Before beginning to read any text - a book, a magazine or journal article - you should ask yourself
• What am I reading about ?
• Why am I reading ?
• How am I reading ?
Example: Reading a history book.
What : World War II.
Why : Looking for the causes of the war
How : From the first word to the last word.
Many students are only familiar with from the first word to the last word strategy. The other strategies
that can be used for understanding a text - a book, a magazine or a journal article - are
1. Overviewing a passage
2. Understanding the main point
3. Understanding relationships in passages
4. Checking references
5. Finding the information we need
6. Guessing the unknown word
Overviewing a Passage
By overviewing a passage, we should know
1. The Topic : What is the passage about ?
2. The Writer's purpose : Is the writer, for example, describing a process, making a comparison,
giving recommendation ?
We do this strategy by
1. Reading the tide and headings to understand what the passage is about.
2. Looking at the titles of any diagrams, tables, graphs and illustrations.
In this strategy, we need not
1. Read word by word.
2. Follow the text with our finger or a pen.
3. Worry about words we do not understand.
Whether we are overviewing a book, a magazine or an article, we should never take more than two
Understanding the main point
One paragraph contains one main idea; and we can find this main idea in a SUMMARY SENTENCE.
The summary sentence is frequently, though not always, the first or the second sentence of the
paragraph. To understand the main points of a passage, we should LOCATE and UNDERLINE THE
SUMMARY SENTENCE IN EACH PARAGRAPH.
The other sentences in the paragraph expand, illustrate and/or explain this main idea.
Understanding relationships in passages
There are relationships in words and phrases in a sentence; between the sentences in a paragraph and
between whole paragraphs. Understanding and recognizing these relationships helps us read more
Some of the most common types of relationship linking ideas in passages are
1. Addition :
Using and, as well, in addition to, besides, also, another, the other, first,second etc.
2. Consequence :
Using cause, lead to, result in, as a consequence, consequently, therefore, hence, as a result.
3. Sequence :
Using then, afer, later, until, when, before.
4. General and Particular :
Using such as, e.g., for example, for instance.
5. Contrast/comparison :
Using but (not), as opposed to, in contrast, on the other hand, however.
1. A cactus does not need very much water,
In addition, it is well adapted to high temperatures.
2. Changes in temperature break rocks into pieces.
Then the wind blows the pieces away.
3. Temperatures in deserts are extremely high during the day.
However, at night they are often very low.
4. There is very little rainfall in deserts.
Therefore few plants can live there.
In a set of statements, some of the words in one sentence are often repeated in other sentence. In
passages, we try not to repeat words very often. We can refer back to words used in other sentences,
This relation is called reference.
Study this short passage and notice the use of reference. This use of reference is shown in the diagram.
Deserts are very dry regions. They have very little rainfall. Few plants live there. Some specialized
animals do. Some deserts have a surface of sand. The sand often forms dunes. These are created by
the wind. Others have stones or rocks.
Deserts are very dry regions.
They have very little rainfall.
Few plants live there. Some specialized animal do
Some deserts have a surface of sand. The sand often
Forms dunes. These created by the wind.
Others....... have................. stones rocks.
Others deserts have surface of stones rocks.
In order to read efficiently we also need to be able to understand the way in which words can refer to
other words in a passage.
Finding the information we need
When our objective is to extract specific information, we should use the following strategies
1. Focus on our objective, ignoring irrelevant information.
2. Look in likely places. Knowing the organization of the text will help to decide which parts of
the text are more likely.
3. Run our eyes rapidly over the text, looking for words and phrases associated with the target
4. Use print style to help us, such as names, numbers, italics, bold.
Remember that the information we need to locate may be expressed in different forms.
Guessing the unknown words
In any comprehension text you will find words that you don't know. You can look them up in a
dictionary, of course, but it's a good idea to get into the habit of doing without a dictionary as much as
possible, particularly if you are preparing for an examination. In fact, if you read the text carefully and
think, it's usually possible to guess the meaning of most of the words that you don't know.
Look at the context of each word-the sentence that it's in, and the sentences that come before and
after. Look to see if the word is repeated later in the text; the more often it's used, the easier it is to
Don't expect to be able to guess all new words in a text. There will be some that you can only get a
vague idea, and a few will be impossible. Don't waste too much time worrying about these; the most
important thing is to understand the text as a whole as well as possible, and one or two difficult words
won't usually make much difference.