Can you name an exam where passage-based questions are not there? Can’t think of many, right?! That is not surprising because the latest pattern in various board exams, entrance tests, and recruitment tests invariably includes passage-based questions. Be it class XII board exams, JEE or even Civil Services Prelims - all exams have such questions. So, improving your reading skills is key to creating strong Reading Comprehension skills.
What is a passage?
A passage is an expression of ideas by the author using a particular language. In the English language, words have extended meanings and a word might be used by the author for communicating an idea that extends beyond the first meaning of the word. So, while figuring out the meanings you must be careful and always try to figure out the meaning in the given context.
It is also very important for you to understand the theme and link it with the tone of the passage for answering the questions asked at the end of the passage. In order to achieve all this, you must learn the art of speed reading. Unless you read fast enough, you will never be able to complete all the questions properly in time
Challenges in passage-based questions
- Reading Comprehension (RC, as it is normally called) is the most peculiar section in almost all scholastic, entrance and employment tests.
- Most students find it difficult to tackle topics that are different from the field they are in or they are comfortable with. So one needs to develop a taste for even the most obscure and boring topic on this planet.
- Broadly speaking, RC passages can be classified in a few categories. Fact-based RC is the simplest form of RC. These types of passages have lot of information in the form of names, numbers, etc. In this type of passages one should read very fast.
- The reading speed is fairly slow in some types of passages. These include passages on topics like Religion, Spirituality, Philosophy, etc. Most of the students will be comfortable attempting these passages at least in RC. The way to master this type of passages is to read them again and again while practising.
- If a topic is new to us then presence of technical term scares us even if they are defined in the passage.
Inference based RC is the toughest form of RC. Here the passage is fairly tough to understand.
So, let us look at the efficient use of ways for improving reading skills and comprehension.
Let us first understand what is Speed Reading?
- Speed Reading is a technique to improve one’s Comfort Zone speed (say from 300 wpm to 700 wpm). Needless to say that the level of comprehension either remains the same as earlier or improves.
- Improvement in the level of comprehension is not directly brought about by increase in the reading speed, but by the enhanced levels of concentration.
- Concentration is enhanced at greater speeds of input because the mind then has no time or freedom to drift into memory and process information that is unrelated to the information that is being processed as one reads.
Why should you read faster than you are reading now?
- First, the time available in competitive exams for reading (not merely reading comprehension questions, but every other question as well) is limited and remains constant for everyone. Hence, a person who is able to read and understand faster attempts more number of questions than the others, that too without sacrificing on accuracy.
- Second, as large volumes of information is read and assimilated rapidly, more information is input into the short-term memory lending better clarity to the meaning and structure of the article for the reader.
- Third, your eyes do less work. You can now read for longer periods. Suddenly reading becomes an enjoyable activity. No more will you complain that you do not have the time to read those great classics
Is Speed Reading difficult to master?
- Not at all! Observe the way you are reading this text. We think that we read word by word like we used to read when we were just beginning to learn the language.
- But, we do not read in this manner any longer. Since we cannot observe the movement of our eye muscles ourselves, the best way is to look at the eyes of a friend who is reading.
- You will then see that he/she fixes his/her eyes on one block of words for some time and then moves his/her eyes on to the next block of words. In other words she does not read word by word but reads a group of words at one time.
- You may also observe that the movement of her eyes from one block to the next is not uniform or constant or smooth. She often moves her eyes backward to the preceding block of words.
How can I improve my reading skills?
- Through speed, concentration and comprehension
Ways to increase reading speed
- Avoiding Regression
- The number of words that you take in (read) at one glance depends on your ‘eye-span’.
- The eye-span too differs from person to person and automatically improves when speed improves. For the average reader visual span corresponds to one word; while for the good reader it is about five words at a time
- Eye-span, sometimes called Visual span or the attention window, is the area that the brain has selected to analyse with full detail at one glance (during a fixation).
- The period of time during which the eye rests on one word (or group of words) is called a ‘fixation’.
- Fixation is a split second stop of your eyes on a particular word or group of words to read that. The number of fixations varies from person to person. You are able to read faster by reducing the number of fixations per line.
- To reduce the number of fixations you must learn to include more text per fixation so that you see two or three words on either side of the fixation. In this way you will be able to complete the reading of each line in this book in a single fixation. You will immediately experience speed in your reading and blame yourself for not having tried this earlier.
- A speed reader will read several words in one fixation (typically from five words to perhaps an entire line). She will only fixate for a very short period of time (maybe, one-fifth of a second), and will move on with very little or no regression.
- Higher fixation minimizes the amount of work that your eyes have to do. You are able to examine a large amount of information in a short period. Since you have covered a larger area, your understanding of what you have read is better. From a purely examination point of view you are in a position to attempt a greater number of questions.
- The backward movement of the eyes to the preceding word or to the preceding block of text is called ‘regression’ or ‘skip-back’.
- Let us look at the inefficient reader. He reads in small fixations. He spends a long time on each fixation. He looks back or repeat reading (regresses) often.
