How to improve reading skills: 10 simple but highly effective strategies

how to improve reading skills
Source: AFP

When thinking about how to improve reading skills, do you turn to technology?

This may be an issue, especially for young children, as the digital revolution may stunt their reading comprehension. 

A study by neuroscientists at Columbia University’s Teachers College found that text on paper was better for deeper reading than on screen. 

The study was based on 59 children between the ages of 10 to 12, making them read texts in both formats as data was collected from electrode hair nets that each child wore. 

This age group was specifically chosen as researchers believe that this period is when “learning to read” turns into “reading to learn”. 

Dr. Karen Froud, who led this research, was cautious not to make assumptions, but one thing was evident.

“We do think that these study outcomes warrant adding our voices … in suggesting that we should not yet throw away printed books, since we were able to observe in our participant sample an advantage for depth of processing when reading from print,” the researchers said. 

This study raises many questions, such as: does this fact mean that the reading comprehension of the pre-internet generation is better than today’s?

Also, why does it matter?

how to improve reading skills

The printing press revolutionised the world and the value of paper books remain despite the emergence of smartphones and Kindles. Source: AFP

Here are a few stats that prove that improving global reading comprehension is vital:

  • One out of five kids in the UK can’t read at their school level by the time they reach 11 years of age.
  • 43 million adults in America have low reading abilities.
  • Reading times in the US have gradually declined from 23 minutes daily to 17 minutes.
  • People who read for 30 minutes or longer weekly have a 21% greater chance of increasing their knowledge.
  • Children’s participation in reading for pleasure has dropped from 79% in 2017–18 to 72% in 2021–22, according to a survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

What does this mean for the generation of children who experienced the pandemic? Or the schools that are now relying on online learning tools? 

Perhaps eradication is not the way — extreme measures never are — but going back to paper books with technology as a tool (instead of the main method) as a way forward. 

Either way, can we all agree that quality certainly trumps quantity?

Faster than the speed of light: How to improve reading skills

Ever wondered how many books you will read before you die?

The Economist ran a survey with 1,500 Americans and only 54% said they read or listened to a book in 2023

Based on these results, it was estimated that if a seven-year-old began reading in 2023, they would get through roughly 770 books in their lifetime. 

If you are 30, you might only have 500 books left to read. 

What about a more voracious reader like Howard Berg? He was dubbed the fastest reader in the world in 2009 by “The Guinness World Record Book”. 

He is able to read more than 25,000 words per minute. 

The self-proclaimed Knowledge Mastery Strategist has authored many books and even coaches people to increase their reading speed and comprehension and be better learners. 

Most of us do not have such lofty goals. Berg managed to read fast while retaining the information he consumed. 

In fact, here is his reading process when he wants to learn:

  1. I pre-read the book super fast. I’ll read a 400-500 page book in 4-5 minutes to find out what’s in it and if it’s anything I need to know. I want to be able to determine in 5 minutes: Should I even read this? Is this the right book?
  1. If it is the right book, then I’ll look for what I know, and what I don’t know, and need to learn. I don’t waste time learning what I know, I look for what I don’t know and need to learn. 
  1. Then the final step, I look for meaning and significance in what confused me, so now I understand it, and then I use memory skills to lock it in
how to improve reading skills

How to improve reading skills? Events that encourage reading certainly help. Source: AFP

Types of reading skills 

There are four main types of reading, each with its own use and purpose: 

1. Skim reading

The British Council defines skimming as “reading a text quickly to get a general idea of meaning.”

This skill is useful to refresh your memory to get the general gist of the text to save time or determine the overall purpose of the text.

 You should be mindful that skimming can cause you to miss out on the nuances of what you are reading.

2. Scan reading

Scanning “is reading a text quickly to find specific information, e.g. figures or names.”

Unlike skimming, when you scan, you are looking for something. 

For instance, you could be scanning your textbook for the answer to a specific question in your homework. 

