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How to Improve Your Reading Comprehension

To succeed in high school, college, and beyond, it is important not just to read, but to read effectively. For that reason, many of your in-class assessments and standardized tests ask you to read a passage and answer questions about it—an exercise often referred to as "critical reading." On college-entrance exams like the SAT and ACT, you might have to classify the passage by genre, identify the main idea, paraphrase, summarize, or define vocabulary in context; in some cases, you might have to analyze rhetoric, grammar, tone, and other aspects of prose composition. This guide is a collection of dozens of links to reading comprehension resources that we have researched, categorized, and annotated in order to help you improve your reading and test-taking skills.

Reading Comprehension Fundamentals

What is reading comprehension? Why is it important? The resources in this section help you get a grip on one of the fundamental aspects of education in English—or any language. It includes introductions to the concept of reading comprehension as well as general advice for reading in an academic context.

"What is Reading Comprehension?" (K12 Reader)

This page provides a solid yet succinct grounding in reading comprehension fundamentals, including an explanation of what reading comprehension is, how it develops, and why it's so important. 

Wikipedia Article on "Reading Comprehension"

Wikipedia's article literally defines "reading comprehension," discussing its history, relationship to vocabulary, and strategies for improvement. It includes links to scientific studies and education journals.

"How and Why We Read" (YouTube)

In this seven minute video, John Green introduces his multi-part course—Crash Course English Literature—beginning with the importance of robust reading skills.

"10 Reading Comprehension Strategies All Students Need" (ThoughtCo)

Written by a former high school social studies teacher, this blog post provides 10 strategies educators can use to help students improve their reading comprehension. The list includes generating questions, reading aloud, annotating, summarizing, and more. 

How to Approach a Reading Comprehension Passage

The first step to tackling any reading comprehension test is to read the passage. Having difficulty with genre, language, and style? Are you afraid of running out of time, or are you looking for ways to read quickly and efficiently? This section contains video tutorials and articles to help you approach reading comprehension passages. 

"The Best Way to Read the Passage in SAT Reading" (Prep Scholar)

This blog post outlines the types of passages you might see on the SAT reading test—those relating to U.S. and World Literature, History and Social Studies, and Science—and the unique strategies you should use when approaching each one.

"Top 10 New SAT Reading Tips" (Magoosh)

This blog post discusses what and how to read outside of school to improve your reading skills, as well as how to familiarize yourself with the prose styles (even that tricky nineteenth-century Victorian prose) and question types on the exam. 

"ACT Reading: How to Improve Your Reading Comprehension for Fiction Passages" (YouTube)

This video tutorial by Kaplan focuses on the ACT's fiction reading passages, giving you tips for approaching the fiction passage as well as answering questions about it.

"ACT Reading: How to Understand the Passage Despite the Science Jargon" (YouTube)

This video tutorial by Kaplan is geared toward the ACT's science reading passages, showing how to find what a passage is about without getting bogged down by confusing specialist vocabulary.

How to Analyze a Reading Comprehension Passage

Once you've read the passage, you'll need to analyze it. What is the main idea? Can you point to supporting details and evidence? Can you summarize or paraphrase the passage? What is the passage's tone? The resources in this section help you break the passage down, making sure you understand the basics before you answer questions.

"How to Find the Main Idea" (ThoughtCo)

This blog post explains what the main idea is and how to identify it in a sentence, paragraph, or passage. Besides showing you how to use the passage's topic, summary, first and last sentences, and repeated words, it points out common mistakes to avoid.

"Finding the Main Idea When Reading" (Columbia College)

This webpage shares helpful hints: where the main idea is located (if explicitly stated), how to figure it out if it's implicit, and how to double-check if you've got the right main idea.

"How to Summarize a Passage With One-Sentence Summary Frames" (Classroom)

This helpful blog post discusses how to summarize longer passages succinctly using "frames," or templates such as "X happens because Y" or "X and Y are similar in that ____, but different in that ____." 

"Summarizing a Paragraph" (Long Beach City College)

On this handout, you'll find a four-part method to use when summarizing: "preview and read," "make a list or outline," "write a summary," and "read aloud and correct." The method is demonstrated in a detailed example.

"Critical Reading Skill: Identifying Tone" (Brainfuse)

This page uses examples from the GRE (a test similar to the SAT and ACT, but for entrance to graduate school) to show how to identify tone while reading using key words, specific details, and comparisons.

