My husband is an engineer. When he was being homeschooled, he did very well on the math section of his SAT – but really struggled with critical reading! This pattern is nothing ne. In my experience as a college counselor, I often encounter students – particularly boys – who struggle with reading comprehension and analysis.
These students can read, but they are usually slower to go about it. They don’t “skim”, but read each word of the text as they come across it, sometimes speaking it in their minds as if they were reading it aloud. Because of their intense focus on the words being read, they miss out on the main idea of the passage itself. When under the pressure of time – such as during a standardized test – these students become anxious, which further inhibits their understanding of the passage and ability to answer questions about it.
If your child struggles to comprehend what he’s reading, here are a few tips:
- Teach him to speed read.
Is your student reading so slowly, he can’t even finish the passage in time to answer questions? If so, he’s not alone! Try teaching him to speed read. One great way to improve speed and comprehension is with the app Acceleread. With a series of games and exercises, the user develops better eye coordination and the ability to recognize words without having to sound them all out in his mind.
- Practice finding the main idea.
When a student is too focused on reading the whole passage, he is more concerned with the words on the page than with the ideas he’s going to analyze. Teach your student to look for the main idea in the passage. A little clue: you can usually get a good idea by reading the first and last sentences of each paragraph. The first sentence sets the stage, like a thesis statement, and the last sentence wraps up the point – like a conclusion. Use these two to summarize ideas for each paragraph, and then draw from those ideas to get a picture of overall concept the author is trying to express.
- Work on letting go of the finite answer.
Inference – assuming what a passage means by the words the author uses – is guesswork, and analytical students (like engineers!) don’t like guesswork. They want to know for sure that the answer chosen is the right one, but critical reading doesn’t use formulas to reach those conclusions. Teach your student to stop looking for the equation and instead analyze for emotion. What is the author implying in this passage? What is he trying to say?
You can also integrate reading comprehension work sheets into your homeschool or buy a standardized test practice book (which I recommend doing anyway!). These will school your student in the kind of questions he’d be asked on the SAT or ACT reading sections.
Do you have more questions about reading comprehension? Email [email protected].