There is more to reading than making sense of words on a page and saying them aloud or in your head. Comprehension tests also check how well you understand what you are reading. This is done by asking you questions that show you can find information in the passage, and also by asking you questions that ask you to explain why or how certain things happen.
And this is where the school world and the work world meet. You are going to find that when you are working you will often have to make sense of reports, letters, instructions – all sorts of documents – and then you will realise how valuable all the comprehension tests were. You want to make a success of your future work life, so, let’s take a look at how you can improve your comprehension skills.
Reading, reading, and more reading is the first key to success. You need to be sure that you can read fluently and quickly. This doesn’t mean reading so fast that you don’t understand or remember what you are reading. That would be nothing more than a party trick. Reading quickly must go with an understanding and recall of what you read.
If you practise your reading, you will find that it is easy to read through the passages for comprehension in the time allowed. That will make a big difference to how successful you are.
Once you have developed a good reading speed, you are ready to tackle a comprehension test. There are some techniques that will help you with that. First of all, you need to read the text once, and then stop and think about what you have read. You’ll remember that I said that comprehensions show how well you understand a text. Well, you need to think about what you have read to be able to understand it. Now you are ready to read the text a second time. This will help you gain a greater understanding of what you have read. If your reading speed is up to scratch, you will find you have the time to do this. You can then go on to read the questions. You will find that many of the answers are jumping out at you already. Now you are ready to answer the questions carefully. Remember to answer exactly what is asked, and to follow all instructions. You will find that your confidence grows as you work through the questions and the harder questions which are always at the end, you will find easy to do.
Now you can do what many learners don’t want to do: check your answers. You will be amazed how often we make silly mistakes that cost marks. This is your chance to find them, and fix them. You will now have a complete set of answers that you can be proud of.
The aim of a comprehension questions is to test your reading skills and to check how well you understand what you have read.
A successful process for approaching a comprehension is:
- Read and think.
- Read the text again.
- Read the questions.
- Answer the questions.
- Check your answers.
Now we can take a closer look at the types of questions that are asked. When you know what sort of information a question is looking for, it is easier to give the right answer.
Of course the easiest questions are the content or factual questions. You will find these answers in the passage. You just need to look for them and then give the information that is needed.
If you read the passage twice, you may even find that you know the answer as soon as you read the question! Remember to always check in the text though.
You will notice that these sort of questions are usually asked early on, and they usually only count for a mark or two.
If the comprehension passage is about a music concert, the sort of questions you could expect would be: How many people attended the concert? Where did the concert take place? When did the writer leave?
Notice that factual or content questions are simple When, Where, How many type questions. These basic questions will give you your first few marks.
The next group of questions demand that you think a little more about the answer. These questions are called interpretive questions.
To interpret means to explain what something means or to say what its significance is.
To answer these questions you need to explain what has been said in the text. Or you may need to come up with a conclusion based on what you have read.
These questions are harder, but they earn you more marks. You just need to think very carefully about what the text says, and come to your answer.
An example of this sort of question might be: Why do you think the writer felt unhappy when he heard the singer’s song? Notice the word ‘why’ and notice also that you are asked why you think something.
Remember, your answer must always come out of what the passage has said either directly or indirectly.
The final group of questions will be questions about the way in which the text has been written. They will include: How and why the writer has used words, expressions and punctuation, the tone of the passage and also the genre or type of text that has been used.
You will be asked to look at particular words that have been used; or asked to explain where you would expect to find a text like the one you have read.
These questions are meant to check that you understand how a text is put together and show just how well you understand what you have read. These questions are most often asked right at the end.
Whenever you answer questions, no matter what type they are, you must read the question very carefully and answer it as it has been asked. Let’s look at some examples of types of questions you might get:
Refer to paragraph 11 (lines 43 – 51).
Do you agree with Heath's view that 'going to gym together as a family
could be a good bonding experience'? Give a reason for your answer.
Notice first that you have been told where to find the answer – in paragraph 11. Now read the question to yourself.
Did you notice that there are two parts to the question? The first part asks if you agree with someone’s view, and the second part asks you to give a reason for your answer.
Too often learners leave out the second half of a question. Here’s another example of a possible question:
What do Angelina's words reveal about her character? Choose the correct
answer. Write down only the question number and the letter corresponding to
A She is evil.
B She is good.
C. She is cautious.
How many times have you seen a question like this and written out the whole answer and not just the letter as asked? This not only wastes time, but it also shows the marker that you have not read very carefully! That is not the sort of impression you want to leave, is it? Now look at this question. Which four words should you pay most attention to?
In your own words, explain why Angelina chooses to fly to places like Cape
Town and Kimberley, but drives to Harare although it is much further.
Yes, “In your own words”. The examiner wants you to give your answer in your own words. You cannot simply copy out something from the text – you must restate it in your own words.
There is one last thing to point out about questions. Read this question and notice what is important:
Provide a suitable title of NO MORE THAN SIX words for this passage.
