Whether you believe it or not, you have struggled to understand what you read in school at one point or the other. I have too. If you are still a student, you will understand how important it can be to just find out how to read and understand what you read.
Reading is an active process that requires a lot of focus and attention. It is supposed to be an interesting act but for reasons related to schools’ exam requirements, curricula, and lack of understanding of the learning methods used, reading can be one of the most frustrating school activities for most students.
In my years of experience as a student, I have carefully studied several ways to not only make reading enjoyable but also to increase your understanding of the concepts you read about.
I tried one of these methods on one of my students and just within a month, she went from a D student to becoming the best in her class. I was amazed at how these methods can revolutionize one’s reading capacity and comprehension level, so much so that I have decided to share them here.
These tips for a better understanding of what you read might have some similarities to other reading methods you may have heard of. I may make some references to some of them here too, but the concepts you will learn here are more practical and straightforward than you have ever seen before.
Why it’s Important to Understand What You Read at School
Whether you are a college or high school student, or a primary or middle-school student, you would have realized how important it is to understand what you read in school. Your academic performance is closely tied to your understanding of what you read. Hence, you need to seek out ways to understand what you read.
One common observation I have consistently made from students is that many students soon become uninterested in education when they realise that their efforts are not yielding the desired results. It is normal for anyone to lose interest in anything they are not productive at, and vice-versa.
Some of the students that commit mischievous crimes including those who identify themselves as bullies are those who find it extremely hard to understand what they read at school. So, while you may be too quick to rule them off as unserious with life and useless, maybe showing them how to understand what they read will cause them to change their ways.
Methods & Techniques to Read and Understand
Much of what enhances your comprehension of what you read lies in how you think while reading. Once you learn how to think right while reading, you will become the genius you’ve always dreamt of becoming.
There are several reading methods or techniques. One of the best and top-rated reading techniques that have been described is the SQ3R technique.
The SQ3R Technique
The SQ3R technique aims to get you closer to fully comprehending the text you are reading. It involves five steps represented by the acronym, S-Q-R-R-R or SQ3R, described as follows;
Survey: This is the initial survey of the entire text to get a quick idea of the content, structure and organization of the work. The survey is aimed to prepare your mind on how to approach the study.
Question: This primarily involves asking yourself questions about the topic you are about to read. This prepares your brain to pick out relevant information as you read and enhance your understanding of what you read. As a general rule, effective questioning involves the use of the “what”, “why”, “when”, and “who” questions.
Read: This is when you start the actual reading. In this step, you are first expected to understand how to put words together in sentences and make meaning of them. This is often the most problematic reading process for most students.
Recite: This is the time to try to recall what you’ve read and the answers you provided to your pre-set questions. It helps you form a vivid image of what you have read and give you a clearer meaning of the entire work. You can do this several times while reading.
Review: In review, you are doing almost the same thing you did during the recite step but you are doing that at the end of the chapter, and/or the book. It is aimed at evaluating how much you remember about your questions and for you to look back if there is something you didn’t remember.
Details of the SQ3R Reading Technique
Here, you are gathering all the focused information and creating a mental reading plan from the organization of the text.
Read the title.
Skim through the index pages for additional information.
Read the introduction and/or summary for the chapter or the whole book (if it is a multichapter text).
Take note of the boldface headings and subheadings and imagine the structure adopted.
Note any graphics – charts, maps, figures, etc., reading aids, objective boxes, and so on.
Questioning help engages your mind and focuses your thinking. It helps you to stimulate your brain to think actively about the topic and associate your findings with the questions you had.
For effective questioning, turn every boldface heading and subheading into a question. The better and more the questions, the better your understanding will likely be.
You may also add further questions as you read through the text or when you see something else that engages your curiosity. When your mind is actively asking questions, it becomes more engaged to store learned information.
Strategic reading involves searching for answers to the questions you have developed or new questions your mind may come across.
Read one section at a time and look back if you become distracted at any point when reading. Avoid repeating a sentence too many times. If you find it difficult to understand a line after two attempts, you might need to pause and think about the general idea of the section before you continue.
In the next section, I will spell out specific ways to better understand what you are reading at school or elsewhere.
After every section or a few paragraphs, pause and recall what the section is about. Reflect on the questions you asked relating to the sectional heading and see if you can answer them from memory.
Reciting tests your immediate recall of important details. For maximal comprehension, don’t move to the next section until you can recite the answers to your questions in the current section.
After an entire chapter, review entails your ability to recall the answers to all the questions you answered in the preceding sections. Review tests your consolidated memory, such that if you are able to recall the answers to those questions, you are guaranteed a longer-lasting memory for that information.
Also, you may need to look back to the preceding sections if you are unable to remember some parts of what you just read.
4 Strategic Methods to Better Understand What You Read in School
While the SQ3R method has been shown to be very effective for understanding what you read in school and elsewhere, I will show you these four strategic methods or techniques to understand whatever you read at school. Some of them might be similar to any step in the SQ3R technique but they will be applied differently in this section.
These methods or methodologies will help you understand the most from what you read, at a faster pace and more efficiently.
Some people are gifted with a photographic memory. This entails being able to code information in the form of images. A picture speaks more than a thousand words. Images convey information in a more realistic way to anyone.
Not all text will contain images, you can attest to that. But if there are images and illustrations, they could make it a lot easy for you to understand what you read.
On the other hand, if there are no images, synthesize a mental image of the sentences you are reading. If what you are reading relates to some real-life scenario, imagine the story playing out in real life as well.
Imagery can be difficult for some people and may end up taking more time to understand a passage. You are not obliged to adopt this method if it does not suit your academic needs.