- As the reading is laboured, his concentration suffers; his mind starts thinking of other things; the flow and the structure of what he is reading is not perceived at all.
- Regression makes him tired after such an exercise. No wonder he does not feel drawn toward the text. His effort is hardly satisfying even though it is great
Enhancing your Eye-span
- This means trying to read more number of words at one time. This will improve with practice.
- The span will increase if you hold the text a little farther from the normal distance you keep between your eyes and the text. Practise like this for a little while, then move the text back to the normal distance.
- You can expect an increase in your eye-span after some practice of fast reading even if you miss a few words or lines. The more words you read in a single fixation, the faster you will be able to read.
Reducing the fixation time
- Try to reduce your fixation time on a word or a group of words (text block) consciously. It is said that one fixates for a minimum of one fifth of a second on a text block.
- Push yourself to reduce this. With some practice combined with confidence you may be able to reduce your fixation time. Try this. You will immediately experience great speed in reading.
- Do not focus (fixate) on the first or the last word in a line. Fixate a little away from the first word and let your vision read the words on either side. With a little practice you should master this technique. You will then experience that you are reading very fast. With practice this becomes your second nature.
Getting rid of regression by changing the habit
- The greatest time killer in your reading will be regression or skip-back. Concentration gets impacted due to regression.
- It happens because of inadequate proficiency (vocabulary constraints) and because of lack of concentration. Hence, you must make a conscious effort to reduce regression.
- The decision to regress is like replay and rewind of a move of a match every moment during the telecast.
- First decide not to regress at any cost; you may even sacrifice comprehension for this. That is, even if you have not understood what you have just read, do not regress, because you do not have the freedom to regress.
- This practice will help you read with sustained concentration. Slowly, the number of skip backs in your reading will reduce. If that happens you will be forced to concentrate on each and every sentence.
- Reading fast can make reading a pleasurable experience. It reduces the amount of work done by your eyes.
- Speed reading increases your understanding of the flow and structure of the stuff you are reading. It reduces the time needed to assimilate the contents.
- It leads to better concentration and you extract more information from the text than in slow reading
Sense of urgency
- Reading with a sense of urgency can do wonders to your reading speed. You generally read slowly because of the belief that your comprehension will suffer if you read faster than your comfort zone speed (CZS).
- This is the chief reason for each person for sticking to the CZS. There are times in your life when you have given up the CZS and read text very fast.
- Remember when you studied for the last examination in your college. You processed the entire syllabus meant for a year in a couple of weeks or so. Bring in the same sense of urgency while reading the passages below.
Anticipation in Reading and Skim Scan
- Anticipation in Reading entails determining the author’s approach in the passage and is important to Active Reading. Anticipation allows readers an opportunity to become acquainted with the topic, which aids in both concentration and comprehension.
- Previewing is a major factor in anticipation. The process of previewing involves selecting, skipping, skimming and scanning.
- Efficient readers are sensitive to the ideas and tone of the author, which raises their ability for anticipation (of the author’s main idea in the passage)
- Anticipation improves through the understanding of scope and tone which is very important for active reading and thinking, and for improved comprehension of the subject matter
There is a limit to the speed at which you can move your lips. One can only speak/move one’s lips around 100-150 words per minute. While our eyes are capable of reading more than 500 words a minute. That means if you move your lips while reading, 150 wpm is the maximum speed in reading that you can attain.
What should I do if I have to move my lips while reading?
- Put a pencil or a pen between your lips to restrict your lip movement
- Make a decision to give up this habit right now and give it up
What are ‘Vocalizing’ and ‘Sub vocalizing’?
Whispering the words audibly while one is reading is termed as Vocalizing. Or do you hear the words in your mind as you read silently? This is called sub-vocalizing. Is it necessary to say the word in your mind? Or is it only necessary to see the word to understand its meaning?
- This does slow you down because you are then limited to word-by-word reading. To find out, place your fingers on your Adam’s apple. If you feel any quivering, you are probably vocalizing.
- However, sometimes vocalizing is used intentionally to process unusually difficult passages. Reading Jean Paul Sartre may require vocalization. Also, reading aloud had helped me avoid distractions. However, you have to understand that as a habit,vocalizing seriously hampers your speed and you must try to eliminate vocalizing.
- Sub-vocalization also slows you down. For example: look at the word ‘badminton’. Is it necessary to say ‘bad-min-ton’ in your mind to understand its meaning?
- Be careful of subvocalizing too. It slows you down. But do not consciously try not to subvocalize.
Therefore, to conclude, if you’re a competitive exam aspirant, whether Govt Exam (UPSC, SSC, Defence, etc.) or a professional exam (CAT, GMAT, CLAT, etc.), developing strong reading skills is critical to score a good rank. By following the strategies suggested in this article, you are sure to improve your reading skills and consequently achieve a high score in the Reading Comprehension section of your exam.
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About The Expert
Falguni Goswami is the founder of CareerBandhu Education. He is a renowned career counselor and an Ex-Indian Air Force veteran with 30+ years of experience as senior faculty in coaching institutes like T.I.M.E and Career Launcher