Khan Academy Live: "SAT Reading Class" (YouTube)

This free, 40-minute class walks through the kinds of questions on the SAT, and how to read the passage with them in mind. Using the strategy of "Rephrase and Predict," you'll be equipped to answer two common question types: "Words in Context" and "Command of Evidence."

How to Improve Your Reading Comprehension

Still looking for ways to read better? Do you struggle to read everything in the time provided, or do you read so quickly that you don't remember what you've read? This section is filled with more resources to support your reading comprehension practice, including video tutorials and discussion forums relating to common standardized tests.

SAT Reading Test Tips Share Space (Khan Academy)

Scroll through this forum to see what advice other test-takers have for SAT reading comprehension. There are discussion boards for General Tips, as well as for the Writing and Language Test specifically; this is a place for people with different experiences and learning styles to respond to your questions.

"Most Common Mistake: SAT Reading" (YouTube)

SuperTutor identifies "ignoring context" as the most common mistake students make on the SAT Reading test. Take a look at her tutorial (which walks through example questions and answers) and see how to avoid this trap.

"Ultimate Guide to the New SAT Reading and Writing Test" (College Vine)

This blog post introduces you to the components of the current SAT Reading test, the skills it assesses, and the kinds of questions the test uses to assess those skills. The in-depth post is followed up with test-taking strategies and links to free study materials.

"Best ACT Reading Prep Strategies, Tips, and Tricks" (YouTube)

This video tutorial culls its most popular tips and tricks from a longer series by the same creators, Best ACT Prep. It shows how to budget time when reading, and how to read for the information you're likely to be asked to recall in the questions.

"How to Speed Read Your Way to ACT" Success (YouTube)

Slow readers will benefit particularly from this targeted video tutorial from Veritas Prep, which introduces you to the idea of "speed reading" (reading quickly for content) and how to execute it on the ACT. The video contains walk-through examples.

How to Prepare for Reading Comprehension Questions on Standardized Tests

The two primary college entrance exams in the United States, the SAT and the ACT, contain reading comprehension sections. Use the resources in this section to prepare for those exams with tailored guides, quizzes, and exercises. Of course, because classroom assessments and state benchmark exams often mimic the format of the SAT and ACT, these tools might be equally useful in preparing for other reading comprehension tests. 

SAT Suite of Assessments: Reading Test (College Board)

The College Board provides the official introduction to their reading test, including an overview of the exam structure, a video guide, descriptions of passage and question types, and links to sample questions.

"How to Get 800 on SAT Reading" (Prep Scholar)

This in-depth blog post begins with an overview of the SAT Reading, along with thoughts on why it's important to get a good score. It contains a breakdown of how scoring works, plus 11 strategies from a student who got a perfect score on the SAT Reading section.

ACT: Description of Reading Test (ACT, Inc.)

ACT, Inc. provides the official introduction to their reading test. This page describes the three components ("Key Ideas and Details," "Craft and Structure," and "Integration of Knowledge and Ideas") as well as links to sample questions.

"How To Get 36 on ACT Reading" (Prep Scholar)

This extensive blog post begins with an overview of the ACT Reading, along with thoughts on why it's important to get a good score. It features a breakdown of how scoring works, plus 11 strategies from an ACT perfect scorer.

How to Answer Reading Comprehension Questions on Standardized Tests

The ACT and the SAT are designed to trick you; questions based on reading comprehension passages not only test your ability to understand what something says, but also your ability to contextualize and extrapolate from it. This section is filled with resources specifically designed for answering questions on college-entrance exams.

"ACT Reading: How to Solve Reading Comprehension Questions" (YouTube)

This video tutorial from Kaplan gives a step-by-step account of how to tackle a reading comprehension question. It suggests questions you can ask yourself while reading the passage, then walks through example questions, demonstrating strategies like focusing on key words and returning to the passage.

"Using Key Words to Answer Questions on the SAT Reading Section" (YouTube)

Veritas Prep suggests using "key words" to search for an answer back in the passage. This two minute tutorial shows how to navigate longer passages effectively when confronted with an information-based question.

"Tips, Tricks, Strategies for the SAT Reading Section" (YouTube)

SuperTutor's SAT crash course walks through example questions on plot, tone, and passage structure, giving you strategies tailored to each of these common question types.

"5 Rules (And One Secret Weapon) for Acing Multiple Choice Tests" (YouTube)

Thomas Frank offers general strategies for multiple choice tests beyond the proverbial "when in doubt, choose C." He shows how to use words in the question to eliminate answers that are obviously wrong, thus narrowing your choices and helping you save time.

