Composition Studies

What is Reading Comprehension?

Comprehension is the ‘capacity for understanding fully, the act or action of grasping with the intellect’. A comprehension passage is, therefore, text set for testing the reader’s ability to receive or take in the sense of a text by scanning; understanding the meaning of written or printed matter; learning from what one has seen or found in writing or printing. Merely identifying words on a page does not make someone a successful reader. Reading comprehension tests the reader’s ability to comprehend the content as well as organization, style and theme of the passage.

Questions on a passage generally appear in a chronological relationship to the passage. If they are questions to test local understanding based on facts available in the passage, then the first questions should be in the earlier paragraphs. If they are inferential, that is, where you have to make an assumption, then you might have to collate material from various paragraphs. This would require familiarity with the entire passage. Besides this, even questions where you may be asked for instance, to give a suitable title to the passage, would again need for you to know the entire passage well.

Steps for Complete Comprehension

Step 1: Skim once as rapidly as possible to determine the main idea before you look at the questions. Don’t worry about words you don’t know at this stage.

Step 2: Underline the words that you do not understand to facilitate a complete understanding of the passage. This will enable you to solve the vocabulary questions quicker.

Step 3: Look through questions carefully. You are advised to keep to the order in which the questions appear in the past paper. Read intensively the portion relevant to the answers.

Step 4: Concentrate on the vocabulary items and puzzle out the meanings of any words you don’t know from the context.

Most passages require at least two readings. Before writing the answer:

• Check the questions again to be sure you’ve really understood them.

• Write complete sentences as answers.

Answers must be relevant and to the point. If the question is for one mark, give one point. If it is for two marks, give at least two points unless specified differently in the paper.
Steps to follow in skimming for the main ideas

Step 1: Read the title of the passage/poem carefully. Determine what clues it gives you as to what the passage/poem is about.

Step 2: Watch for key words like ‘causes’, ‘results’, ‘effects’, etc. Do not overlook signal words such as those suggesting controversy (e.g. ‘versus’, ‘pros & cons’), which indicate that the author is planning to present both sides of an argument

Step 3: Concentrate on the main ideas and ignore the details.

How to Approach Comprehension Questions

1. The ‘Why’ Question

In the ‘why’ question you are required to give reasons, provide explanations and give evidence for an answer. It is essential therefore, to look out for words that show cause, effect and purpose in order to arrive at the answer.

2. The ‘Inference’ Question

In the ‘inference’ question you are required to make a deduction or draw a conclusion based on the information given in the passage. Since these are not straightforward questions, it is essential therefore, to read between the lines for clues or hidden meanings. This can be done by understanding certain key words and phrases. At times, you can draw an inference only after reading the entire poem/passage.

3. The ‘Rephrasing’ Question

At times you are required to explain a word/phrase in your own words or substitute a word/phrase in the passage without altering its meaning. To do so it is essential to understand the word/phrase in its context. So, it is essential to read carefully what comes before and after it.