Yes, you may not use more than six words in your answer! Notice they are even in capital letters, and yet so many learners write more than they are allowed to.
You are going to find answering comprehension questions easy when you put all this information into practise.
You should find as many examples of comprehensions as you can and do them as tests.
There are three types of questions that are asked:
- Content or factual questions
These questions are basic information questions and the answers can be found in the text.
- Interpretive questions.
To answer these questions you need to explain what has been said in the text. Or you may need to come up with a conclusion based on what you have read.
- Questions about how the text has been written
You will be asked to look at particular words that have been used; or asked to explain where you would expect to find a text like the one you have read; or why the text has been structured in a particular way.
These questions are meant to check that you understand how a text is put together and show just how well you understand what you have read. They are most often asked right at the end.
- Answer exactly what is asked
- Follow all instructions carefully.
- Practise your reading skills.
- Practise your comprehension answering skills.
A summary is a shortened version of a text. The important thing to remember is that we summarise all the time in our everyday lives. Have you ever told someone else a story you heard from a friend? Chances are you shortened, or summarised the story. When you get into the work place, you will find that you often need to summarise what a client says when you tell your boss; or you may need to summarise what you have read to write a report. For all these reasons, the skills you develop when you do summaries are going to be vital life skills. When it comes to summarising, the two main ingredients for success are: careful reading and clear understanding of what you have read.
You can only write an accurate shorter version of a text if you read it carefully, and understood what you read!
You will summarise texts for specific purposes – to write a report, to share information, or whatever other reason. So that you can develop this skill, you will find that all the summaries that you have to do at school give you a context or background – the purpose of the summary – and special instructions. The context gives you a sense of why you are doing the summary, and the instructions will tell you how you must summarise the text.
We’ll start off by looking at an example of the sort of context or background information you might be given:
Your class has decided on the theme 'Teenagers and their Problems' for your Oral Assessment Task. Since many of the learners in your class suffer from skin problems, you have chosen to give them a talk on spots and pimples. Read the article below and then summarise the main points for inclusion in your talk.
Why are you doing the summary? To develop some points for a talk about skin problems. What is the source of your information? An article about skin problems. Do you see how this information about the summary that you have to complete gives you a reason or purpose for the task? This makes it a lot easier to do. Let’s look at another example:
Imagine that you are preparing a short talk for your class on 'Caring for your Teeth'.
You wish to include the main points from the article below in your talk. Read the article below and summarise the main points.
This example is very similar to the last one. Once again you are summarising a text to do a talk, this time on caring for your teeth.
Here’s a slightly different example:
Imagine that you are preparing an essay on 'Dieting and Eating Disorders'. Read the article below and extract SEVEN important points to include in your essay.
Your summary in this case is part of the planning process for writing an essay.
So, let’s take a look at a useful method for writing a successful summary.
1. Read the instructions carefully and follow them.
Make sure that you know what you have to do, and then do what you have been told. I think it would be a good idea to look at some instructions from various summary questions to give you a sense of the sorts of things that you are asked to do:
1. List SEVEN points in full sentences using a total of approximately 70 words.
2. Number your sentences from 1 to 7.
3. Write only ONE point per line.
4. Use your OWN words as far as possible.
5. Indicate the total number of words you have used in brackets at the end of
NOTE: Marks will be deducted if you ignore these instructions.
These first instructions come from the summary about skin problems. Let's look at the first instruction. How many points must you write? Seven.
Should you write the points as a paragraph? No, instruction 3 says that you must write only one point per line.
May you copy your points word-for-word? No, read instruction 4 again. You must use your own words as far as possible.
Should you bother to count your words and write them down? Of course you must! Look at instruction number 5.
Now let’s look at the instructions for the summary on caring for your teeth.
- List SEVEN points in full sentences using a total of no more than 70 words.
- Number your sentences from 1 to 7.
- Write only ONE main point per line.
- Use your own words as far as possible.
- Indicate the total number of words you have used in brackets at the END of your summary.
NOTE: You will be penalised if you ignore these instructions.
You’ll notice how similar they are to the previous set of instructions. Notice though that here you may use not more than 70 words. Marks will be deducted if you do. The memorandum will say how many marks, but it can be up to 1 mark for every five words over the limit. It may not sound a lot, but the summary is worth 10 marks, and 1 mark is 10%!
You will have noticed the warning in each set of instructions that failure to follow the instructions will result in your being penalised – please take this seriously!
A summary is a shortened version of a text. It is usually completed for a specific purpose, and you are often given precise instructions to follow when doing the summary. Your summary could be in point form or in a paragraph. It is important that you use your own words as far as possible.
A successful process for approaching a summary is:
- Read the instructions carefully and follow them.
- Read the passage and make sure you understand it.
- Underline the key points or sentences.
- Write the main points using your own words.
- Write a rough draft of the summary based on the instructions.
- Make any necessary changes to improve on your draft.
- Do a final reread, checking for errors and use of language.
- Check and include the word count at the end of your summary.
- Check that you have followed the instructions.
