Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reading Comprehension Strategy- 1, Building Blocks of Reading Comprehension

1. Vocabulary

Can you show me a good reader who doesn’t have a good vocabulary? I am afraid that the answer is a no. You cannot understand passages if you cannot understand words. Word recognition is essential for decoding texts and comprehending aims of their authors. A good reader subconsciously recognizes whether a certain word makes sense in a given sentence and the context of the text being read. If it does not, he reads the text again to understand if he has misunderstood or misread. Fluent word recognition takes less cognitive capacity and makes the reader sail smoothly through a complete text without stressing himself. On the other hand, a sloppy word recognition results in frequent breaks in reading, loss of interest, and subsequent loss of recall about what was being said in the passage.

Although a good vocabulary takes long time to build, a workable essential vocabulary can be built over a short period of time by constantly referring to the dictionary, analyzing words and their various meanings, and connecting every word with your own life. The sooner you start doing this, the earlier you will start making headway in your reading.

EXAMPLE: See if the words in this passage slow you down-

RC passage 1

Did you understand the text? Did the words in the text make you stop? If the above text, containing only three sentences, slowed you down, consider what will happen when you face full page text containing difficult words.

Here are some words in the passage explained-

· Metaphysics - The branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, substance and attribute, fact and value.

· Antitheses - The direct or exact opposite. Direct contrast; opposition.

· Wary - Watchful, alert, vigilant, guarded, circumspect, prudent.

· De Omnibus Dubitandum - All is to be doubted. (Rene Descartes)

· Valuation - The act of estimating or setting the value of something; appraisal. An estimated value or worth.

· Provisional - providing or serving for the time being only; existing only until permanently or properly replaced; temporary.

· Frog’s perspective - The exact opposite of a “bird’s perspective.” Consider a frog sitting on a floor or floating on the surface of water. The angle at which it views things around itself will be from a lower plane. Perhaps the adjoining two pictures will explain better:

frog's perspective

Now can you understand the passage? I bet you can!

Moral: Get you vocabulary in place, and get it in place now!

2. Reading Habit

A reader who has a high prior knowledge about the topic of the text will always understand it better than a reader who has a low or no prior knowledge. Connecting the ideas given in the text to what you already know helps you understand the text better. Trying to read a text about which you know nothing is like pouring water through a sieve; you don’t retain much. For example, try reading these numbers:

7615423 Isn’t it hard to read and remember?

761-5324 This one is easier because of grouping.

123-4567 You can read it and remember it because of mental connection.

Similarly, if you like reading about science, reading science passages will be easy for you. Same goes for philosophy, psychology etc. Our mind connects to things it already knows. Reading extensively will enhance your prior knowledge about various topics and in turn enhance your reading comprehension. Start reading high-quality, information-rich texts on a regular basis. The pain taken now will result in an easy ride later. You can use the following resources that I used to crack my CAT and GMAT verbal section:

A. Newspaper- The Hindu

B. Magazine- The Economist, Time

C. Website-,

3. Knowing the Structure of Paragraph Writing

Every good writer writes in a structured and purposeful manner. His texts have a beginning, a middle and an end. Knowing the structure of paragraph writing can help a reader locate theme of the passage, author’s intention, and transitional words or phrases that change the meaning of the paragraph.

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