Look out for the next one. It is for everyone.
2. Past Recall
This is one of the best methods of remembering what you are reading. It is a type of associative learning which tells your brain to associate data and information with what you already know. Past recall literally arranges your knowledge in shelves based on similar properties for easy retrieval.
When you read a new line of words, pause for a second and think back to where and when you may have heard of the keywords before. The keywords are the most important words in the sentence. You may also call them the base words. First, identify them as you carefully read through the sentences.
You have encountered most words before in the past. So, your brain will try to remember what you know from the last encounter and what you don’t, and then attempt to fill in the gaps with the new knowledge.
If it happens that the word is a new word indeed, engaging in a past recall will stimulate the brain to look for other similar ideas to this one, or the closest it can possibly be. Either way, the information is stored better in your brain when you engage in a past recall.
This is similar to the questioning in the SQ3R technique. In questioning, you ask questions relevant to the idea you are trying to understand. These questions are often the what, where, why, and how questions.
Questioning engages your brain to retrieve what you already know about the idea as well as help provide answers to the concepts you have not fully grasped.
Many of us skip the titles and headings while reading but to be able to gain a better understanding of what you read, this is a method you should begin adopting from now on.
Carefully read the title, heading or subheading of any text you are reading for school or for any other purpose. Make sure you understand what the title, subtitle or subheading is all about, and then think about what you think you know about the title while asking yourself questions about it.
By trying to answer your questions about the title, you engage your brain to remember what it already knows about it, further consolidating your memory and creating a standpoint on which your new knowledge will be anchored.
Other Things That Will Enhance Your Ability to Remember What You Read
Asides from the above methods and techniques that enhance your memory and ability to remember what you read, here are other things/precautions that can enhance your memory a lot more.
1. Minimize distractions
Distractions come in different forms when you are reading a book. It could be in the form of noises, thoughts, conversations, and other people around you.
You know what distracts you when you are reading. Before and during reading, avoid these distractions. If you are worried about anything, you should settle it before you start reading.
2. Enjoy the story
Every good piece of writing has a story, whether it is educational, entertainment, or whatever. Try to connect every section, imagine what connects them to get the story behind the text.
It becomes much more enjoyable and interesting when you are following through with the story presented in the book. This applies to every piece of work, including the most absurd medical or legal documents you’d find.
3. Don’t just cover pages
Many people pride themselves in covering volumes of text content over short periods. While this is great in itself, avoid reading through just to set a record of being the fastest reader, or the person who reads the largest volume of work in a short time.
What is more important is that you understand what each section is about. Later sections might require your thorough understanding of the previous sections. Hence, you will only be undoing yourself if you just cover pages without understanding them.
4. Don’t stay hungry
Research has shown that the hunger hormone, “Ghrelin”, enhances memory by binding to neurons in the hippocampus – a seat of memory in the brain. By doing so, the activity of that memory area of the brain is enhanced and thus enhancing your memory.
In real-time, however, staying hungry for long periods can make you lose focus on what you are reading. Hunger can be a distraction if it persists long enough. It may be associated with intrusive thoughts of what to eat to satisfy hunger and so on, and these might make reading uninteresting and unfruitful.
5. Settle your mind and worries first
If there is anything troubling your mind, settle your mind before you start reading. This could be a distraction while you read. Develop how you can focus on what you are reading without thinking of anything else. One easy way to achieve this is by focusing on the story the book or work has to tell.
6. Eliminate fear
When exams or tests are drawing closer, it is common to have students read in panic. Fear may stimulate you to read extra hours and cover more pages through the release of the stress hormone, adrenaline. However, if unchecked, it could put you in a place of unwarranted tension and helplessness.
Always keep calm and tell yourself that all will be alright while you read. Never entertain thoughts of any negative outcomes, failure, defeat, or the like, but remind yourself that you have all it takes to succeed.
7. Maximize your peak hours
Peak hours are those periods of the day when your brain is most focused and productive. For some people, their peak period is at night when everywhere is silent. For others, it is during the day, for others, early in the morning. Whatever it is, identify your peak period and maximize it.
Peak periods are based on when you are most at rest. If you have additional reading requirements and you need to read more volumes on a daily basis, you can deliberately create new peak periods for yourself. This, you can do by resting adequately and preparing your mind to read during the set peak period.
Questions about Understanding what you Read
1. Is it possible to remember and understand everything you read?
Is it possible to understand and remember everything you read? The answer is yes and no, but not at first reading. For most people, it would require many readings to understand and remember everything in the text. If you apply good reading techniques and methods in this post, with a thorough understanding of what circumstances enhance your memory.
2. What do you do when you don’t understand what you read?
It is important you rest when you are tired of reading or does something else when you are bored. Tiredness and boredom are common reasons you don’t understand what you are reading. Another reason why you may not understand what you are reading is a lack of a thorough understanding of the reading techniques, methods and tips discussed in this article.
3. Does cramming/memorizing improve memory?
Cramming consolidates memory for only a short term. Repetition can make the memory stronger and easier to recall. However, a thorough understanding of concepts is what guarantees you a good memory for as long as you desire. These techniques and methods in this post will help you improve your consolidated memory and intelligence.
4. Who can have a good memory?
Anyone can have a good memory. Anyone can be smarter and more intelligent if they know how to approach learning the right way.
No matter your level of study, what you intend to achieve from reading, or how you have struggled with reading and understanding before, these techniques and tips will enhance your assimilation and comprehension of what you read at school, home, or anywhere and everywhere else.
I am a seasoned writer, not because I am some genius but thanks to many years of trials, failure, and near successes. I curate the most content on this website; all geared towards making you a better and happier audience.