Now we are ready to go through the process of writing a successful summary.
Step one is always to read and follow the instructions. Once you are sure that you know what you have to do, you can move on to the passage that has to be summarised.
You need to read it through carefully and make sure that you have understood what you have read.
If you need to, read the text a couple of times. Remember, there is no way you can shorten something that you don’t understand. Rather take the time now to ensure that you fully understand what you have read than find later that you can’t write your summary.
With a full understanding of the text, and with the instructions you started off with in your head, you can move on to step 3: Underline the key points or sentences.
You will notice that there is usually only one main point in a paragraph. But this is not always true, so be sure that you get all the main points.
A quick way to check that you have everything is to read only your underlined sentences. Do they give you a complete understanding of the whole text or do they give you examples and additional information?
In a summary you only want the important or relevant information, no examples, illustrations or other supporting ideas and facts.
Now you have the opportunity to show how well you are able to take ideas and put them into your own words. You will recall that in the instructions you were often told to use your own words. You need to take the underlined sentences and write them in your own words. That is step 4.
Of course there are some words you will have to use from the original text, but the way in which you express yourself must be different. You need to avoid using the same phrases and expressions that the original writer used.
The way to do this is to read the sentence, think about what the writer is saying, and then write that idea down. Now go back and check that you have said the same thing!
It is the next step that I think is the most difficult, and yet the most satisfying.
5. Write a rough draft of the summary based on the instructions.
Go back and read the instructions again if you have to.
Now, many learners are eager to hand in what they have just written. I would encourage you not to. This is a rough draft, your first ideas, your first attempt. You will be able to improve the work if you just give yourself a chance. So, make any necessary changes to improve on your draft. This includes checking how many words you have used.
Delete extra words if you need to. Look out for unnecessary adjectives and adverbs if you need to cut some words. Let’s look at some examples of how you can do this.
Here is an example from one of the summaries we spoke about earlier – skin problems:
It is very important to keep your skin absolutely clean.
Which words could we remove, do you think?
Yes, “very” and “absolutely”.
Now we have "It is important to keep your skin clean". While the adjectives certainly add more information, you will notice that they are not necessary for the meaning.
If you are able to remove a couple of words here and there, you will soon reach the word target. Although you are given a specific target, you may go over by two or maybe even three words – but I would suggest you try not to do this. Next, check your use of language, spelling and punctuation. Make sure that your points make sense, and that they match the instructions – each and every one of them! Now, do a final reread, checking for errors and use of language. You still have time to make any final adjustments.
This is going to be what you hand in so you want to make sure that everything is perfect and neatly written too. Now it is time to check your word count and write it at the END of your summary.
Don’t lie – write the correct word count down. There is no need to be dishonest. Just go back and see how you can say things in fewer words.
Your last step involves going back to your instructions one last time. Have you followed them to the letter? Excellent! Then you have a summary that you can be proud of; a summary that will be an accurate shortened version of the original text.
- A comprehension test is meant to
- keep you busy.
- test your ability to read a text.
- test your memory skills.
- test your ability to read and understand a text.
- The most successful method of working with a comprehension test is to
- read the passage once, answer the questions, check your answers.
- read the questions, then read the passage, then read the questions again before you start answering them.
- read the passage and think about it, read the passage again, then read all the questions before starting to answer them. Finally check your answers.
- read a question then find the answer then read the next question, and so on.
- The three types of questions that are asked in comprehension tests are
- questions about how the passage was written, memory questions and grammar questions.
- factual questions, historical questions, inquisitive questions.
- interpretive questions, questions about how the passage was written and curious questions.
interpretive, factual and questions about how the passage was written.
- Which statement is true about summaries?
- Summaries are only useful at school.
- Summary skills can be applied in all areas of life.
- A summary is a shortened version of a text in your own words.
- Both B and C.
- The context of the summary is given to you to:
- to guide you in your summary writing.
- confuse you.
- to save you from thinking.
- give you something to read.
- Why is it important to follow the instructions given in a summary question?
- You will avoid any penalties for not following the instructions.
- You must always follow all instructions you receive.
- They are part of the summary.
- The marker will think you are a well-behaved person.
- Which of the following statements is true about summaries?
- Accuracy, good language use and the right length are all important.
- You should write your own ideas down rather than follow the original writer’s ideas.
- The right length is the most important thing to consider.
- Accuracy is the most important thing to consider.
- A rough draft
- gives you a chance to improve your work.
- A and D.
- is all you need to hand in – it is the first thoughts you have that count.
- needs to be checked for length, language and expression.
- The word count
- can be a rough guess.
- must be written at the end.
- must be accurate
- B and C.
- How many times should you read a comprehension text?
- True of False? A summary must not only be the right length, it must also not change the meaning of the original passage.
- Name the three types of questions that can be asked in a comprehension
Answers to Activity 1:
Answers to Activity 2:
Answers to Activity 3:
Answers to Additional Activity:
- At least twice.
- Factual or content; interpretive, questions about how the text has been written