In standardised tests such as TOEFL, SAT, GMAT and GRE, reading comprehension is argubly the most important part. However, for a lot of non-native speakers (and some test-takers whose mother tongue is English) reading comprehension is also a struggle. We often hear students saying that when reading, their minds tend to trail off or just completely not notice what a paragraph is about. If a student experiences this, it’s likely that he/she will not be able to reach a high score for the reading section. So today, let us share how to keep focus over reading comprehension
1. Channel your inner curiosity
Almost everyone has had that moment when they’re fully concentrated on what they’re reading. However, if it’s something they really like; they find it easy to remember what is written no matter how difficult the passage is.
For example, if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, when you’re reading a Song of Fire and Ice it doesn’t matter that the sentences are hard to read or there’s vocabulary that you don’t understand. You will put all your efforts to comprehend what the author is writing about. Therefore, the easiest way to keep concentration while reading is to keep a curious mind.
For instance, if the passage is about a scientific phenomenon, you can always change your stance and say “hey, that’s interesting. Let’s see what the scientists think about this.” If the passage is on an excerpt from a novel you can try to be interested by the character’s personality, or if it’s a social phenomenon then you could compare this to your personal experience and opinion. Many avid readers that I know, both native and non-native speakers, are curious, and it is exactly this curiosity that helps them build their reading comprehension ability.
2. Active Reading
Active reading is a reading tip that is mentioned a lot everywhere, but what is it exactly? Well, it’s the simple task of “actively” think about what you’re reading, rather than just passively reading the entire paragraph.
The essence of active reading is to try and link everything together. When you’re reading a paragraph, always ask yourself questions such as why the writer would bring this point up here, what the purpose of this example is, etc. Answering questions like these can help the reader think actively about the passage, and if you can read through the passage having answers to all your questions, then you will understand the passage in a much clearer way. Not only that, but active thinking will also help you focus on the passage better as well.
So, what can you do if you find yourself unable to link anything together? Then it’s time for you to pause and think. If you cannot understand why the writer includes that particular sentence, you have to pause and go back to what you have read, and maybe even create new links. Once you’ve mastered active reading, then you’ll be able to make “predictions” which, as the name suggests, means that you can predict what is about to follow. For example, after the theory was established, the author may follow up with an example. If you can predict what is coming next, you are now synchronised with the author in the process of thought. By this time focus will definitely not be a problem.
3. The principle of quality
“I must finish reading.” This is a common phrase that students tell themselves when trying to complete the reading section. It’s true that in most standardised tests, reading fast is an important factor. But to read as fast as possible without considering the content is also pointless. More importantly, disproportionate focus on speed might compromise your concentration.
We have met a lot of students who claim to be “very fast readers”, but in reality, they’re maintaining a practice that is no better than a guessing game. Students like these would often look for some familiar words within the sentence and then try to guess the rest of the sentence. This could lead to the reader being wrong about the entire tone of the passage, thus causing more damage than good.
That’s why when we teach reading comprehension, we ask students to first just read without a timer but to read until they completely understand the passage. We would then slowly increase the reading speed. In most cases, even students with a strong reading comprehension will come across one or two awkward sentences, and in this scenario we ask students to slow down so that they can read the sentence correctly and not deviate from the original flow of the passage.