Reading Comprehension

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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The very words "reading comprehension" are enough to strike terror in the hearts of adults and kids alike. That's because most of us, when we think of reading comprehension, picture the final section of the verbal portion of standardized tests like the SAT or GRE. Worst of all, these passages are never about junk food, baseball, sex, or oceanfront getaways. Instead, they're about things like Cretaceous rocks, pedagogical theory, or Oaxacan art preservation. Hence, it's no wonder they inspire such universal dread.

Look more closely, and you'll see just how imperative reading comprehension skills are in daily life. Your ability to get through those 20 e-mails sitting in your inbox, read over your boss's urgent memo, and review your sales manual all before the looming lunch hour is fundamentally dependent on your reading comprehension. Of course, not only must you read each of these documents, you must also understand them, which is the difficult part.

What Does Reading Comprehension Mean?

Distilled to its core, reading comprehension is about making the most of black ink on white paper, so to speak. Our brains must make sense--and fast--of the symbols they perceive on newspaper pages, street signs, computer screens, and airport terminal signs. From an evolutionary perspective, our "fitness" hinges on the speed and accuracy with which we can derive meaning from these markings. Just ask anyone who's driven down the wrong way of a one-way street (if he or she is still alive).

Does that mean reading comprehension is the same as cognition? If you accept the notion that cognitive skill measures our ability to perceive, store, remember, and retrieve information, then yes, at the very least, reading "comp," as some instructors call it, is fundamentally tied to cognitive capability. Some educators would argue that it's actually much more than that, though, as it also requires readers to draw on outside knowledge or compare multiple passages.


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