You could also scan for statistics in an article to help write your essay. 

how to improve reading skills

Active reading does not mean running and reading simultaneously. Source: AFP

3. Active and intensive reading

While the other two types of reading skills (skimming and scanning) are surface-level reading, intensive reading is all about understanding the details. 

For this reading method, “learners are supposed to read the short text carefully and deeply to gain maximum understanding.”

Online learning and tutoring platform PassroomX states that this type of reading is perfect for:

  • Studying academic material and complex subjects in depth.
  • Enhancing your comprehension and retention of information.
  • Encouraging critical thinking and analysis of the content.

To help with active reading, you can scribble on your text, use your trusty highlighter, and write notes or questions. 

4. Analytical reading

This one requires the most focus of all types of reading skills. 

The research paper “Analytical Reading for Students” defines this skill clearly: “Analytical reading is a cognitive skill that stimulates brain work. 

“It refers to an ability to approach a text critically by giving priority to the objectives that the author might have.”

This skill is especially useful when analysing articles or texts for your essays and thesis.

With analytical reading, you can identify key information, asses it, recognise biases and compare it to other relevant sources. 

These reading skills come in handy with day-to-day life and your work. Over time, you can work your way up to mastering all of them.

When looking at how to improve reading skills, perhaps be specific in what you want to achieve with this skill. This makes it easier to guide your performance to your purpose. 

how to improve reading skills

People who read for 30 minutes or longer weekly have a 21% greater chance of increasing their knowledge. Source: AFP

How to improve reading skills for your dream career

There are many benefits to reading and finding out how to improve reading skills. 

For instance, reading fictional books is shown to increase better decision-making in people by 50% to 100%.

Purdue Global — the online university for working adults outlines precisely how to improve reading skills for better comprehension in college:

  1. Find your reading corner: The right space will make it conducive for focused study.
  2. Preview the text: Ask questions about the text before you dive in. 
  3. Use smart starting strategies: This includes pacing yourself and checking for understanding 
  4. Highlight or annotate the text: Keep an eye out for essential terms, definitions, facts, and phrases. 
  5. Take notes on main points: Employ note-taking strategies to better your understanding. 
  6. Write questions as you read: This will help you understand your reading. 
  7. Look up words you don’t know: Don’t let one word derail your progress.
  8. Make connections: This will help create better memory pathways in your mind. 
  9. Review and summarise: This will help you determine how much you understand and cement what you have learned. 
  10. Discuss what you’ve read: Group discussion turns your short-term knowledge into long-term memory. 
how to improve reading skills

Reading books can certainly improve your job prospects. Source: AFP

Reading can also boost emotional development and career prospects by 50% to 100%.

This does not necessarily mean that the books you read need to be hard-hitting tomes. Light-hearted and easy reads can alleviate your stress from the day and make you more productive in the long run. 

Research by the University of Sussex found that reading reduces stress by 68%, as it helps slow down your heart rate and eases muscle tension in just six minutes. 

In fact, reading was more effective than listening to music, having a hot beverage, walking and playing video games. 

Author and consultant Rakesh Sharma outlines other ways in which reading can help you with your career:

  • Makes you a better leader: Reading shows you how people relate and connect to each other. If they can stand in your shoes, a leader can help you achieve your goals with more ease.
  • Improves decision-making: Being able to make a decision in a stressful situation or make an impactful choice in a high-pressure environment is crucial. Reading helps you filter information better so your decisions are better informed.  
  • Enhances analytical skills: Books often have twists and turns and the more you read, the more you can identify patterns. This analytical skill is very useful in the working world. 
  • Expands vocabulary: The more words you know, the better you are able to express yourself with more precision. 
  • Strengthen writing skills: From emails to evaluations, being able to communicate yourself effectively in writing is an asset in any working environment. 
  • Makes you proactive: Reading allows you to concentrate better, be less stressed and improve both your IQ and EQ. This in turn makes you better at your job in that you are more able to analyse and work hard.