Resources for Teaching Reading Comprehension

Looking for activities, worksheets, games, and practice tests to improve your students' reading comprehension? This section contains everything from complete lesson plans to sample reading comprehension passages (even mobile apps!) that will supplement your work in the classroom.

Reading Comprehension Classroom Activities

"A 'New English' in Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart'" (National Endowment for the Humanities)

This complete lesson plan includes reading assignments, learning objectives, activities, and take-home assignments geared toward assessing the relationship between language, globalization, and multiculturalism in Chinua Achebe's classic novel.

"'Their Eyes Were Watching God': Folk Speech and Figurative Language" (National Endowment for the Humanities)

This complete lesson plan includes reading assignments, learning objectives, activities, and take-home assignments around the topic of metaphor and idiom in Zora Neale Hurston's classic novel.

"Benjamin Franklin's Satire of Witch-Hunting" (America in Class)

This passage is paired with interactive student PDFs and reading comprehension exercises. Exemplifying all that's difficult about nonfiction, satire, and eighteenth-century prose, this activity familiarizes students with a kind of passage they're likely to encounter on the SAT or ACT.

"One-Page Nonfiction Readings, Grades 8 - 10" (DePaul University)

DePaul University curates this suite of one-page PDFs for in-class reading comprehension practice, ranging from political speeches to scientific reports on climate change.

Reading Comprehension Worksheets

"Nonfiction Reading Comprehension Worksheets" (ThoughtCo)

This blog post brings together seven nonfiction reading passages and worksheets to challenge your students. Topics span the scientific (on the role of the carbohydrate in nutrition) to the humanistic ("Minimalism in Art and Design") to the historical (Frederick Douglass' "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?").

"Reading Comprehension Worksheets Grades 1 - 12" (K12 Learning)

K12 has a bank of worksheets organized by grade level. The ten high school worksheets included cover fiction and nonfiction passages, and are paired with questions that simulate the standardized test experience.

"Free Reading Comprehension Worksheets" (BusyTeacher.org)

This web page is stacked with over 1,000 free, downloadable PDF worksheets for all grade levels. Some of the worksheets are short passages with questions, while others are visual organizers and other tools to improve general reading comprehension skills.

"All Reading Worksheets" (E Reading Worksheets)

This former teacher's personal blog is a treasure trove of reading comprehension worksheets. It's notable for organizing worksheets by skill (e.g. "Author's Purpose," "Story Structure," and "Setting") so that you can target specific aspects of reading comprehension and passage analysis. 

Reading Comprehension Games

"SAT Reading and Writing Practice" (Khan Academy)

These free tutorials and games are the perfect way to prepare for the SAT or, indeed, any reading comprehension exercise. They're organized by passage type: Science, Literature, History and Social Studies, and Social Science.

Daily Practice for the New SAT (College Board)

This mobile app created by the College Board sends a practice question to your phone each day. You can also use the app to automatically grade practice tests that you print out from the website and complete on your own.

"High School Reading Activities" (Bright Hub Education)

The ideas listed in this blog post will help you liven up any class period devoted to reading comprehension with group activities like wipe-board read-aloud sessions and classroom debates.

"Games for Students to Help Build Comprehension: Teaching with Games" (eHow via YouTube)

This eHow tutorial for teachers (hosted by a veteran English teacher) is packed with reading comprehension game ideas: the "Connection Chain," "What Book Am I?," "Visualization," and "Literary Elements Jeopardy."

Reading Comprehension Practice Tests

New SAT Practice Tests (College Board)

The printable full-length practice tests on this page will familiarize you with the Reading and Writing test formats; CollegeBoard even gives you instructions on timing and set-up that will help you mimic the conditions of an actual exam.

The ACT Reading Practice Tests (ACT, Inc.)

These official, interactive ACT practice questions give you a sense of what to expect on test day. The page also links to full-length, printable practice tests.

"STAAR Released Test Questions" (Texas Education Agency)

Preparing for a state benchmark exam? This page contains links to official practice questions for end-of-course exams in every grade level in the state of Texas—just one such bank of state resources on the web (and the largest!).

"Reading Comprehension Questions" for GRE (Educational Testing Service)

Although the GRE is a graduate entrance exam, the reading comprehension section is very similar to the SAT, ACT, and other high-school level standardized tests. Take a look at the official practice questions on this page.