Reading, but not getting it?

Have you ever found yourself getting to the bottom of the page and have no idea what you just read? Welcome to the club! Everyone experiences this now and then. Follow these tips to help you remember what you just read.


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  • consider the time and place
  • read in thought groups
  • look for the writer’s outline
  • be a curious learner
  • read faster

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  • sweat every unfamiliar word
  • highlight everything you read
  • read the same things

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do consider the time and place

Many people, out of habit, think that reading can be done anytime, anywhere. Technically, this is true; however, some times and some places are better than others. If you are learning astrophysics and you lay down on your bed to read, you will most likely fall asleep or at best, day-dream a lot because you are in a place the brain is thinking “relax”. On the other hand, if you decide to read in a “work” place, like at a cleared off desk or kitchen table, your chances of staying awake and concentrating will be much higher. The same goes for the time of day. If you save your reading until the end of the day, don’t expect to read with the same concentration and comprehension as if you do it earlier in the day.

Do read in thought groups

Many readers read one word at a time, which is cumbersome for the brain to understand. Instead, the brain will understand better when it is fed an idea instead of a mess of individual words. These ideas are found by grouping words together in a sentence that form a thought.

The phrases in the section below separated by slash marks are a good example.

A thought group/ is a phrase,/ or a group of words/ when put together/ express a thought./ Every sentence/ has many thought groups/ but not as many/ as there are/ individual words. Reading thought groups /helps your brain /get more meaning/ in less time. /It also focuses you/ to find the thought groups/ which helps comprehension too!

Do look for the writer’s outline

When you read a textbook chapter or magazine article, you are – in effect  – reading a fleshed out outline. Your job as the reader is to find the writer’s outline so you will know the main ideas the author intended to get across. Understanding this framework BEFORE reading in detail will help 1) weed out unnecessary material or material you have no interest in, 2) introduce you to the content so when you read in more detail, you have some familiarity and comfort about where the reading is going, and 3) shorten your review time if you need to review it for a meeting or exam.

So, where is the writer’s outline? It is in the first few introductory paragraphs, the last few concluding paragraphs, and also the first sentence of every paragraph when read in order. Additionally, you can find hints to the outline in pictures, captions, italicized or bold print, subheadings, and bullet points.

Do be a curious learner

People who are lifelong learners are curious about things. The one thing everyone can and should be curious about is the meaning of words. After all, we need to know what words mean in order to understand what we read and to understand each other. If you hear someone use a word you don’t know, ask them what it means. If you read a word you don’t understand, try to use context clues to figure out a close meaning. You can also figure out a close meaning of a word from it’s word part – prefix, root, or suffix. Studying word parts is a great way to build your vocabulary without studying the dictionary.

Do read faster

Believe it or not, reading faster will help you improve your comprehension. Your brain thinks upwards of 400 words per minute and a word-for-word reader reads about 150 words-per-minute. So there are 250 words-per-minute that the brain is looking to fill (150 plus 250) so we day-dream as a filler. The faster you read, the less day-dreaming you can do. The less day-dreaming you do, the more concentration you have. The more concentration you have, the more comprehension you get. Makes sense right?

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not sweat every unfamiliar word

Some readers completely stop reading when they come across a word they don’t know. If the word is repeatedly used and you absolutely need to know it’s meaning before moving on, then look it up (if reading online, try However, many times, the word is used as a flowery descriptor, which means it isn’t essential that you know what it means. Also, if you think you have some semblance of the meaning from the rest of the sentence or paragraph, you can safely move on without looking it up. It’s up to you.

Do not highlight everything you read

Too many people are coloring fanatics when it comes to using their highlighters. There is nothing more frustrating than to go back to something you read just to review your highlights and wonder “why did I highlight that?” Basically, the only things that should be highlighted are key words and phrases. This will force you to choose your highlighted words carefully thinking, “Are these highlighted words the best reflection of what is important here?” Rarely should an entire sentence be highlighted.

Do not read the same thing

It helps to broaden your horizons by reading material you normally wouldn’t. It exposes you to other vocabulary and content, which makes your ability to comprehend a wider range of material easier.


After teaching speed reading for 25 years, I find there are two main reasons people don’t comprehend what they read: 1) they read too slowly and/or daydream making comprehension challenging or 2) they are unfamiliar with the vocabulary or concepts. That said, if you can read a little faster (which forces concentration) or read in a work place, not a sleepy place, and learn more vocabulary, then comprehending what you read will be much easier.

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