blanks of misunderstandings.
Websters dictionary describes comprehension as “the act or action of grasping with the intellect” or in layman’s terms, understanding the information. Knowing how you comprehend information will help you understand why you easily grasp certain information while having difficulty with others. That being said, there are certain things that you need to do to improve your ability to comprehend and it requires a little foundational work. Just like with anything in life, laying a foundation is very important. When it comes to comprehension, a lot of that foundation was laid down early in life. But don’t let this discourage you. The good news is that we can go back to that foundation to redesign, revamp and rebuild it. I highly recommend that you take what I talk about here to heart and make sure you grasp every word in this post, ask as many questions as you would like in the comments below and also look up various sources of information that talks about the subject of comprehension. It is all in the end, a small step to take to improve your reading comprehension. Also, I’ve teamed up with Iris Reading to offer more training on comprehension and related topics, click here to learn more…
About the Author: Joseph Rodrigues runs SpeedReadingZone.com and is the founder of a Toronto based IT business. He is also an instructor for Iris Reading. He credits a lot of success in the world of business to Speed Reading Information.