Reading III: Reading comprehension

As a college student, it may be difficult to identify the skills you use while reading for the purposes of comprehending a given passage. This is why It is a good idea to review the following skills and conceptualize them in your own words so that you may then teach them to your patient. Note that the information below is specific to reading comprehension on standardized exams; however, the techniques suggested are applicable to any situation where reading comprehension is requisite.

Below is advice posted by user amitsawhney on, edited for our purposes.

Two common difficult types of the reading comprehension passages of are standardized exams are science passages and abstract passages. Science passages often deal with mechanisms found in nature or technical descriptions of scientific processes, while abstract passages often come from the realm of philosophy, economics, or the social sciences.

A Word of Advice: Don’t try to read like an expert in the given field of a passage. Some test-takers think if a passage is about poetry, then they must read with all of the interest and vocabulary and background of a literary critic. If it’s about geology, they think they must read like a geologist. But that’s just not so! Literary critics, or geologists, or experts in any given field share language and background knowledge and interest that allow them to communicate with each other on levels of deep understanding. But someone who is not an expert in a given field can only be expected to pick up the bare bones of what is being communicated. The test-taker who can only be satisfied with 100% comprehension, who strains to “Get It All,” will be in a terrible bind

A few strategies to keep in mind when confronted with a beastly passage:

  • In a very real sense, dense passages should be read in precisely the same way as standard passages: focus on topic, scope, purpose, main idea (if there is one), paragraph structure and Keywords.
  • Note the location of details, but don’t try to memorize them, and don’t worry if not all of the details are immediately comprehensible. The broad outlines of the passage are important. You can always use the passage to look up abstract concepts, scientific details and technical terms if you need to do so for a particular question.
  • In abstract and scientific passages, drawing a mental picture of the “action” in the passage will often make the text more comprehensible.

Even though the prose and concepts expressed in abstract and science passages may seem difficult, you must keep to your gameplan:

  • Roadmap the passage.
  • Use Keywords to help you navigate through the text.
  • Paraphrase difficult text.
  • Anticipate where the author is likely to go.
  • And above all, skim past those details! The danger of getting bogged down in a morass of information is even greater in difficult passages, so you really must be on your guard.


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